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Food-truck plan leaves bitter taste for White Rock restaurateurs

Food carts are being touted as a tourist draw in downtown Portland. - Portland Oregon Visitors Association photo (www.travelportland.com)
Food carts are being touted as a tourist draw in downtown Portland.
— image credit: Portland Oregon Visitors Association photo (www.travelportland.com)

When it comes to food trucks on White Rock’s waterfront, Marine Drive merchants have little appetite.

The sentiment was delivered to city officials by the executive director of the White Rock Business Improvement Association Wednesday, during a community meeting organized to gauge the interest in – or distaste for – the idea of adding the food vendors to this summer’s seaside menu.

Lyn Hellyar told Peace Arch News she doesn’t know of any waterfront restaurateurs who support the city suggestion.

A key concern, Hellyar said, is the potential impact to summer revenue that they rely on to carry them through the winter months, when beach traffic tapers off significantly.

“They need those really good summer months,” she said.

“Our biggest concern as a business improvement association is the number of businesses that are closing and also, would the food trucks really enhance the experience on the beach or is there something else that could enhance it?

“We… feel that they could do other things.”

The meeting was organized following council’s approval last month of hosting a return of food carts to the waterfront, including installation of concrete pads and electrical connections for three vendors.

While staff had recommended allowing up to four of the food trucks to operate in the westernmost waterfront parking lot, adjacent to Bayview Park, council voted to hear what the public thinks.

Hellyar was among about 40 people who took advantage of the opportunity.

Presenter Lizzy Caston – an urban planner from Portland, Ore. who was asked to share the pros and cons of mobile-food vending – described the meeting as “lively.”

“Great points were raised on both sides,” Caston told PAN the next day.

Comments and questions from attendees “ran the gamut,” she said. Some said “no way, no how,” citing noise, view impact and parking concerns; others said they wanted more food options, noting it can be difficult to get a seat in the waterfront restaurants on busy days.

Caston said one attendee told her restaurants are sometimes so full in the summer that “people can’t get food, so they end up driving to Surrey, they end up driving home, or getting fast food on the freeway.”

Food trucks, she noted, can complement existing restaurants – “strengthen the whole” – and boost tourism.

“I have seen benefits outweigh any challenges or costs,” she said. “I’ve also seen it not work.

“It’s really up to the community what’s best for them.”

Coun. Grant Meyer – who suggested getting the public input, but was unable to attend the meeting – said he’s received “quite a bit of feedback” on the issue; that people aren’t against food carts, but feel the bigger trucks would be “a bit much” and better reserved for special events such as Canada Day festivities and the like.

He’s more keen on growing occasions such as Christmas on the Drive and Halloween into bigger, longer-lasting events that would bring more people to the beach in the slow season. Even if only one in four of the visitors who turn out buy a coffee or meal while they’re there, it would be an improvement, he said.

Coun. Louise Hutchinson, who lives on west Marine Drive and has opposed food trucks from the get-go, said her position hasn’t changed. She, too, believes energy would be better-spent on boosting the waterfront’s off-season draw.

“We don’t need more things down here in the summer, we need to bring things down here in the winter,” she said. “Our merchants have a hard enough time staying as year-round businesses.”

Hutchinson said allowing entrepreneurs to sell hats, sunscreen and sundry summer items on the beach, or rent out things like beach chairs, would add more to the scene than food trucks.

Richard Wilson, the city’s acting director of planning and development services, said staff fielded “a lot” of questions from meeting attendees, and heard a mixture of opinions.

He expects to present the feedback, along with results of an online survey, to council at their April 28 meeting.

Caston – who said she waived her consultant’s fee for the meeting – commended the city for using a “healthy, democratic” process in exploring the food-truck concept.

Food-cart vendors had until Friday to apply for one of the three promenade locations, which are in the process of being installed. As of Monday afternoon, city staff had narrowed the eligible applications down to five.

White Rock’s season of mobile food options is anticipated to open May 1 and continue through to the end of September.

 

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