Recent years have seen the appearance on urban agendas of social and environmental issues not conventionally understood as municipal concerns. Often framed as policy areas that promote sustainability, quality of life or social inclusion, these new arrivals are complex not only because they are often cross‐sectoral, but equally because there are few regulatory tools and resources to support their implementation. This trend has resulted in a growing body of research that asks what factors result in some social and environmental policies being adopted by municipalities, while others are not? And why in certain places and not others? Such research typically focuses on factors and processes that contribute to getting an issue on the official agenda of a municipality, but offers comparatively little by way of analysis of what happens next. This article addresses this gap by providing an in‐depth analysis of the early stages of implementation of an emerging urban issue, food policy, in the City of Vancouver, Canada. The article draws attention to the often overlooked spaces and contours of governmental institutions as sites of organizational learning and capacity building in support of sustainability. In this way, the analysis brings deeper understandings of a specific case of food policy implementation by a municipal government, while also advancing research on how similar cross‐cutting social and environmental issues are implemented by local governments elsewhere.