WATCH ABOVE: Cariwest organizers said this year’s festival was still a success despite changes to the food vending rules. Jessica Kent explains.
EDMONTON — For three decades, Edmonton has been getting a taste of Caribbean culture at Cariwest. But organizers at the annual celebration of Caribbean music and culture feared the worst this year when the vending rules were changed.
New rules put in place by Alberta Health Services meant restaurants were only allowed to participate in Cariwest if they had a food truck; food tents were no longer allowed.
“Last year there were challenges with ensuring food safety at the Cariwest Festival,” said Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health in the Edmonton Zone. “To help ensure that the organization could have a successful festival this year, the way to do that from a food perspective is to ensure that these are self-contained units that are already permitted.
“That was communicated with the organizers and the multi-stakeholder group back at the end of 2014.”
Nine vendors were missing from Cariwest’s food line up this weekend. Among the burgers and poutine, there were only three food trucks serving up eats from the islands.
“There was so much disappointment in our community that we were not able to include them in our community this year,” said Donna Coombs-Montrose, an organizer with Cariwest.
“I’m disappointed because there’s a lot of wonderful restaurants in town who would have loved to be here,” added Chantal Londji-Dang, a festival attendee.
Renee Ramlal said she felt overwhelmed when she heard the news, but wanted to participate for the third year so she bought a food truck.
“Whether we had to have a truck or a we had to have a tent we wanted to be here for the festival because we wanted to support our people, so we made it happen,” said Ramlal, owner of Sagar Restaurant & Food Truck.
Ramlal said she’ll use the truck at other festivals around the city, but other restaurants said finding the money for a food truck simply wasn’t an option.
“Our restaurants are still saying, ‘I do not do food vending, I do restaurant vending, so they still have to tell me what I’m going to do with this product outside of the Cariwest weekend,’” said Coombs-Montrose.
Organizers said despite the setback, the three-day event in Churchill Square was a success but attendance wasn’t as good as they hoped. The festival usually attracts upwards of 65,000 people, but this year’s numbers were down by about 5,000.
Organizers said they will work with AHS and restaurants to work out a solution for next year’s festival.
With files from Jessica Kent, Global News.