VERNON - Excitement is brewing around two unique pop-up ventures at Vernon’s downtown bus loop, a shipping container art gallery and a mobile coffee cart, and rather than see that momentum falter when the exhibit ends and the space returns to an empty gravel parking lot, some would like to see it continue to thrive as a food cart square.
Kelowna has a busy little hub of food trucks in City Park in the summer, but Vernon has no such locale. For local foodie Justin Jackson the parking lot across from Cenotaph Park, currently hosting the Vernon Public Art Gallery’s Print Triennial and Andrew McWilliam’s Ratio Coffee cart, is the perfect location to try out a food cart plaza.
“Imagine if there was three to five other food vendors here, it would be an ideal place to hang out and get food,” Jackson says.
The gravel lot at the transit bus loop on 31 Avenue has been sitting empty and is used for parking while plans to build a new, permanent art gallery there continue to stagnate. Jackson would like to see the space used for food carts, which would require no infrastructure on the city-owned lot, until such time as a new art gallery moves ahead.
He proposed the idea in a recent blog post on Startup Vernon and says the response has been really positive.
“You can just see this innate demand, people wanting something like this, craving something like this,” Jackson says.
He says a cluster of food carts would fill a need for speedy takeout food for those people working downtown who are looking for something quick on their lunch break, and would also serve to boost the city’s food culture. He suggests the shipping containers donated for the art gallery would be the perfect place for vendors to store equipment overnight, or for people to hang out in on rainy weather days.
Ratio Coffee’s Andrew McWilliam says business has been busy since opening alongside the art gallery March 19.
“Having the art gallery here too, it makes it a really cultural experience. People love it. It’s enriching Vernon and definitely meeting a niche for office people downtown,” McWilliam says. “And it’s kind of fun having a pop-up within a pop-up.”
He’s watched the atmosphere change with increased foot traffic, and doesn’t want to see that sense of community lost when the temporary art exhibit ends and the shipping containers are moved away. He too believes there’s an opportunity in building a plaza for food carts.
“There’s something sort of disarming about street vendors as opposed to a traditional brick and mortar store,” McWilliam says. “I have a lot of great conversations with people all day long. The cart has certainly become part of the topography around here, people expect me to be here.”
Jackson has already contacted the city about the idea, and at least one councillor believes it’s a concept worth considering.
“I think it’s always good to have some activity,” Coun. Juliette Cunningham says. “When I’ve seen food carts on the street they always seem very popular.”
Certain aspects would have to be looked at first, such as concerns with parking, and consultation with the Downtown Vernon Association and its membership, Cunningham says.
“But it would be a good thing to explore,” she says.
In the meantime, you can find Ratio Coffee and visit the pop-up gallery until May 21. McWilliam’s food cart, chock-full of coffee and baked goods made by Laurie Knuever of Taste of Charity, is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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