The owners of the one and only permanent food truck in the District of North Vancouver has been told they have until month’s end to leave their location – but the owner says the municipality’s rules are so strict, there’s nowhere else for them to go.
Eryn MacKenzie was inspired to create a truck-based fresh pasta commissary after a trip through Italy. She opened In Vacanza Pastificio behind The Woods Spirit Co. on Rupert Street in 2020.
“I realized that there are really no food options beyond fast food in that neighbourhood, and I’d really like to be able to walk and grab a bite somewhere so it seemed like a perfect fit,” she said.
But MacKenzie immediately became ensnared in a web of red tape from the district. The compromise was a temporary use permit allowing In Vacanza to operate in the loading bay of The Woods Spirit Co. as an accessory business.
But the food gained a reputation – and won awards – and people started coming from around the Lower Mainland. On Christmas Eve last year, MacKenzie was told by district staff she was in violation of her permit.
“Because we were only supposed to be serving to people who were customers of The Woods Spirit Co.,” she said.
MacKenzie eventually persuaded the district to give her a business licence – but it only allows her to stay in the loading bay. Now, industrial strata limitations in the area mean she and her staff of eight have to move out.
“It's really, really hard to find another spot when I know what the current restrictions and red tape are,” she said.
MacKenzie said it’s time for the district to become more flexible and allow food trucks like hers and others to move in to more locations. More than 3,000 people live in the newer condos going up in the Lynn Creek town centre, and more are on the way, but the district hasn’t fostered any of the kinds of businesses that would serve those residents, MacKenzie said.
“We would just like to stay in the neighbourhood. I live in that neighbourhood. I love that neighbourhood. I intentionally built a business in that neighbourhood, because I am passionate about that community and I want to see it continue to grow,” she said. “My dream would be to see one of the empty lots in our neighbourhood used as like a little food truck village, like you would see in Portland, where people can come and get their dinner and walk home or sit on park benches.”
An online petition calling for the district to allow food trucks to park on the street or in designated parking spaces has now racked up almost 800 signatures.
Brewery owners in the City of North Vancouver have also been pushing their council for more wheel-based food options in the Brewery District.
Fabio Martini, co-founder of the The Woods Spirit Co., said they want to keep MacKenzie and In Vacanza nearby.
“We’d like to see the district change policies to allow food trucks in the area because it is growing and there really is nowhere for people to go,” he said. “We’ve changed that a little bit and we feel [MacKenzie] can do the same.”
Mayor Mike Little said he’s been meaning to make the trip to In Vacanza because his staff rave about the food.
Little said transferring the business licence to a new location can be done easily; however, the new site must allow for food service in the zoning and he has asked planning staff to speak to MacKenzie and go over what options may be available in the area.
As for whether there’s an appetite to cut red tape for food truck businesses, Little said they can expect there will be due diligence from planning staff to ensure the location has adequate sidewalks, parking, and that it is not too close to tax-paying, bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
“Can they just roll up, park, put out their shingle and sell food? The answer is no, they still have to have a permit. But we do issue permits,” he said. “These things have to be planned. They have an impact. Sometimes they're super popular places with awesome food and the community benefits, but you also have to worry about the impact on some of the neighbours and make sure that it's not unreasonable.”
If she can’t find a new home for In Vacanza nearby, MacKenzie said she will be looking to move to the City of North Vancouver or East Vancouver.