Surrey businesses, residents display mixed emotion to food truck strategy

Food_Truck_in_City_CentreThe City of Surrey held an open house on Nov. 18 at the City Centre Library to discuss plans for a possible food truck program for the city.

The strategy is still in the early planning stages and hasn’t been voted on yet but the City is taking surveys from residents, businesses and food truck vendors to determine possible truck locations and get public input on any problems, issues or concerns about a food truck strategy.

“At this stage we’re just advertising that survey, marketing it to get the feedback of the general public, restaurant owners and operators and also food truck vendors to get their input about what the program should look like,” said project coordinator Sukhi Bahia. “[To determine] what are some of the issues we need to address moving forward so that we can have sort of a hea start on what those issues or problems may be and how to address them and mitigate them before we get going.”

About 30 or 40 people attended the open house, of which about 10 were food truck vendors. Though no food truck sites have been designated yet, the most likely locations are in the downtown Whalley area due to the higher volume of foot traffic.

Good or bad for business?

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” said Taste of Africa co-owner Isaac Takyi. “I don’t think it’s going to affect us because our [food] is more specialty. It’s not a street cart type of food; it’s prepared from scratch and all that.”

Others were worried a street food program might take away from their walk-in customers and didn’t want the competition.

“For a business like us, we depend on a walk-in crowd [so] it will be bad for us, you know?” said Balwant Dhanoa, manager of Fresh Slice Pizza. “It will take away the business of existing customers.”

BIA still neutral on the plan

While aware of the plan, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association has not yet taken a position the matter.

“We haven’t had a meeting on it, however on a standpoint of what makes great cities work, in some cities I’ve seen successes of food trucks and in other cities I have not,” said Elizabeth Model, CEO of the Downtown Surrey BIA. “It is on our radar. We’re quite aware of it and I know that the city is going to set up a task force and and collaborate with the BIA for our input on it as well.”

The question remains if Surrey’s suburban sprawl has a dense enough population to run a successful food truck business. Nin Rai, owner of Truffles Fine Foods catering, said only some areas are busy enough.

“Certain areas, not all areas. Obviously down by Central City for sure,” said Rai. “Especially since they could get parking by the malls as well, [so] that would help.”

Though most of his business is North of the Fraser River, Rai said he wouldn’t rule out setting up shop in Surrey.

“Definitely Central Surrey I would consider. I would definitely consider it.”

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said a food truck strategy would be beneficial for the city.

“With an increase in aspiring mobile food entrepreneurs and demand for their products on the rise, the food truck industry is providing a path for small business incubation and alternative economic development by going to the streets,” said Huberman. “They add charm and character to a culture often dominated by chains and brand names. In many ways food trucks revitalize city streets that can become vibrant social spaces — good for business.”

While generally positive about the strategy, Huberman did address some potential problems

“The challenges will lie in proper business license strategy, health permits, location — not competing or stationed in front of a brick/mortar restaurant.

The next open house will be taking place on Nov. 25 from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the City Centre Library. To take the online survey, click here.

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