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Best of 2016: Food Truck Trend Stalls?

Food trucks have been a hot topic for Kingstonians over the last 4-5 years. We saw a huge influx of trucks in and around the downtown core, in parks, and in parking lots in the west end. From tacos and burritos to barbecue and gourmet fare, food trucks were becoming a very present part of the ygk food scene. We have had some lively conversations on Kingstonist including reviews, discussions on policies and showdowns over which truck reigns supreme. Most recently we noticed that our beloved trucks were showing up less and less on our streets and more and more at private functions and festivals. We did a little digging to find out why Kingston’s food trucks were disappearing from Kingston streets.
food truck, kingston, OntarioWhere have all the food trucks gone? That’s the question many Kingstonians have been asking this Summer, as local mainstays including the makers of the best burrito in Kingston, Mission Street North, have yet to roll out of hibernation. Has this city’s food truck revolution cooled down, or is there something else at play here?

Why have so many food trucks vanished from Kingston?

  • Poor business plans. (62%, 528 Votes)
  • The trend is losing steam. (28%, 239 Votes)
  • Bad food put some out of business. (6%, 52 Votes)
  • Rising cost of ingredients. (2%, 19 Votes)
  • Something Else (I'll tell you in the comments) (1%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 846

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Over the past three summers, food trucks have become an increasingly popular casual dining option for those looking to grab a quick bite during their lunch hour, as well as those seeking sustenance at local music and beer festivals. By the end of the Summer 2014, we seemingly could not get enough of the gourmet offerings served up by Farm Girl and Mission Street North, while Burrito Bunker, Roamin’ Komodo, Fordino’s Pizza, Two Nuts in a Food Truck, Logan’s Lunch and Smokin’ Carnivore also earned followings thanks to their tasty fare. While the size of Kingston’s fleet of food trucks may pale in comparison to larger cities, the aforementioned group of eight could very well represent the peak of the local food truck love affair.

Since then, Roamin’ Komodo and Burrito Bunker have deleted nearly all traces of their existence from social media, and they have otherwise fallen off of the the food truck map. Mission Street North, a mainstay at The Brooklyn and many local area festivals, has had some hiccups getting on the road this summer, but they are considering rolling in for some catered work and festivals later on this season. The same thing goes for Two Nuts in a Truck, who have opted not to set up shop at their usual location along Wellington Street, in favour of focusing on catered events. Farm Girl is also on a catering kick, but they still maintain a presence around the city. All that to say, in a matter of two years, nearly half of Kingston’s beloved food trucks have vanished or otherwise chosen to focus exclusively on catering large events and festivals.

When researching food truck trends in other cities, it’s abundantly clear that these rolling gourmet kitchens are as popular as ever, however many within the industry stress that they are a business just like any other. In that respect, a food truck must remain profitable in order for their operators to keep rolling on from one season to the next. Considering the cost of fuel, ingredients, labour, promotion, insurance and licensing, the bills add up quickly, and that’s so long as everything goes to plan. When something catastrophic happens to a truck or the equipment relied upon to make food, the dream of owning a food truck can turn into an expensive nightmare.

Taking a step back and looking at the situation through the eyes of a business owner, it makes sense that many local food truck operators are moving away from the traditional operating model of showing up to a park and leaving business to chance. Instead, many are veering towards the guaranteed profit and security afforded by catering larger events. Of course, that approach has made it difficult to find our favourite trucks, and ultimately satisfy cravings whenever they may strike.

Do you think the trendiness of food trucks is subsiding? Is Kingston too small of a city to support more than half a dozen trucks? Was the food offered by those who have disappeared good or not so much? Share your thoughts and show your love for your favourite food truck below.

Photo credit to CityofStPete.

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Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

3 thoughts on “Best of 2016: Food Truck Trend Stalls?

  • December 28, 2016 at 12:30 pm
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    Farm Girl killed it for me. Substandard food and they have trouble paying their staff. Hot dog cart is better.

  • January 5, 2017 at 3:51 am
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    The problem was that most of the food trucks in Mid Town and Down Town Kingston were only open 3 to 4 hours a day for the lunch crowd and most closed on weekends. Go to Toronto's Down Town and the food trucks are open mid morning to late into the night 7 days a week. I would say in Kingston, most people go out to eat at night than at lunch time. In the hub the fast food places do a killing with people partying at the bars at night, so could have the food trucks if they were open.

  • April 9, 2017 at 2:12 pm
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    It’s a tough one, last year was hard on food trucks. It was hot, and no one wanted to stand outside and eat. Patio takings at all the restaurants I talked to in Kingston were down. So a very very tricky year. With the heat came equipment failures, early closing. I’ve worked in hot, and crowded kitchens…but last years heat in a food truck was something else.
    Was it ever really a trend in Kingston? I know some wanted it to be, but I don’t think it ever really took off. I don’t think Kingston has the customer base for food trucks.
    The majority of Kingston and area still have a perception that a “chip truck” serves burgers and fries. Or hot dogs. So there is an education element, which after 5 years of running a truck I find hasn’t really happened. (We still get the hot dog, hamburger, or even fried fish request about 10 times a day). I would love to take fries and poutines off my menu and stick to a more pure form of the type of food I do. However I also have to make money, and I wouldn’t get any customers without those items.
    Ingredient cost has made a difference, I wish I could buy product at the prices I did 5 years ago. I also wish I could put my prices up in direct comparison with the price rise over 5 years. You can’t, people won’t spend the money. So profits have gone down…and food trucks are not big enough to get the likes of Sysco to supply let alone barter prices with.
    Available locations, this is also a tricky one. Unless you are grandfathered in, it’s hard to get anywhere near the downtown core…or Queens…where there is a lot of foot traffic. So a lot of trucks were on the fringes or in far out places.
    @Jackorama This has made many trucks move to “event’s only”, when you can make more money of one guaranteed event on a weekend…than a week of day sales…why bother with opening daily? This is why many trucks close for the weekend, and are no where to be found. In my experience the amount of business done later on in the day is negligible. I would wait around past 5PM for 3-8 customers. So gave that up. I know this upsets some people, but I have 5 years of data which points to the fact that people in the area don’t buy from food trucks past 5PM. I don’t know why, but they just don’t.
    Also you can’t get a location where the late night bar crowd would pass you…I wish I could be open at 3AM close to Queens trust me!
    It’s interesting that poor business plans come up as the #1 reason. I would love to hear an explanation of this. My business plan has had to adapt, at first I thought a good location was the answer. Then customer education, then events. The bonus of a food truck is that at a drop of a hat, I can change my menu, my location, it can be re invented…but I can’t force customers to try my food…or pay more than McDonalds for a “fast food” meal.
    From a truck owner this is my ramblings on why I think so many have closed down or are closing down.
    My biggest mistake was buying a truck from the person I did. All my money has gone into repairing it. You live and learn, and with any luck you press on. I have amazing customers, so I hope this year is better than the last. I hope this summer isn’t as hot (shockingly I’m actually busier on wet days than dry! Go figure). If it isn’t, I’ll be adding to the trucks that have closed down.

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