October 19th, 2020

Food truck operators make the best of COVID-19 situation


By Jensen, Randy on August 25, 2020.

Lila Phillips, owner of Tiny Tim's Mini Donuts from Fort Saskatchewan, gets a batch of donuts ready for the second day of the Whoop-Up Days Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival Saturday at Exhibition Park. Herald photo by Dale Woodard

Dale Woodard

Lethbridge Herald

sports@lethbridgeherald.com

Dinner – all different kinds of it – was served Saturday afternoon at Exhibition Park.

As part of a revamped Whoop-Up Days, the Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival pulled into the South Pavilion parking lot for a two-day food showcase offering a variety of culinary options of the lip-smacking variety.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has put the brakes on a variety of summer stops for vendors, the vehicles were parked and open for business at the event which ran Friday and Saturday.

As interested samplers began filing in late Saturday morning, Lila Phillips, owner of Tiny Tim’s Mini Donuts from Fort Saskatchewan, and her staff were set up and ready to serve the baked goods.

In years past, Tiny Tim’s Donuts travelled with West Coast Amusement and also worked the Edmonton Eskimos football games.

That all changed in March when the pandemic shuttered operations.

“On March 12 everything got shut down and we wondered what we were going to do,” said Phillips. “I haven’t done the Lethbridge fair for quite a few years because there are three units with West Coast Amusements and one of them came here. It wasn’t the one we were on. So I haven’t been here for years. It actually hasn’t been so bad. When we came here on Thursday for set-up they had already opened up the elephant ears and the lineup was down the street. So we were really excited about coming. This is actually the second drive-through event we’ve done as far as fairs go. The other was in Lloydminster. Friday was pretty hot and most people don’t want to eat when it’s hot, but it was still pretty good considering the heat.”

On the west side of the parking lot, Johnny’s Fresh Squeezed Lemonade from Calgary was setting up to help people beat the heat.

Lethbridge was also their second stop of the summer, said manager John Lowe.

“It hasn’t been as good as previous years, obviously,” said Lowe. “We’re just happy to get out and do the events we were doing and try to bring some happiness to people affected by COVID.”

Still, Johnny’s Fresh Squeezed Lemonade was enjoying a solid weekend in Lethbridge.

“We have actually been kind of surprised because there has been a good turnout here,” said Lowe. “A lot of people are rolling in and out, so there isn’t a huge capacity at once. But we are getting a good turnout throughout the whole day.”

In fact, Lowe said he was doing comparable business to previous years at Whoop-Up Days.

“At Whoop-Up Days throughout the five days we would probably sell 1,000 lemonades or so. We are doing pretty close to that per day at this event.”

Lowe said Johnny’s protocols for cleanliness are the same as it was before the pandemic.

“We are very careful about sanitizing and cleaning. We have our sink-cleaning products and all of that. I think the biggest change now is that we have to wear masks and we are happy to do so.

“We’re not getting too close to customers regardless. It’s less important for the customer to wear a mask than it is for us.”

Lowe also noted many customers bringing cards instead of cash to make their purchases.

“So we’re accepting credit now.”

For Phillips, the pandemic affected her staff numbers.

“The biggest thing is we had a few staff that we kept on, but we couldn’t keep all of the staff,” she said. “So when football was supposed to start in May, that was a big ‘OK, now what do we do?’ The people who had worked for us for years asked us what do we do now and I said I could use them for a couple of events, but other than that there is not a whole lot.”

As far as customer service goes, Tiny Tim’s kept up the standard pandemic practice.

“We have masks on when we go up to the vehicles and serve them whatever they want,” said Phillips. “Then we go back into the booth and grab it or get it handed out. It hasn’t been too bad.”

COVID has afforded Phillips the chance to turn her attention to a project that hits close to home for her called Travis House, a nonprofit facility for men with drug and alcohol addictions.

“I’ve done Tiny Tim’s for all these years, now it’s time for Tiny Tim’s to give back,” said Phillips, who lost a nephew to alcohol addiction when he was 38. “With the proceeds we make from Tiny Tim’s, a percentage of it is going to my new project.”

The facility will operate in northern Alberta.

“I figured I might as well do something productive in my time off due to COVID and it is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Phillips.

Follow @DWoodardHerald on Twitter

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