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Food cart pilot project still hamstrung by red tape

Nancy Senawong, “the one success story” from the debut summer of Toronto’s troubled street food program, will return to Mel Lastman Square a virtual slave to her hulking $30,000 cart.

Nancy Senawong, “the one success story” from the debut summer of Toronto’s troubled street food program, will return to Mel Lastman Square a virtual slave to her hulking $30,000 cart.

Like many of the eight “a la Cart” vendors, she is heading back out at least in part because she needs to pay off debts racked up behind the grill last summer, and doubts they will be gone by the end of the three-year pilot project.

“Now I pay almost $600 a month for the loan I got for the cart — 14 per cent over three years,” says Senawong, a vivacious entrepreneur who will use assistants to juggle cart duties with her family’s Ellesmere Road restaurant Thai Angels.

The cart is a sore point, but so is red tape that still chafes, despite rules being relaxed considerably last fall.

That’s when control of a la Cart — created to give Torontonians healthy ethnic alternatives to hot dogs — was transferred to the city’s economic development department from health.

Most of the rents were cut. New locations are being offered, including ones as far from the city core as Yonge Street and Finch Avenue, where the Korean food vendor, who did little business at Yonge and Eglinton Avenue last summer, hopes to tap into the Korean-Canadian community.

Economic development, they say, is trying to help them but can’t change the rules.

Councillor John Filion, the health board chair who championed a la Cart, calls Senawong the program’s “one success story” from 2009, noting her entrepreneurial flourishes.

He denies the vendors were over-regulated and blames their troubles on last summer’s pedestrian-zapping rainfall, city workers’ strike and, in some cases, inexperience.

 
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