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Food trucks approved for five Toronto parks

People line up at the Food Dudes truck in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. A pilot program will bring trucks into five city parks starting Aug. 1.

Gloria Nieto/The Globe and Mail

Food trucks in Toronto have been given another chance by two city councillors who have launched a pilot program to have the trucks in five city parks for the rest of the summer.

A number of pre-approved trucks will park at the sites across the city beginning Aug. 1, a move aimed at showing the benefit the food trucks provide the city, despite push-back from restaurateurs.

"I actually think what the pilot will show is that it actually brings more foot traffic and activity to areas. I think in the end it helps brick-and-mortar restaurants, and it's a different offering," Councillor Josh Colle said. He and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon were behind the summer trial program.

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"Someone who's going to stop for a burrito is not the same person who's going to sit down for a full lunch or dinner. I think they're actually quite complementary," he said.

Food trucks are popular in other cities, such as Vancouver and Hamilton, but have struggled to gain a footing in Toronto because of bureaucracy and opposition from other business owners. In April, 2011, the city declared its food cart pilot program a failure, and the vendors complained about restrictions on what they could sell, as well as the fact that they were forced to use city equipment. Right now, food trucks are limited in when and where they can operate, mostly as part of special events.

Even the pilot project took some "pushing and prodding" of city staff to get going, Mr. Colle said.

"If it was up to me, I would have started it two months ago. Why they have been reluctant to embrace this, I can't say. "

The announcement came on Thursday at Nathan Phillips Square, where a small number of food trucks serve customers each week. Hungry Torontonians stood in lines that snaked through the square for a chance to grab a bite from one of the trucks.

"You can't get them anywhere else outside of this City Hall area," said Sabir Nawaz, who was waiting at the Blue Donkey food truck on Thursday. "It's kind of too bad because there are a lot of other places where you could use it."

Starting a pilot project with the help of parks staff was the quickest way to expand the reach of food trucks, Ms. McMahon said. She and Mr. Colle were the only city representatives on site Thursday to promote the project.

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"We're foodies," Ms. McMahon said between bites of arancini-fried rice balls that she scooped up at the Food Dudes truck. "Other great cities already have them. Why don't we? It's embarrassing."

The food trucks will be at Woodbine Park, Sherbourne Common, Roundhouse Park, Canoe Landing Park and Allan Gardens from August to October.

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