Craving something cool and sweet or something savoury for a snack this summer, then a visit to the local chip wagons of Woolwich might be in order. Dotting the township from the town of Elmira to Breslau, these ephemeral businesses have been yearly setting up their stalls in the warm seasons to cater to the summertime peaks.
By its nature a small venture, the chip wagons nonetheless form an important part of the township’s entrepreneurial spirit, and fill a niche demand during the hot summer days.
For Sarkis Tschaprazian, co-owner of Victoria’s Homemade Burgers in Breslau, the allure of the chip wagon is in being outdoors.
“This here, I feel like it’s home,” said Tschaprazian, who just took ownership of the business with his family this summer. Located along Victoria Street, just west of the Woolwich Street intersection, the wagon has an almost patio-like quality to it, and serves up an array of hot dogs, burgers and kebabs.
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“I believe when you’re eating your food, you need to be relaxed and you need to be laid back. Especially when you’re eating, you need to enjoy that moment,” he said.
Having just taken over the chip wagon, Tschaprazian notes that business has been slow to pick up. But, of course, he points out, running an outdoor food stand is all very much dependent on the day-to-day weather, as well as the seasonal shifts.
“It’s OK. I can say bad some days, I can say not bad some days,” he said. “It’s a seasonal business. I don’t think in the wintertime, in the middle of December, January, someone will want to stop by for a hotdog. You want to go for a drive-thru of course. Or inside in a restaurant.”
Mark Fuchka, who operates Quick Stop Fries along Elmira’s Arthur Street just north of Church Street, agrees that the business demand is constantly shifting from week to week.
“It’s always really busy at the start, but then this time of year it usually slows down. A lot of people are on holidays and that kind of thing. And then usually after mid-summer, it usually picks up ’til the end again,” said Fuchka.
Tschaprazian, however, may have missed some of the early summer rush in business. The new business owner notes they had a late start this season due some difficulties with the paperwork involved.
“Sometime there could be difficulties. I don’t blame anyone,” he said, noting the language in the paperwork can be difficult for him to read. “There’s some difficulties. But, hey, after all that, it’s worth it. It’s worth having your dream job – following your dreams, you know.”
Other chip wagon owners admit that the government requirements can be onerous, but say it is to be expected. Fuchka, who has been operating his wagon for the past five years, says that it’s part of the township’s due diligence.
“They ask for a lot, but they’re more or less covering their own selves. They want to make sure you’re up to date with all your inspections. They want to make sure you follow all the rules, the regulations, so you’re a safe business owner. You’ve got customers in your establishment, so you’ve got to be up to code,” he said.
“I’ve heard a lot of people, the township give them a hard time. But really, they’ve kind of got to. It’s for the safety of the people.”
Kelly Schwindt, owner of the Loose Caboose chip wagon in Elmira, however has had a comparatively easier time with the applications process.
“It hasn’t been bad. We only have to work with them for getting the permit and it just takes a few minutes,” said Schwindt, who may be one of the youngest business owners in the township, opening the Caboose before she was 16 to raise money for school.
She’s been running the Caboose for three years now, and this fall will be going into her first-year of university for kinesiology. She is planning on being at the chip wagon in time for next summer, however.
A sticking point, however, has been the cost of acquiring a license to operate in the township. Until recently, the annual fee to the Woolwich Township was $1,100; by comparison, the neighbouring City of Kitchener charges only $560 for the same.
For operating food trucks, the cost is even lower in Kitchener, with licenses coming in at $225 versus the township’s $1,100 fee.
“I’ve complained about that for many years because the city of Kitchener only charges I believe $670 for the longest time. Ten minutes north of here, they were only charging $250 for the whole season. And I’ve often asked them that, and they never really got back to me on why it was $1,100,” said Fuchka.
The township just recently decreased the fees for food trucks and chip wagons, however, in response to some of the criticism. At a June 26 meeting, shortly before the summer recess, Woolwich council voted to drop the cost of licenses to be more competitive with nearby municipalities.
Operators of food trucks will now pay $500 to acquire an annual license in their first year, and will subsequently be charged $350 for every year thereafter. Those who paid the full $1,110 this year would be reimbursed, said township staff.
The decision was welcomed by Schwindt, who said it would be much easier to get a license going forward. And perhaps, lowering those barriers of entry will even encourage more entrepreneurs like her to succeed.
“If you had asked me if I was 13 or something, if I would have ever gotten into food, I probably would have said ‘No, never.’ And now I’m running a chip wagon, and the experience has been incredible. Like, I’ve learned so much from everything,” said Schwindt.