Some teeth gnashed as food trucks pack empty Westboro service station lot
Photographs by Wayne Cuddington
A rogue food truck lot has sprung up in the heart of Westboro, just in time for Westfest. But not without ruffling some feathers.
Leo Raguseo, who has nicknamed his Pizza e Panini truck What the Truck, rolled onto a vacant former service station lot at 236 Richmond Rd., next door to the Westboro LCBO outlet, on May 3. By this weekend, the lot will be home to four trucks in addition to his: Artie’s chip truck, Sadie’s Kitchen (selling gourmet crepes and waffles), Red Roaster with roast chicken and more, and, last-minute inspections permitting, the first food truck from the Green Papaya group of Thai restaurants.
“This is just awesome, it has exceeded all our expectations,” says Raguseo.
Not everyone agrees.
“I haven’t been too happy about it,” says Elaina Martin, the founder and producer of the 10-year-old Westfest. “Until now the only food trucks at the festival are the ones we approve, and they feed our volunteers for free in return. I don’t know who these guys are and some of our regular food trucks are backing out since they now think there are too many food trucks around.”
On Wednesday, however, Raguseo said he would donate $500 to Westfest and Martin seems somewhat mollified by the money.
“I’ll put the money toward a volunteer appreciation party,” she said. “It really is a double-edged sword for me because I love food trucks, but for me, everyone on the street should be about the festival, giving to the community.”
Philip Powell, the city’s manager of licensing, says he hopes that more pods of food trucks spring up, as in Portland, Oregon, but this one raises a red flag.
“Generally speaking it’s a great use for a property that’s awaiting development, but it’s not fair that something on private property can come in and undermine a festival.”
Raguseo, who used to work as a recruiter for a painter’s union, says the idea of a food lot came up quickly. He had admired his friend’s fully kitted out Pizza e Panini truck for a couple of years, but when it went up for sale and Raguseo bought in April, he didn’t know where to park it. (It had previously been used just at festivals.)
“I would have taken one of the city spots on the street, but I didn’t even know that was an option,” says Raguseo. “Then this lot came up and, in matter of two weeks, my whole life changed.”
Raguseo says he wanted to put seven or eight trucks on the former Nick’s Service Centre lot, but he was told the most he could have is five. He has also had to group the trucks in the corners of the lot, so they are the required 46 metres (150 feet) away from the restaurants, Juniper and Whispers, across the street.
“The response from the public has been so good, I want to replicate this format elsewhere,” Raguseo says. “I’d like to put one in the east, one in the west, and one in the south end of the city. The biggest complaint I’ve had from anyone is that they want more basil on their pizza.”
Meanwhile, nearly a month after city food truck permits began, just six of the 18 trucks and carts approved are on their spots on city streets while the other dozen still struggle to get their vehicles ready, inspected and licensed. The most recent addition is the Angry Dragonz truck, which rolled into its spot at Gloucester and Lyon streets on Tuesday for the first time.
“The good news is that each time a new truck or cart comes out, they’re overwhelmed with customers,” says Powell. “There have been some growing pains, but six months from now everything will be hunky dory.”
For profiles of each of Ottawa’s new city-approved food trucks and carts, see ottawacitizenstyle.com.