Street eats: How roadside food vendors can cash in on tourist market

Mark
Mark Brownlee
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The City of Ottawa is implementing changes for which local advocates have long been clamouring by adding some new offerings to the local street meat menu, but those in the industry say more can be done to fully leverage food trucks as a means of attracting tourists.

Jacqueline Jolliffe is the owner and operator of Stone Soup Foodworks.

The city announced last year that it gave permission to 18 new food trucks and carts to operate on municipal streets, mostly located in and around Centretown.

The menu offerings go beyond the hot dogs and french fries people in the city usually associate with roadside cuisine. The new food providers promise to offer everything from soups using local ingredients to baked empanadas and South Indian crêpes.

The body responsible for bringing visitors to the city, Ottawa Tourism, quickly jumped on the new street food movement as another attraction to make the region a destination for tourists.

The organization included a mention of the new trucks and carts in its spring newsletter, which it then distributed at a trade show for travel writers in New York City last month.

Jantine Van Kregten, Ottawa Tourism’s communications director, said she also plans on putting photos of the new food trucks on the organization’s social media accounts once they are up-and-running later this month.

It’s already attracting attention. Ottawa was recently named one of the top 10 street food cities in the world by travel search engine CheapFlights.com

That’s all well and good, say others who already sell street food in the city, but some question whether it will be enough to make a major difference when it comes to tourism.

Mark Snyder, whose Flatbread Pizza Co. sells its offerings at the Ottawa Farmer’s Market on Sundays, said he’s not sure the city has chosen locations best designed for bringing in tourists.

Some of the trucks and carts are in high-traffic areas such as the streets around the parliamentary precinct and up and down Elgin Street. Others, however, are in out-of-the-way locations such as the corner of Carling Avenue and Preston Street.

The city would be better off developing a system to rotate the carts through popular areas, he said. Tourists would then know they can go to one particular area of the city to get street food, rather than have to go to different neighbourhoods to track down what they’re interested in.

“They have given people the opportunity to work on the street, which is better than nothing,” said Mr. Snyder. “But overall I can’t say I agree with the method that was used.”

One of the new entrants into the street food market, Jake Thomas, said he’s unsure individual food trucks will be enough to draw visitors to the city.

That’s why he believes the best way to leverage street food would be to hold some kind of a festival where all the food trucks in the city go to the same place.

He suggested an event with some music and a beer tent that happens one or more times a year.

“I think we’d carry a lot more weight then, you know?” said Mr. Thomas, whose truck Dosa Inc. will be selling South Indian food close to the corner of Somerset and Lyon streets.

But others feel the new street food options will only add to the city’s culinary reputation.

“People will start to expect and anticipate a higher level of food from trucks … it just increases the diversity of food available to people on a regular basis,” said Jacqueline Jolliffe, who owns and operates the Stone Soup Foodworks truck.

Ms. Jolliffe said she’d like to see the food trucks band together to create some promotional materials that can be distributed at high-traffic areas for tourists.

 

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