Change on the menu for city’s a la cart street vendors

Have you seen the Korean food cart at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue? Chances are if you work full-time you haven’t; possibly because it’s there only between 10:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. weekdays.

In fact the cart has been there for six months as part of the City of Toronto’s ethnic street food program called a la cart.

The pilot project involved eight vendors offering a new world of culinary diversity, operating in specifically selected locations throughout the city. A la cart was launched with much fanfare in May, however for Young Jin Kim, the owner-operator of the Korean food cart, it was also launched with too much red tape.

“The city license is too tight and the cart is too heavy,” Kim said. “I’ve been to court over two tickets already.”

Kim, who works the cart full-time, was ticketed for placing a sheet of plywood beside her cart to shelter from the wind. She said the city mandated that only the cart and a cooler for drinks were allowed on the licensed site.

City councillor John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale), has championed the a la cart project from the outset. He admits the regulations were stringent to begin with, with a view to relaxing them as necessary in the future.

“The main complaint from vendors so far is the design of the cart,” Filion said.

The carts were designed and sourced before the vendors were selected according to Filion. This meant that they might not quite fit the needs of each vendor.

For Kim, the cart is too heavy for her to deal with alone. Each day her son comes by to help and they push it from a nearby parking lot where she has negotiated a monthly parking rate. The $300 she spends each month on parking is cheaper than the ongoing wear and tear the cart was putting on her vehicle.

Kim would also like the city to relax the rules on how much time the owner must actually be present at the cart. Currently Kim is required to work her cart a minimum of 70 per cent of its opening time. She would like to be open 24 hours a day (both for the business opportunities and to avoid the cart moving issue) but under current regulations she would have to work a minimum of 16 hours.

Relaxing some of the rules is now on the agenda for City Hall. Part of that is a change of oversight of the program from Filion’s Board of Health to the Economic Development Committee chaired by Kyle Rae.

Filion said other items up for relaxation include locations, wider menu choices and the allowance for up to three employees per cart.

Kim is hoping that a combination of these will allow her to grow her business over the next year and actually make some money.

“I want to move to Yonge and Finch, there are more Korean people there and they understand Korean street food better than the people in this neighbourhood,” she said.

She is also hopeful that she can have some shelter from the elements as winter rolls in.