If Louis Gagnon has learned anything from five years of successfully running a food truck in the Yukon, it’s “Batten down the hatches!”
Gagnon says this with a hearty laugh, but securing every food item in a food truck, is no joke. In fact, the French Canadian and long time Yukoner, who runs the well-known mediterranean food truck Garlic A GoGo, describes as it as the “number one rule in the food truck industry.”
Even after so many years in the business, spills happen.
Gagnon describes this year’s experience of turning a corner and losing about 10 gallons of freshly prepared iced tea and lemonade, all over his beloved motorhome-turned-food-truck. It’s a good thing he has a wicked sense of humour.
“I think I could write a book about the do’s and don’ts of food trucks after five years,” Gagnon says. “I’ve seen my menus fly down the highway; I’ve had my son walk through the ceiling of the truck and plant his foot in tzatziki.”
Cuisine casualties aside, business is booming for Garlic A GoGo and as Gagnon attests, it’s been quite a ride.
After closing the KEBABery, a restaurant Gagnon ran with his wife in downtown Whitehorse, the pair decided to appease their loyal kebab missing patrons by opening up a food truck. A food truck would grant them less labour and overhead costs compared to renting a pricey restaurant location.
Gagnon drove down to Kelowna to pick up an old 1973 Winnebago, and well, the rest is savoury, garlicky history. Almost.
Gagnon says the first two years of business as “terrible,” not because their signature Greek fries weren’t flying out the takeout window (they were), but because the City of Whitehorse and local restaurants were originally opposed to the idea of a food truck. Permits were awarded, then revoked.
Food carts were common at that time, but food trucks were a bit of an anomaly, and some feared it might take away business from the downtown core.
Refusing to be deterred from spreading happiness via hummus and shawarma, Gagnon set up shop outside Home Hardware, an opportunity that came about after he saw the building store parking lot as prime real estate to sell his delicious, niche fare.
After the manager granted Gagnon a one day parking pass, he overheard customers praising their home improvement purchases and ability to buy lunch, in one convenient location.
“The manager told me afterwards, ‘You can park here anytime you like,’” Gagnon says. “It’s a symbiotic relationship where I bring business to them, and they bring business to me.”
The match was so harmonious, that Garlic A GoGo remained parked at Home Hardware for four subsequent seasons. Throughout that time, Gagnon continue to “battle” with the City of Whitehorse over policy and bylaw changes for mobile food vendors.
This year, with Gagnon’s guidance, Mayor Dan Curtis and a new council created the food truck/vendor project, a law that has seen public spaces designated as parking areas for food truck vendors.
“Initially, they wanted to protect the interest of restaurants,” Gagnon says. “Now the City has turned around to embrace food trucks. They understand it’s great for downtown businesses and for tourism.” Nowadays, you can find Gagnon and his 12-year-old son manning Garlic A GoGo at Main Street and Third Avenue from Monday to Friday. On weekends, the Mediterranean mobile can be found at Home Hardware and at special events and locations on a “to-be-announced” basis.
Gagnon also says that recently he has been receiving calls for corporate events and customer appreciation days, where companies pay for his food truck service, instead of providing a catered lunch service.
While he has done small music festivals in the past, Gagnon has found the silver motorhome, dubbed “Homer,” is not made to hold a lot of product, making it difficult to fathom traveling up and down the Alaska Highway to attend such musical events.
“I’d need a reefer truck to follow me with chicken and fries to feed the multitudes,” Gagnon chuckles. “I would love to do Dawson and Atlin, but unfortunately, on a logistics level, it doesn’t make sense.”
If you’ve never tried Garlic A GoGo, chances are, you might have heard locals and tourists raving about the sinfully delicious Greek fries, served with spices and a heavenly dollop of tzatziki sauce.
“A lot of customers call them crack fries because once you have them, you need them,” says Gagnon.
Their shawarma is inspired by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. Another popular menu item is the spicy or savoury fried chicken runners, made from grain fed, fresh chicken thighs.
This year, prior to opening season in May, Gagnon started an online GoFundMe campaign where people could buy season passes for Garlic A GoGo. The passes offered 26 meals per card at a discounted rate, an option Gagnon says is great for those who might not carry cash. These season passes sold out in no time.
“It just shows how much support I have, that the community would do that in advance,” Gagnon says.
And even though he has 35 years of the hospitality industry under his belt from running hotels and restaurants, Gagnon admits he’s still a sucker for compliments.
“I’m always asking how the food is because I want to make sure people like the food. It’s a joy to see happy people and to give people good food.”
After celebrating five years of his food truck venture, looking ahead, Gagnon envisions a communal Whitehorse food truck park, where multiple food trucks could park in one area of the city. This food vendor collective would bring life to one area and as Gagnon believes, would generate big business and enthusiasm in the downtown zone. “It’s more than lunch, it becomes a destination.”