Following an inaugural season that organizers called a resounding success, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is bringing back a selection of the region's finest food trucks this summer to a park near you.
The municipality is now accepting applications from food vendors to operate in Lost Lake and Rainbow parks between July 1 and Sept. 4.
"It was a huge success," said program manager Chris Quinlan of last summer's pilot project. "We did a survey, and all of the results indicate, especially with visitors, that there was a really high quotient of happiness."
The way it works: Each park will host one food truck per site a day, for a total of 127 vendor days. The muni will give priority to vendors offering "healthy choices" that utilize local products and suppliers. Making use of compostable food containers and packaging will also be considered in the selection process as part of the RMOW's efforts to reduce waste.
"In a perfect world, (a food truck) will use as many local ingredients as possible that meet the needs of everyone who goes to the park," Quinlan said. "It's interesting because there are people that go there who want to see food that's unique to Whistler or the area it's coming from, but also there's that demand for some products, like quick grab-and-go stuff, that people are used to getting in a park." As a result, each vendor must offer standard concession items this summer, like pop, chips and ice cream.
It's just one of the lessons learned from the pilot season, when a handful of food trucks from across the Sea to Sky and beyond took to Whistler's parks to hawk their wares: Whistler's own Dups Burritos; Function Junction's Paleo-focused Caveman Grocer; The Schnitzel Shack, out of Squamish; Carte Diem, another Squamish truck, this one dishing out homemade Greek cuisine; and Cheeses Crust, a Port-Coquitlam-based truck that serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. All five vendors have been invited to apply again this year.
Mihaela Boaru of The Schnitzel Shack said the family-run operation's first foray into the world of food trucks was a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience.
"It was a lot of fun, and it was a lot of stress," she said. "It was great to experience something completely different from the farmers' market and be able to change our menu to accommodate what people wanted."
Both vendors and organizers had to adapt on the fly when issues came up last summer. Weather posed a challenge, as did a massive toad migration at Lost Lake that forced a last-minute relocation to Lakeside Park.
"I've never seen a toadpacolypse like that before," Quinlan joked.
Pique heard from a couple truck operators who hoped for a little bit more flexibility in terms of scheduling to make up for days impacted by poor weather, and Quinlan said organizers did their best to accommodate food-trucks' concerns, granting refunds on rainy days.
"If there was an issue, then we were definitely flexible with it," he said. "If the trucks aren't successful, the program doesn't work."
Of course, as popular as the resort's parks are, the village remains sacred ground for any retailer in Whistler. Boaru said one of the reasons she wanted to take part in the program was to get her foot in the door if the municipality ever decides to allow food trucks on the Village Stroll. But with brick-and-mortar retailers already paying sky-high rent, there's been understandable pushback from the business community.
"The chance of a food truck being in the village and in Olympic Plaza, that would involve the Restaurant Association of Whistler and the Chamber of Commerce being 100-per-cent behind it, in all reality," said Quinlan. "There just has to be a lot of respect for folks that are paying anywhere from $60 to $130 a square foot (in rent). To drop in a food truck that is paying a day rate of $70, it's not very respectful."
In Boaru's mind, however, adding food trucks to the village would only benefit the restaurant sector.
"We've been doing lots of events, and when we started this business, we always thought if there are food trucks around then our sales are going to be lower. But it's never been like that," she said. "It just creates more competition; people have more choice and it actually brings people out. I've never heard of anywhere where, if you bring in food trucks, the sales at the (nearby) restaurants are going to go down. It's actually quite the opposite."
For now at least, the hungry masses of Whistler shouldn't have a problem venturing a little further to one of the community's idyllic parks for their foodie fix. Let's just hope Mother Nature cooperates, or she'll have to answer to Quinlan.
"We're going to have great weather this summer. I'm just throwing that out there," he said. "I don't have control over the weather, but I try."