Food vendor in limbo after city revokes permit
It’s tough being the new kid on the block.
Photo by Vince Fedoroff
STREET VENDING A NO GO —Louis-Roch Gagnon, owner of Garlic A GoGo, has been told he cannot serve food on city streets. City officials concede they made a mistake issuing the permit.
It’s tough being the new kid on the block.
Weeks after granting him a permit, city officials have told Whitehorse’s newest food vendor to get his classic 1974 Winnebago off of city streets.
Louis-Roch Gagnon runs Garlic A GoGo, a food truck serving Mediterranean dishes mostly in the city’s downtown core.
Despite the initial approval of the business, the city now says the travelling restaurant never should have been allowed to serve food on city streets because it violates territorial law.
The city’s land development supervisor, Pat Ross, said Wednesday city officials looked through all the municipal legislation including the Traffic Bylaw, Business Licence Bylaw and Zoning Bylaw, before issuing the permit.
“We issued him a permit and gave him the initial nod,” Ross said.
“It was basically the first of its kind that we’re aware of coming through the door.”
But after downtown businesses and some residents called with concerns about the new truck, city officials sought legal advice on the matter, Ross said.
It was then they were pointed to the territory’s Motor Vehicles Act, which they say prevents businesses like Gagnon’s from serving food at the side of a road.
Both sides agree that Gagnon was never trying to hide his business plan —to drive his restaurant on wheels throughout the city serving food like shawarma, falafel and Kleftiko.
The argument comes down to sidewalks.
Section 206 of the Yukon’s Motor Vehicles Act says: “No person shall display any goods for sale, offer any goods for sale, or sell any goods on a highway.”
In the legislation, “highway” is defined as all roadways.
The city says that prevents Gagnon from selling anywhere on the road. Officials say he must find private land or government-approved property to park his truck on if he wants to continue serving.
Knowing what he knows now, Ross said, the city never should have issued the permit.
“We couldn’t have, we can’t issue permits that we know are in contravention of territorial legislation.”
Gagnon disagrees. He told the Star Wednesday he believes the municipality has the power to permit him to continue serving.
Also, a different part of 206 reads: “A municipality may by bylaw permit the display or sale of goods on a sidewalk.”
“The sidewalk is technically from the line of the curb to the property line,” Gagnon said. “I don’t serve food on the street; I serve it on the sidewalk. I make food on the street; there is no bylaw against making food on the street.”
Countered Ross: “Our position is that he’s operating from the road because he is preparing and cooking the food from the roadway.”
No matter who is right when it comes to sidewalks, Gagnon argues it’s wrong for the city to renege on its approval so quickly.
“They gave me permission, we went through the rigamarole, I gave them a report, it spent a week circulating in all the offices in the city asking, ‘does anyone have a problem with this?’ The answer was no, go for it,” he said.
“The minute there’s a complaint, they back off.
“I’m saying, ‘give me a year, give me the season.’
“Let’s take all the data, the complaints, the support — I can guarantee you they’ve received more letters of support than complaints —let’s take that information, and at the end of the season, formulate a food truck policy.”
Ross said there have been calls of support to go along with the gripes.
“I appreciate that you’re supportive of the business as am I, but it’s not a public opinion exercise,” he said.
“That doesn’t change our ability to issue the permit or not issue the permit; we have to follow the legislation.”
Many businesses are concerned about competition, Ross said.
“Being situated downtown and paying their commercial taxes and then coming to work one day and finding a competing entity situated right outside the business.”
The city would have liked to have done some public consultation on the matter before even issuing the permit, he said.
“But at the time, we didn’t see anything that would have allowed us to say no.”
Ross said there have also been concerns about how the food truck parks on the street.
“His window that he serves people through is on his driver’s side, so that creates a bit of an issue because in order for him to serve people on the sidewalk he has to park against the flow of traffic on the wrong side of the road,” Ross said.
“That in itself is a violation of the Motor Vehicles Act.”
Gagnon said his initial business plan contained examples of possible complaints and self-imposed rules he created to deal with them.
These rules include not being within 25 metres of the front door of another restaurant.
“I’ve had a few business owners come up to me and say, ‘you’re my competition,’ I said, ‘I will move,’ and I did, so that ends those complaints,” he said.
“So really, there’s no reason why they’ve revoked this (permit) except to placate the few who complain.
“Unfortunately those who complain are fairly big in the city and perhaps have some power with the city. Squeaky wheel, right?”
Gagnon is not naming businesses owners who have complained to him, although he said he has been intimidated and harassed.
For now, Gagnon is in talks with a number of businesses and property owners who may be interested in letting him park off the road on their property.
Mobile food trucks are a benefit to the city, he said, because they provide the freedom of a quick meal.
“People can walk around and shop vs. sitting in a restaurant their whole lunch and going back to work,” the vendor said.
“If you have the opportunity to grab a sandwich in your hand, you get your banking, your shopping done because it is portable. I’m bringing people in.”
Ross agrees, and said the city is looking into developing a clear policy for trucks.
“What we’d have to do is try and find some spots that are not offending that section of the act, or get the act amended,” he said.
“If we found some spots that we could designate, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re also going to research what Vancouver is doing; they have a very thriving area.”
The new wharf area being developed on the Whitehorse waterfront is scheduled to eventually have a number of spots connected to electricity specifically for this kind of business, Ross said.
He insists that even if he wanted to allow Garlic A GoGo to continue operating while a new policy is developed, he couldn’t do it.
“We don’t have any latitude here.”