Filion on the Toronto a la Cart fiasco: “The one thing the city messed up on was the carts”

Filion on the Toronto a la Cart fiasco: “The one thing the city messed up on was the carts”

A cart of problems: workers move one of the Toronto a la Cart stations from Nathan Phillips Square (Image: Anthony Easton) 

Meet Nancy Senawong as she schleps her $30,000 cart through Mel Lastman Square, where she will serve city-approved, city-branded, multiculti street fare to passersby for the second summer in a row. It’s now been two years since the Toronto a la Cart scheme was launched, and Senawong is the ailing food program’s new poster girl. Though she remains in debt for the pricey cart, she is the “one success story” from 2009, according to John Filion, the health board chair who first championed the street food scheme. She and at least five of eight other indebted vendors attached to the program will spend the spring scraping together what they’ll need (anywhere from $7,500 to $14,500) to keep their stalls in line with stiff municipal regulations.

“The one thing the city messed up on was the carts,” Filion tells the Star, apparently without irony. He was referring to faulty parts and forgotten weather enclosures. Verity Crown, the manufacturer of the units, added that if it had not been forced to conform to the city’s 75-page specifications list, carts would have been lighter and half the price. “Our hands were tied,” says president Bill Verity.

To that blunder, we’d like to add strict rules governing marketing, photo use and the approval of menu changes, which together leave little room for the sort of entrepreneurial creativity that can yield decent margins.

So why hasn’t Toronto a la Cart become the bountiful program its plan foretold? Probably hasn’t been regulated enough.

• Food carts still stymied by red tape [Toronto Star]