Food trucks desperate to return to Vancouver plaza after forced move eats into sales

Several food truck vendors in downtown Vancouver say their businesses are struggling after they were forced to move from Robson Square to a nearby street due to renovation of the square’s pedestrianized plaza. 

For nearly two years, they’ve been stationed on the sidewalk next to the Nordstrom department store. But while the public space south of the art gallery — rebranded as 800 Robson Plaza — reopened at the end of March, the food trucks still haven’t been allowed to return.

The City of Vancouver says there is no set timeframe for allowing food trucks back on the plaza, citing electrification options for the new space and a recent memorial for residential school victims as reasons. 

For vendors like Muhammad Naseem, owner of Mo’s Hot Dogs, the forced move has led to plummeting sales, he says — and he doesn’t know how much longer his business will survive.

“Over there [on Robson Square] people come … sit down, relax … somebody listening [to] music, somebody dancing, somebody just meeting somebody. Here, everyone is passing through, nobody stops,” Naseem said.

Food truck owners say business has suffered since their forced move from the plaza. (Ben Nelms)

He said he used to make about $200 a day, but now he’s only making $70 to $80 a day if he’s lucky.

Costs to stay open and running, meanwhile, haven’t gone down, food truck operators say.

They include propane, supplies, staff wages and an annual permit from the City of Vancouver, which costs almost $1,250 alone.

“We’ve got fixed expenses, we don’t get a reduction in that. I had to sell personal things to allow us to survive to this point,” said Allister Fitsgerald, owner of the Sauzzy Thai food truck.

Fitsgerald says he’s seen sales cut in half since the move from Robson Square — and some days by more.

‘We cannot determine a timeframe’

The public plaza was shut down in September 2019 for major renovations. The city says it reopened to the public on March 29.

When asked why food trucks hadn’t yet been allowed to return to the plaza a city spokesperson said, “we cannot determine a timeframe on this.”

“April and into May the city began an active conversation with key area stakeholders … to establish new programming protocol (including vending) for 800 Robson and the plaza, whose design is substantially different when it comes to electrification,” said a statement from Karim Hirjithe city’s acting director of public space and street use.

Additionally, at the end of May, the plaza became the site of a memorial for the 215 children whose remains were reported discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Hirji said.

Food trucks parked outside Nordstrom in downtown Vancouver on June 22. (Ben Nelms)

He said conversations around the memorial will be taking place and will help guide when programming, including food vendors, will return to the plaza. 

Owners of the food trucks say the city has failed to give them any clear details up until now and they need that information to plan for the future.

“They keep putting you off saying, ‘I’ll let you know’ … That’s [the] last email I got,” Fitsgerald says.

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