My Toronto food truck connection is not as thin as you might think . I grew up around food trucks and know the history of food/coffee trucks in Toronto.
In the late 50’s after getting laid off from Orenda Engines in Malton, my Dad drove an early version of the food truck. It was a converted panel van equipped with a coffee urn plus an area for sandwiches. My Aunt worked in the kitchen making the sandwiches. These trucks eventually evolved into the ubiquitous sheet metal sided “coffee trucks” seen at construction sites and suburban industrial parks. My Dad drove a coffee truck for most of his working life. I remember as a kid going out with him to special events where we would stock the oven with home made bacon and cheese sandwiches and sell them. We also sold hot dogs as they were easier to cook and sell on the spot.
In 1980 as fate would have it one of the first jobs I landed in Calgary was driving a coffee truck. It was actually a great gig. I was an independent operator. The way it worked was I rented a truck and a route from Parnell Foods I bought my food from their shop and whatever was left over at the end of the week after I paid for the truck, the route, the food and gas was mine. I was making some really good coin too. In between video jobs in the late 80’s I worked for a couple of catering truck companies in Toronto such as Good Rich Foods and Guys Snack Service with the same deal. Good Rich was run by an old friend of my dad’s from his time at Tony’s Catering and half the shop at Guy’s knew my old man from his days at KMA Catering and as The Coffeeman.
Interesting tid bit of information – KMA Caterers went out of business in the 1970’s but their building is still standing at 2265 Keele Street. It became a court house for a long time (in those days mobile caterers had ballrooms at their shops for some odd reason, I also remember going to Christmas parties there) and is now a church. I looked it up on Google Maps and you can still see the area where the coffee trucks loaded up in the morning on the right side. There was also underground loading for some of the trucks. We lived right across the street so I definitely grew up around coffee trucks!
Now, I know there is a difference between coffee trucks and food trucks. But when I drove for Guy’s there was a group of us who supplemented the food we bought from the shop with freshly made gourmet dishes every day from an Italian restaurant and fresh sandwiches and pizza from San Francesco. Then on my route I had this Jamaican restaurant who would supply me with fresh jerk chicken and goat and oxtail. We tried all sorts of different types of food, Chinese even KFC once. Guy’s was the last coffee truck I drove; the hours were brutal. I was up at 4 am and didn’t get home until almost 6 at night. When I got married my new bride begged me to get a “real job”, so I left the world of mobile food service behind.
Today it seems the world I left behind 20 + years ago has become trendy and in a modernized way. What I find fascinating is how today’s food trucks are tapping into social media to promote themselves. THE site for information on food trucks in Toronto is Toronto Food Trucks. Want to know where your favourite truck is? You don’t have to wait for it to come honking it’s horn. Now you can find them using a blog, Twitter or Facebook. Sure they are not quite the same as my coffee truck where I would wheel onto a construction site, blow my horn, jump out and open the door and start serving ready made sandwiches and dinners. Today you have gourmet food for real being prepared as you wait. You have specialty trucks such as Gorilla Cheese and Gourmet B1tches.
In my humble opinion Gourmet B1tches epitomizes where the food truck industry in Toronto can go. Gourmet B1tches, which is run by friends Bianka Matchett and Shontelle Pinch specializes in a mixture of Mexican, Cuban, and Balinese food such as ceviche, tamarind miso beef, and Cuban pulled pork. Plus Gourmet B1tches food is gluten free. This is what Toronto needs more of. Trucks like this and Caplansky’s Deli, Food Cabbie and other specialty food trucks servicing our streets instead of the current fare from a coffee truck. Now, to be fair, I haven’t eaten off an old school coffee truck in years; but I’m sure they could also use an upgrade.
I’m also impressed with how the food trucks in Toronto work with each other for events like the weekends they have at the Distillery District and such. [slips into old miner mode] “Why back in my day out West we had baseball bats under the front seat to whack the competition.” That is no joke, I got into many a fight over territory back in the Wild West days of food trucks. [slips back into old miner mode] “Kids these days have got it so easy!”
In all seriousness, as someone whose family was in the industry in the 50’s and who grew up in the industry, I welcome the changes and I look forward to attending the next Food Truck event.