There are few things that say big city more to me than lots of street-side food options. And I mean big city in the best sense of the words. Street-side food options are meant for the pedestrian first and foremost and sometimes they can only be accessed by those on foot. The most common street-side food options you see are food carts, small sidewalk oriented cafes, food trucks and food kiosks. I could easily write an article on each of these types of establishments and maybe will in the future, but in this one I want to just focus on the last one, food kiosks.
I am not sure what you think of when you picture a food kiosk, but my mind instantly goes to New York. I see Bryant Park and its amazing sandwich and coffee kiosks surrounded by dozens of little tables all filled with with people on their breaks having a snack or playing with their phones. Or I might also see one of the many kebab mobile kiosks that sit on the sidewalks all over the city, their windows fogged up with the warmth of the food cooking inside. The thing that both of these things bring to New York beyond a food option is a sense of a dynamic place. I have those memories not just because I ate at them but because they added a new dimension to the pedestrian space. They made the place they were interesting and exciting.
When it comes to street-side food options in Victoria, our choices are limited. We have a couple of hot dog stands, a single food kiosk downtown, a couple more if you include Uptown Mall and Fisherman’s Wharf and a few destination food truck places like behind the Royal BC Museum and Franklin Green in North Park Villages. We don’t have a single food kiosk downtown or in our parks. But the ones we do have show the demand is there for this type of establishment and again it is not just because it is a place to eat. Think about Fisherman’s Wharf, how many times have you gone down just to be a part of the crowd, walk along the docks and not eat anything? We want to do these things because that space is dynamic (Note to self, Fisherman’s Wharf would make a great post…) Seeing all of the things going on is what attracts us, now when we think back to where that space was before the expansion of the food kiosks we can see that it was not as popular as it is today. Another great example is the Red Fish Blue Fish Food Kiosk along the docks at the bottom of Fort Street. If you are doing the harbour walk seeing the massive line-up and people eating along the bar seating installed there, it really cements that sense of place. It is interesting that it is also located at the one spot that is not a parking lot in this stretch but that may be a coincidence. Of course the fact that the food is good here helps, but again it is the place created around the kiosk that really cements the image of it in our heads.
Looking at a couple more local focused options, the now two food trucks located in Franklin Green in North Park Village have truly created an amazing and unique space. Again the food is amazing, but with the large volume of customers and the very simple installation of tables and chairs has truly activated what was essentially a barren piece of parking lot. The bonus is that because it is so popular there is spillover of customers into the park space creating more use in what is a very underused green space. Walking through North Park Village has become much more vibrant with the addition of these two trucks. A likely more controversial example, but in my mind an excellent one are the two food kiosks located in Uptown Square at Uptown Mall. While this space would likely be busy with people walking through if they were not there, their addition along with the amazing water feature stops shoppers, gives them a place to sit even if they are not eating and creating a great opportunity to people watch. I do understand the cleansed aspect of the space as it is a private area dedicated to shopping but it has done an excellent job of creating a place that people want to be nonetheless.
We have some good examples around town, so why don’t we have more of them. One of the reasons is that over the years there has been an active move to prevent the addition of street-side food vendors in the downtown core because there is a perception that they will take away business from the other restaurants located there. I don’t think that this is likely, if they were going to impact a food retailer they are more likely to impact a fast food place or a convenience store. If you are wanting to eat at a restaurant, you are wanting a very different experience than sitting on a sidewalk having a taco or hot dog. I would bet that most are either bringing their own lunch or going without and the addition of the kiosk would only add money to the downtown economy rather than take it from somewhere else. We also don’t need a hundred of them right away. I would argue that the city could put in four right now and have them in some key locations to make them successful.
Centennial Square - This is the most obvious one to me. And the good news is that there is some current consideration at City Hall to putting one in. A small coffee kiosk here could do some amazing things in activating this space through a larger part of the year beyond the summer.
Johnson Street Bridge - The City created a complete waste of space at the western end of the bridge. One thing the city could do with this space is add a food kiosk here. If it was strategically located it could easily act as a partial wind break for those wintry winds blowing along the harbour. This would have a dedicated customer base for those walking downtown from Vic West throughout the day.
Library Square - This space can already be fairly dynamic when the library is open and you have someone busking in the centre. If there was also a coffee kiosk and some cafe seating, this would be one of the premiere destinations downtown, especially because it is one of the only all weather public spaces in the city.
Beacon Hill Park - I do realise that this is completely impossible under the current commercial restrictions for the park, but those restrictions that date back well over one hundred years are out of date and it is time we turned Beacon Hill Park into the big city park that it is. If there was a coffee kiosk near the centre playground parents could have a coffee while they watch their kids and tourists could sit at some cafe style seating while enjoying the majestic scenery.
If we could get some of these initial ones built and look at the positive benefit that they would provide to the city, I think that we would quickly want to add more in a variety of different places. We need only look at how much North Park Village or Fisherman’s Wharf has been changed into the dynamic people places that they are now by the additions of some dedicated food kiosks to see the potential there is for other barren spaces. Where would you like to add a food kiosk downtown or in a nearby park?