According to foodies, City Hall picked some real lemons in their food cart trial
The food cart issue brought about by Vancouver city council struck me as a goldmine of populist politics. Who doesn't like food, right? There were some initial concerns raised by the DVBIA, who rightly pointed out that it would be grossly unfair to position the carts in the vicinity of already rent and property tax burdened retail restaurants. For the most part, however, the suggestion by Charles Gauthier to model the program after Portland's successful street food cart system was ignored.
For average folks who just want some good eats, they don't worry that much about how economically viable a sushi or wraps restaurant is. The City pulled out the bugles to announce their list of food cart selections whittled down from a massive 800 applications. How did they do it? Did they conduct a cook-off, a Canadian Idol of sorts as myself and Frances Bula proposed on last week's civic affairs panel?
No. What City staff did was throw a dart, and if your name got hit you were it. By using a lottery to pick who got the cart locations rather than on inventiveness or merit, there are a LOT of foodies around town who are miffed. Foodie columnist Andrew Morrison of the excellent Scout Magazine sums up what many are thinking in this great post.
While I’m glad the city recognized that they were unqualified to choose which food businesses would suit our streets best (their track record on this is pretty bad), they could have just asked around, perhaps even called in a couple of independent consultants who knew a thing or two about food. Better yet, they could have actually interviewed the applicants to discern whether or not they were serious. I certainly would have advised them to the best of my ability for free, as would (I’m sure) other local food writers, chefs’ associations and so on…but no. In an effort to be democratic (which can be interpreted as ‘blameless’), they basically drew names from a bingo barrel as if the vendors would be selling scarves, toques and glow sticks. This, according to Grant Woff, acting manager of street administration, was “the fairest method as everyone was given the same odds”.
Yes, I appreciate that staff have their hands full already with the burdens of socially re-engineering Vancouver as an agrarian-socialist city state, but if council is prepared to go out on a branch like promising exciting new fare to liven up our No-Fun streets, then get it right!
Morrison pulls no punches in his thoughtful assessment of the "winners" of the food cart lottery.
Hurray for us, right? Who doesn’t like dim sum, burritos, southern BBQ and Korean food? But what’s this about lemonade and chocolate dipped fruit? And what the heck constitutes “speciality noodles” [sic]? How is stone ground pizza served from a truck “authentic” if it isn’t baked in a wood-burning oven? Can you elaborate on “skewers of beef and pork”? Who mixes Japanese and Chinese food and has the balls to say it’s “traditional”? This is exactly the sort of vaguery I was afraid of, and nowhere near as “new and exciting” as City Hall described in their media mail out today. Did we really wait all this time for chicken salad and fruit cups? What if none of it is any good? What happens to the pilot project if those who’ve been chosen abjectly fail to table good, consistent products?
There were about 800 applications for the available spaces, and there were some real gems in the bunch from tried-and-true operators, real talents with solid track records for serving quality food. Yet not a single one – as far as I can tell – cracked the list. So now the success or failure of the pilot project rests with these start-ups, companies that – to my knowledge – have little restaurant or food service experience (I suspect some have none at all). You’d think the City would have thought of that and actively sought to avoid such a scenario. Instead, they relied on a revolving plexiglass barrel filled with applicant’s names.
I dunno. Perhaps this is a back-handed way to make up for running an anti-HST petition at City Hall and in park community centres. If the food carts are a flop, people will inevitably head back to the restaurants, right?
Okay, I realize that's a stretch, but I wonder when Gregor Robertson is quoted saying "We’ve got a world-class city and people want a world-class street food scene to match" in a press release, if he's even given a passing glance to what his team has selected.
- post by Mike