Mobile Food Vending: A Beginner’s Guide
Have you ever thought about operating a food truck? In the U.S. at least, the food truck industry is now generating $2 billion-plus in estimated revenue with the industry’s overall revenue having grown 300% over the last three years.
Though the food truck craze likely peaked a few years ago, mobile food vending may still provide budding entrepreneurs exciting opportunities to get their feet wet. Some carts and concession stands can be purchased at an attractive price point, and even food trucks, which will likely require a larger investment upfront, can be run with modest operating costs. There is also something appealing (at least to the author of this blog post) about parking your colourful truck next to the sidewalk, playing your favourite music, and dishing out your choice of delicacy to a lineup (one would hope) of eager patrons. You may also like the idea of being part of the festival scene, which largely depends on mobile food vending to keep the good people of Calgary happy and fed. If meals on wheels speaks to you like ones and zeroes probably spoke to Bill Gates, listen up; you’ll need to clear some red tape before you can get started.
Food Handling Permits
If your mobile food vending operation is going to require you or your staff to handle food, you will need a food handling permit. Alberta Health Services classifies mobile food vending units according to the type of food that will be handled, the manner in which said food will be handled, and the extent to which such handling presents a risk to the public. Depending on how your mobile unit is classified (types A-F), you will need to meet certain requirements, such as a minimum number of sinks or a minimum amount of fresh water that you have to have available for use at all times. Additionally, if you are not planning on preparing food in the mobile food vending unit itself, you will likely need to set up a “Base of Operations,” which would entail designating a space for food storage and preparation and then receiving approval from Alberta Health Services.
Next, you’ll need some business permits from the folks at the City of Calgary. First and foremost, anyone offering mobile food services will need to obtain a municipal business licence. The next step will depend on what kind of vending unit you plan on operating and where, exactly, you plan on parking it. If you want to operate from city streets, you’ll need to licence your mobile unit as a “full service food vehicle.” This type of licence requires a safety code inspection, which is coordinated in conjunction with a business licence fire inspection and can be scheduled by calling 311. You will also need to have a commercial vehicle licence and an insurance policy with at least $2 million of coverage in place before a full service food vehicle permit will be issued. Those wanting to park their full service food vehicle at a special event will also need an additional special event inspection (also scheduled by calling 311).
If you plan on operating only from private property, or if you want to operate a pushcart outside of the downtown core, you can instead apply for a “food service – no premises” licence type. This licence will not require the building safety and fire inspections that a full service food vehicle would, although you will still need an insurance policy with at least $2 million of coverage in place before a permit will be issued. Note that this type of licence allows individuals to operate downtown between the hours of 7 am and 3 am. Some examples of food service – no premises mobile vending units include: food trucks that only operate at festivals or only sell pre-prepared foods, pushcarts outside of downtown, bicycle vendors operating on roadways that do not meet the definition of pushcart, ice cream trucks, and catering trucks. It is also important to note that operating your business on private property (regardless of how you’ve licenced your mobile vending unit) will require the property owner’s written consent.
Regardless of which licence type you ultimately decide on, there will, of course, be fees (see the City of Calgary link provided below). You will also need to ensure that you dispose of any grey water (waste water from cleaning dishes and the like) at an approved location. Those who want to operate on Stephen Avenue Mall, Barclay Mall or Eau Claire Market will also need approval from the Downtown Association. Given that your business may feature sharp objects and open flames, you may also want to think about liability and how you will structure your business (i.e. whether to incorporate).
So there you have it, the basic steps you need to get your mobile vending unit business up and running. Ultimately, one of the great things about food trucks and mobile vending units is that the municipal and provincial governments have put resources towards streamlining the licencing process. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, that means less red tape and more time to dial in your menu, your branding, and your food trucks awesome paint job.
For more information on Food Handling Permits, visit: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/wf/eph/wf-eh-mobile-food-vending-units.pdf
For more information on mobile food vending in the City of Calgary, please visit: http://www.calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Pages/Business-licenses/Mobile-Food-Vendors.aspx
To view the City’s fee list, visit: http://www.calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Documents/fees/business-licence-fee-schedule.pdf
Aleksandar Kukolj is a member of the BLG Business Venture Clinic, and is a 3rd year student at the Faculty of Law, University of Calgary.
 Sam Milbrath, “12 Impressive Facts on the Food Truck Industry” (May 17, 2018) online: https://www.food.ee/blog/12-impressive-facts-on-the-food-truck-industry/.
Blog posts are by students at the Business Venture Clinic. Student bios appear under each post.