Beethovens Pizza owner Najib Abunnabu said he handed out $1000 worth of free pizza Saturday on Main Beach

Beethovens Pizza owner Najib Abunnabu said he handed out $1000 worth of free pizza Saturday on Main Beach

Free pizza protest against food trucks at Cultus Lake Day

It was a 'thank-you' with pizza from the owner but also a small protest against food trucks for competing with existing businesses

It turns out there is such thing as a free lunch.

Beethovens Pizza owner Najib Abunnadi handed out $1000 worth of free pizza on Saturday on Main Beach, to show his appreciation to loyal customers.

“I wanted to make a statement, and to say thank you to the people of Cultus lake, Chilliwack and the Lower Mainland for supporting us all these years,” he said.

But it was also “a bit of a protest,” he said, against the introduction of food trucks at Cultus Lake on Cultus Lake Day, which competed with existing businesses without having to pay for the privilege.

“My biggest objection to food trucks on the beach is that it will hurt us. We are already really working hard, with the weather and all the elements against us, just to survive.”

Beethovens has been for around 37 years, and he’s owned the popular pizzeria for the past 12 years, and invested about half a million dollars into it.

The busy season is July and August, even though they’re making pizza for six months of the year, April to October.

“Business is very slow in April and May. Our bread and butter is made in July and August, maybe the first week of September.”

Cultus Lake Park Board was initially looking at bringing food vendors in on a regular basis, a complement to the market.

But in the end they voted to limit food trucks to two days only in 2016 — one was Cultus Lake Day on June 11, and the other is the Cultus Lake Christmas event coming up in December.

“The whole idea of food trucks is to give people options, and to add to the experience that is being at Cultus Lake, by engaging all of the five senses,” said Rose Turcasso, commissioner for Cultus Lake Park Board.

It was a big day for Cultus Lake on Saturday. They had about 500 people at the pancake breakfast at the fire hall served up by local firefighters, and hundreds more cycled through the various attractions of the day, including the parade, market, entertainment with fireworks at the end.

Organizers received excellent feedback about the food vendors, she said, despite the surprisingly cold spring weather.

“I think it made people happy and brought them together as a community. It brought people joy,” she said.

Food trucks that rolled in served up everything from dim sum and poutine, mini donuts and fresh lemonade, as well as shawarma and cabbage rolls and more. Lakeside Beach Club served hamburgers and hot dogs from their portable barbecue set-up.

“I think the competition is healthy,” Turcasso said, adding she does not believe the two-month scenario for businesses at Cultus is accurate any more.

“The parking numbers we saw for May and June were very high,” she said. “That is telling us people are coming here more year-round. We’re starting to see an influx even in March.”

Food vendors can offer varied fare to spice things up.

“Ultimately we are trying to find ways to bring more business and traffic to the existing commercial leaseholders, and also generate revenue by offering something new and hopefully exciting,” she said. “People want options and diversity.”

But it’s unfair to the commercial leaseholders who are already struggling, said Abunnadi.

They still have to pay rent, maintenance and security costs all year long, and the increased parking fees up to $10 per day make it even tougher.

“So bringing food trucks to Cultus Lake won’t help us survive.”

What if it’s only limited to a couple of days a year?

“It will still hurt us. Our days are numbered,” said the pizzeria owner. “We don’t have a couple of days to spare.”

He said he didn’t make a big deal out of what he was doing by offering free pizza on Saturday, and kept the politics out of it.

“I never said anything to anyone. Just thanked them. The response was really good.”