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Coffee trucks in the age of COVID-19: Calgary truck veteran offers insights

Peter Kenter
Coffee trucks in the age of COVID-19: Calgary truck veteran offers insights
SUBMITTED PHOTO — Richard Frechette, of Calgary-based CoffeeTrucks.ca Inc., a coffee truck sales and leasing company, partners with Quebec coffee truck manufacturer Franc Metal & Freres to supply his trucks. They devised a simple modification to make coffee truck service safer during the pandemic with a stainless steel, fold-down counter at the back of the truck.

Richard Frechette has always pushed for coffee truck caterers to up their health and safety game, both as the former owner of Altance Catering and current owner of Calgary-based CoffeeTrucks.ca Inc., a coffee truck sales and leasing company.

But COVID-19 has opened up a new debate: should coffee trucks continue to visit project sites at all?

“The biggest issue coffee truck operators are facing right now is that construction site safety officers aren’t allowing trucks onsite because they believe they’re protecting their employees,” he says. “They don’t want workers gathering at the trucks because they see it as unsafe.”

Frechette partners with Quebec coffee truck manufacturer Franc Metal & Freres to supply his trucks. They devised a simple modification to make coffee truck service safer, sidestepping the crowds that might typically form during a lunch or coffee break.

“It’s a stainless steel, fold-down counter at the back of the truck,” Frechette says. “Instead of letting construction workers select or prepare their own food and beverages, they line up behind the COVID counter, distanced appropriately. They receive contactless service from the truck owner and pay with a contactless payment method.”

The device can be attached to a coffee truck with three rivets and sells for about $200.

Barring coffee trucks from project sites creates unintended consequences, Frechette says. Coffee truck caterers estimate that 20 to 25 per cent of employees at each site never make their own lunch to bring to work. They form a core of regular customers. If food trucks aren’t available, they tend to pick up food and coffee from fast food outlets, convenience stores and gas stations, often leaving the site to take orders for other workers.

“Instead of having one truck onsite serving people safely in a way that the safety officer can observe, they’re going to multiple outlets, where they can’t be observed,” says Frechette.

To date, only Montreal requires the installation of COVID counters by law. Implementing the regulation inspired the new design. But Frechette says that coffee caterers who have installed the modification elsewhere indicate they’re unlikely to go back to the old style of service.

“With food packages handled only by the operator, there’s less damage and product loss,” he says. “Food is rotated properly so it doesn’t spoil and nobody is squeezing the egg salad sandwiches or crushing pastries.”

In the absence of regulation, Frechette suggests that safety officers demand contactless service from food truck caterers.

“A properly appointed coffee truck and adequate distancing provides a safe and hygienic alternative to letting people fend for themselves,” he says.

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