Langley Damonse parked his hot dog cart this winter for the first time since he started slinging wieners in Vancouver in 1998.
Poor sales in the fall meant operating through winter didn’t add up. The Original Hot Dog Man cart will return to the corner of Georgia and Granville, April 15. “A big day in Vancouver, of course, is April 20, 4/20,” Damonse said of the marijuana “smoke out” at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Business suffered in 2005 when Canada Line construction began on Granville. Granville bus reroutes to Seymour and Howe streets from April 2006 until September 2010 didn’t help.
And in July 2010, new food carts started hitting the streets. “They came at such a bad time, economically, which leads me to wonder which city the mayor’s living in when he thinks about increasing the numbers of vendors by still another 20 or 30 in the next two years,” Damonse said.
After a trial in 2010, city council voted in 2011 to permit 30 new food cart locations downtown and 30 elsewhere over the next four years. There are now 103 stationary operators in the city, with another 20 roaming food trucks, and the bulk of them run downtown.
In Damonse’s day, an entrepreneur could start with a $7,000 to $10,000 investment. He worries about the newbies who’ve sunk $50,000 into food trucks. “The new vendors aren’t taking my money,” Damonse said. “There is no money.”
Dana Whaley and Jenn Willoughby parked their Off the Wagon taco truck, which started running at Dunsmuir and Burrard in September 2011, over the winter. “It’s probably more of a seasonal operation for a real full-time and lucrative business but there’s definitely enough people down there to sustain [food trucks and carts],” Whaley said.
Construction on the Burrard SkyTrain Station forced Off the Wagon to move around last year, leaving regular customers in the lurch. Off the Wagon returned to Dunsmuir and Burrard two weeks ago and Whaley’s hopeful the business will catch up to its lagging earning projections. Off the Wagon spent more than a year and upward of $50,000 outfitting a food trailer and a truck to haul it.
Success depends on product and location, Whaley says. “And that’s the same as a restaurant. A restaurant in the middle of nowhere is probably not going to do very well unless they’re selling something pretty phenomenal, so a hot dog vendor might have seen better business when they didn’t have competition with a better product,” she added. Whaley conceded the volume of food trucks in the downtown core might be “a little bit heavy for [new permits being given out] on an annual basis.”
Approximately eight hot dog vendors have changed their fare since 2010, but Damonse doesn’t think hot dogs fail to attract customers. He sells a seven-inch Maple Leaf wiener with an array of toppings for $3.50 and a locally made, almost foot-long sausage or a free-range buffalo and wild boar smokie for $6, whereas some newer food vendors charge more for their offerings. “Hot dogs are kind of a universal thing,” said Damonse, adding that the rerouting of buses from Granville Street on summer weekends also hurt his business.
The city plans to permit 15 new spots per year over the next two years. A city spokesperson said it will focus on making carts work outside of downtown.