How the city excluded food trucks from The Oval | Opinion | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

How the city excluded food trucks from The Oval

Unnecessary requirements and huge expenses means only crappy food will be served.

There is no question that The Oval provides a great opportunity for the people to get outside and be active during the winter months. Now in its third season, The Oval continues to attract more people to the centre of the city to skate, socialize and snack on local food fare. Pastry, that is.

That's right. You'll find your food-buying options fairly limited at The Oval. As far as vendors go, there's Beaver Tails, and...Beaver Tails. If you're not in the mood for chocolate-covered-maple-sugar-dough-bombs, too bad.

The fact that Beaver Tails is the only food vendor at The Oval is not indicative of a latent connection between ice skating and pastry eating, but rather of the city's unfamiliarity with how the mobile food industry actually works. In 2012, the city issued a Request for Proposal to the Mobile Food Services, offering local businesses a chance to compete for a coveted spot at The Oval.

I'm co-owner of The Food Wolf, a food truck. After reviewing the RFP for food at The Oval, I was left with the overwhelming impression that it was written with one specific aim in mind—to exclude food trucks, the very businesses it proposes to attract.

Here's why: For one, the RFP stipulates that prospective vendors would be required to hardwire their trucks' electrical systems into permanent outlets. Call this a conceptual difference, but this requirement manages to take the mobile out of mobile. Food trucks typically operate on generators, or plug into available onsite outlets (outlets that the city has already paid to install!). That way, we can, quite literally, just roll up and do business.

Secondly, the RFP states that food service at The Oval be open daily from 10:30am-8:30pm, but the nature of the mobile food industry is, yes, mobility. We move around, go where the customers are. This is not only the essence of the business, this is how our businesses survive. If we're at The Oval each day, all day, we're not anywhere else. We are no longer a roving restaurant, we're just a food stand in a parked vehicle. And, on those bitterly cold days when The Oval is only populated by a handful of winter diehards, we're a food stand losing money by the minute. The Oval closes for daily maintenance for several hours a day. At other times, it's only open to members of the speed-skating community. In a nutshell, it makes no sense for us to be open all day daily, because the guarantee of a regular, or even sporadic, customer-base, just isn't there.

After catching the after-dinner crowd at Squiggle Park (Falkland and Gottingen Streets), we'd happily relocate to serve evening skaters at The Oval. The problem is, if we're one place, we can't be another. And, the only way we can provide the high-quality food that we do is to ensure that we have a higher sales volume. We want to provide better-quality food to our customers, therefore, we need an infrastructure that supports this. Turning out cheap, shitty food is not our mandate, but unfortunately, the current RFP seems to support only this.

Then there are the additional costs in The Oval's RFP: criminal background checks for all employees, photographing the truck, passport photos and the administrative costs of preparing a response (to said RFP). The RFP also has an intellectual property clause and insurance requirement to have two million dollars automobile liability. These costs are unnecessary, as food trucks are already covered by the provincial health act and must have a registered, safe and insured motor vehicle, two million dollars general liability and meet all the requirements for our Food Establishment permit (same as restaurants).

There aren't any food trucks at The Oval because they can't afford to be there.

It's no wonder that of the six locally active food trucks, none responded to the city's "invitation." To add insult to injury, the RFP states that one of its goals is to "establish a more traditional/canteen service with [the] consideration of providing a more healthy and balanced selection." Huh. I guess that being able to choose from a selection of locally sourced and ever-changing menu items that food trucks offer doesn't adhere to the city's idea of a "healthy and balanced selection."

This past summer, the city transformed the south side of The Oval into a hard-surface plaza. The area is equipped with power, easy site access and ample space for the safe and convenient placement of mobile food service vehicles. Perhaps it's not too late in the season for the city to revise the current RFP so that food trucks actually stand a chance of getting a spot in The Oval and doing some viable business. Hopefully, by next year, Oval-users will be able to enjoy some delectable smoked brisket from Nomad Gourmet, or Tin Pan Alley's incredible take on traditional Belgium fries or a K-dog from Food Wolf, along with, of course, Beaver Tails.

Natalie Chavarie is a start-up entrepreneur, food lover and food truck owner/operator.  She actively works on various volunteer community boards, loves to ride a bike to get around and is passionate about the municipality and sparking positive policy change to make this place more bearable/awesome.

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