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PIG RIG HITS THE ROAD
It began with a potluck and a smoked pig.
Cathy Obertowich and Joe Thompson were casting around for a business idea when they were asked to bring a dish to a housewarming party.
The couple, longtime fans of smoking their own meat, settled on a 10-pound pulled pork as their contribution — and other party guests went crazy for their dish.
“Everyone was saying, ‘We have to get you to cater for us,” Obertowich said.
While they toyed with opening a traditional restaurant, high upfront costs were a deterrent.
Instead, they decided it was time to bring a big-city craze to the streets of the Tournament Capital and Cat and Joe’s Pig Rig — Kamloops’ first mobile food truck — was born.
The truck will open for business at various locations around the city and on the Tk’emlups Indian Band reserve in March, offering pulled pork, burgers and bacon sandwiches, with an emphasis on local ingredients.
Obertowich and Thompson don’t expect to be alone on the roads for long.
“I think it could be the start of something really big,” said Thompson, pointing to Vancouver, where more than 100 trucks are permitted to serve food streetside.
The couple plans to set up in Valleyview Square and (with permission) in front of various businesses on the reserve and in the city.
For now, though, there’s one place hungry customers won’t find them — in downtown Kamloops.
While city regulations permit some outdoor food vendors to operate in the central business district, the zoning category that covers most of the downtown core between First and Sixth avenues, only trailers without motors and pushcarts are welcome.
Motorized food trucks are limited to four zones, while pushcart vendors get more than twice that number.
Randy Lambright, manager of planning and development for the city, said he’s not sure why the city initially imposed stricter restrictions on food trucks, but suggested it may be because they tend to be so much larger than a hot-dog cart, which can sit on the sidewalk.
There’s also the parking issue — always a hot one in downtown Kamloops.
Food trucks take up parking spots, whether on the street or in parking lots, which can hurt brick-and-mortar businesses in the area.
For their part, Obertowich and Thompson don’t think their 24-foot truck should take up spots on Victoria Street either, but they’d like to be able to get closer to the downtown than the outer reaches of Lorne or Battle streets.
“Some rules are going to have to be looked at,” Thompson said.
Lambright said the city plans to do just that this year. While the increasing popularity of food trucks is part of the drive to update city rules, he said they aren’t the only mobile businesses interested in setting up shop in Kamloops.
“We’ve had other mobile businesses who want to, for example, erect a tent in the middle of a parking lot and start repairing windshields,” he said.
The city plans to talk with the business-improvement associations on both shores and may also hold public input sessions as it revamps its policy.
“It raises a whole range of issues that existing businesses would want to have input on,” Lambright said.
“For example, those businesses that are already in existing buildings, that have paid their taxes and put in landscaping and built a building and things of that nature, only to have a competitor come by and be able to put up a tent next door and siphon off some of their customers.”
Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association general manager Gay Pooler is not sure what members will think of food trucks, but agreed it’s a conversation the city needs to have before too many more pour into town.
“Mobile vendors do add vibrancy to the street, but you’ve got to make sure it doesn’t impact your bricks-and-mortar stores,” she said.
Pooler said discussions with her counterpart in downtown Vancouver led her to believe food trucks can co-exist with other downtown businesses.
“It can work, yes, because it’s a different experience,” she said.
“If you want to sit down and have a beer with your lunch. you have to go to a restaurant. If you want to have a business lunch. you’re not going to go to a mobile cart.”
On the North Shore, Morgan Smith thinks more food trucks could also help her.
While her Holy Crepe trailer doesn’t move from its Fortune Drive location unless she’s working a festival, Smith bills her operation as Kamloops’ first food truck.
And like any first, Holy Crepe took some people by surprise when it opened in 2011.
“I think people were hesitant in the beginning, like not sure if it’s safe or how it works or how long it’s going to take or where to order,” she said.
“Just the little things that make people feel comfortable interacting with a business.”
Since then, the gluten-free creperie has built up a loyal following, but Smith said having more food trucks in the city, and getting more Kamloopsians familiar with that style of dining, could also boost her business.
“It’s just a matter of getting more food trucks and more time. People say all the time, ‘You should be on Eat Street,’” she said, referencing the Food Network’s popular reality TV show focused on food trucks.
“I think it’ll happen. It just needs a little more time.”