Why Kitchener needs food trucks

Kitchener needs food trucks because they contribute to lively, vibrant streets and places.

While my last post responded to a city staff report (PDF) being considered by city council’s Finance and Corporate Services committee on Monday, this post says what I really want to say about food trucks.

food truck meal

Food trucks attract people

Let’s start by busting a myth. Food trucks are not for foodies.

Food trucks are for people.

Food attracts people. People gathered around food trucks attracts more people.

We need more people on downtown streets

Having more people on the streets of downtown Kitchener is important. Outside of special events, King Street is too quiet, too often. Even on nice Saturdays I’ve noticed that there seems like there is no one around. Given the number of employees downtown, relatively few are seen walking around at lunch. I see more now than ever before but there’s still plenty of room for progress.

The revitalization of downtown Kitchener is not complete until people are downtown and outside walking around just because it’s the place to be. When downtown is great for people watching, we’ll know it’s a success.

Food trucks give people a reason to go outside

We’ve proven food trucks put people on the streets of downtown Kitchener. Let’s have them work their magic more often than at the occasional special event.

People attract people.

More people on the street can only be good for all the businesses and services in downtown Kitchener–including restaurants.

A friend I follow on Twitter went to the food truck festival last summer and decided it was so busy, he ended up at the Boathouse. The same day Imbibe needed to call in staff to handle the traffic they got from people who decided not to wait or were on there way to/from the event.

Another day, I stood in line in front of a group of people. Somebody in their office had convinced them to drive downtown to have lunch at the food truck in front of city hall. They weren’t even sure what would be there. It didn’t matter, they knew they had lots of other options for food.

The more people who are attracted to downtown and experience all it has to offer–or even venture out of their downtown office–the greater the chance they’ll discover the great stores, restaurants and services available.

And here’s the thing! If they enjoy their experience, they’ll come back! Again and again. And bring friends. Maybe even on a Saturday.

If food trucks are a possible catalyst for this change in perception, let’s find places they are allowed to operate everyday.

Let’s put the Power of 10 to work

The Project for Public Spaces likes to use the Power of 10 to evaluate places.

At the core of the Power of 10 is the idea that any great place itself needs to offer at least 10 things to do or 10 reasons to be there. These could include a place to sit, playgrounds to enjoy, art to touch, music to hear, food to eat, history to experience, and people to meet. Ideally, some of these activities are unique to that particular spot and are interesting enough to keep people coming back.  The local folks who use the space most regularly are the best source of ideas for what uses will work best.

We like to think of Civic Square as a successful public space. But is it? Does it have 10 reasons for people to go there and then reasons to stay? The three empty storefronts directly across from it suggests it doesn’t.

If we compare Civic Square on a normal weekday at lunch and on Thursdays when it had food trucks and music, there’s a noticeable difference. I suggest it’s more than a coincidence that people had two more reasons to be there.

Mobile food start ups

If Kitchener is start up city, let’s support these mobile food start ups.

They can and do become brick and mortar businesses. Breadheads began as a mobile pizza oven. Cheeses Murphy started as a pop up restaurant. The Scrumptious Spud at Kitchener Market started with a mobile oven.

Or they give businesses a way to expand like Caplansky’s Deli in Toronto did.

Let’s support these new businesses–start ups if you will–or the efforts of existing businesses to grow.

Food trucks enliven more than just downtown

We need more successful public places throughout Kitchener. Not just downtown.

I mentioned how food trucks could enhance people’s experience of McLennan Park or even Huron Natural Area.

What are some other possibilities? Budd Park, Peter Hallman Ballyard, Forest Heights Collegiate (outside school hours/days)??

Let’s find 10 places for food trucks

If the City of Kitchener wants to move past its pilot project without keeping food trucks as a novelty, let’s find 1o places on city property which any food truck can use. Make those spaces available every day and any truck can use for up to 10 consecutive hours. No more than half of those spots should be in the area covered by the Downtown Kitchener Business Improvement Area.

Ideally, it’d be great to also see the city help find 5 – 10 opportunities on privately owned property.

4 comments
K. Benninger
K. Benninger

Food trucks are so déclassé it pains me that some people are encouraging them in the downtown. I have no problem with them in Victoria Park during the Blues Festival or perhaps Oktoberfest but that's about it. If you want to promote what 'people' as opposed to 'foodies' want why don't you go all out and advocate for Mcdonalds, Subways and Burger King on every corner. Oh, yeah, and Tims. That's what the people really want. No? If you're going to run on a populist platform for Council you won't get too many votes in your ward. I know lots of people in the Central Frederick neighbourhood and most really enjoy eating at a good restaurant. The fact that some suburbanites work downtown and love the junk food they have in the burbs is no reason to lower the standards downtown.

Craig Herner
Craig Herner

This addresses one point other than food trucks in your post, about it being too quiet in downtown Kitchener. Maybe if they were to build a mall downtown and have a large chain grocery store (ie: Zehrs or Sobeys) in it, then people would walk to do their shopping. At this point in time everyone has to hop in their car, or get on a bus and drive to Stanley Park Mall, or Highland Road Sobeys, or whatever store they shop at. This will only get worse with all the condos going up. I do occasionally walk to Frederick Mall when it is nice out, but if there was a bigger grocery store downtown I would walk 15-20 mins to it. They want it to become a more walkable downtown...give me something to walk too.

James Howe
James Howe

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's your choice whether and when to eat at food trucks. Currently, there are plenty of opportunities for fast food restaurants to operate if they and the market desires. Food trucks on the other hand face restrictions that make it difficult to operate as a full time business even outside winter. I enjoy eating at good restaurants too. I think Kitchener can support both restaurants and food trucks.

James Howe
James Howe

Definitely much needed Craig. I'd hope to see one of the urban format grocery stores found in Toronto as part of a mixed use development in downtown Kitchener.