Dear PoP – Food truck fiasco/showdown today in metro center!

“Dear PoP,

I went out to go try Takorean today for lunch. After waiting in a long line, I was about 3 people away from the front of line when a cop car pulls up (lights blazing) and asks for his food licenses and papers. He orders the truck to shut down and says that while he has the correct licenses to do business, he doesn’t have the license “to do business here”.

The cop told me that someone had called in to him saying that the Takorean truck didn’t have the correct licenses. The truck owner said that he did, and was getting someone from Takorean HQ to bring them out.

I have a feeling that an angry restaurant owner nearby was mad about losing business, so phoned in this “tip”. What’s up with this? What kind of certification do food trucks need to operate?”

Anytime food is handled/served/sold I believe DCRA papers are required. I’d be surprised if a big truck like Takorean didn’t have them, though it is odd that they apparently weren’t in the truck. Anyone else witness this scene?

Who do you think will win this apparent battle – food trucks or brick and mortar restaurants?

62 Comment

  • as much trouble as the food trucks have had, I’d be surprised if their DCRA papers weren’t in the truck. I’m definitely pulling for the food trucks to survive, but purely from a lobbying standpoint with the city council, I think that brick and mortar places definitely have more chance for success. The food trucks’ long-term future is probably going to hinge upon how vocal the few places which are both brick and mortar and truck focused business (e.g. Dangerously Delicious Pies) want to be

  • These “battles” seem to pop up with some frequency in areas such as Penn Quarter, Metro Center, Farragut Square, and Dupont Circle with a lot of brick-and-mortar establishments. They are far less frequent here in SW Federal Ghetto, which most national chains avoid and where foodtrucks have been a boon to office workers like me wanting a tasty, reasonably priced lunch. So far, the foodtrucks seem to have the popular support, and the restaurants seem to have the better organized lobbyists. I wish I could be confident that the DC Council will listen to the consumers on this one, but prior experience does not make me confident.

    • The food trucks have a lot of popular support – and some of that will last, but a big chunk of it will wane as the fad aspect cools off. I think in a couple years brick and mortar restaurants will continue to fight and a lot of the food trucks will be gone. The really good ones will keep thriving and figure out a way to survive without being hassled. I doubt DC will end up with a permanent food truck scene though – like Portland, Austin, etc.

      • You have no facts to back up your claims. You sound like an “investor” on CNBC spouting off about why the stock market may go up.. or it may go down. Nice.

        • I’m offering a humble guess on a fucking trend – not writing a white paper on the topic. Jesus.

          • nice language

          • +1 I agree. I predict a similar fate when teh cupcake bubble bursts

          • FUCK! SHIT! COCK!

          • DC is certainly prone to trends, but plenty of other cities around the country are able to support real food trucks (as opposed to our local hot dog in questionable water specials) without every business in the area going bankrupt. I see no reason why DC can’t do the same. People are willing to pay for quality, reasonably priced, convenient food in this city. As long as the trucks provide that service, they should stay in business.

            Like any other city, crappy trucks will fail and good trucks will stay around. Note to food trucks, don’t serve crappy, overpriced food.

          • Cupcakes are the all season answer to ice cream — we’re replacing ice cream w/ tiny cakes in our culture. I don’t see a strong shift back to ice cream. Ice cream doesn’t work in the winter, doesn’t encourage people to purchase in bulk, it’s not something that can sit out in an office break room (a key part of snackability), you cant’t take it home, it’s not as small portion, i.e., hip friendly — all in all, it’s a less perfect mousetrap.

            If I could buy a cupcake ETF, I would.

          • Maybe I’m biased because I’ve been lactose sensitive my whole life, but it seems that more people these days just can’t handle dairy. There was a time when everyone was giving their kids milk to drink with meals, but that’s pretty much unheard of now.

  • ah

    Why is mpdc enforcing this anyway? Was he illegally parked? Otherwise it’s DCRA. What’s next-mpdc checking on building permits?

  • This sounds like police on the payroll for someone who doesnt like food trucks.

    I wouldnt be surprised to find out that there is some corruption involved.

  • Copper probably has a buddy with a crappy take out charging us idiots $10 for a wilted salad by the pound…

  • Seems like the food trucks have lots of support. People are lining up to eat their food everyday. But consumer support is not the same as political support. Too bad brick & mortar restuarants have to use force to run these guys out of business rather than attracting customers away from the trucks by offering something other than $10 salads.

  • How do food trucks handle the parking issue? Do they park in actual parking spaces and feed meters, or do they have some sort of exemption and are allowed to temporarily park in what would be an illegal spot to you and me?

    • I dunno about everyone, but this guy was definitely parked in a legal parking spot (2 hour limit).

      • ah

        I’ve seen te guys get out to buy more time at the parking ticket machine.

        (probably constitutes feeding the meter, but they are paying for the space)

    • The food trucks don’t seem to have regular parking spaces, which is one difference with Portland.

      As far as I know, the vast majority of food trucks are parked regularly in lot spaces set aside for them. Always and forever.

      You go there, counting on them being there too.

  • I am a firm believer in letting food trucks do business anywhere, but I also think they need to pay DC sales tax just like every other Brick and Mortar business. I am a restaurant owner(brick & Mortar) which loves the creativity of the food trucks, but I think that not having the same policies for food trucks vs brick & mortar is a major problem. That is the fault of the DC government. Free Enterprise! Keep up the great creative work food trucks

    • Exactly,

      Currently food trucks and street vendors love doing business in DC because they pay a token $1,500 dollar a year “tax” and thats it, while brick and mortars have to collect a 10% sales tax on everything they sell.

      And on top of fleecing the city treasury of tens of millions of extra dollars a year, the majority of these trucks aren’t DC businesses to begind with. I’ve seen two food trucks with DC plates, which means they simply drive back to MD, VA or NY (lobster truck) every day and don’t pay income tax on their sales either.

      So leveling the playing field with taxes is just a start. I would also think that levying a BID tax is also fair. They pull up to any neighborhood, fill all the nearby trashcans with their refuse then drive away, forcing the local brick and mortar to pay to clean the streets these guys love to do business on.

      Lastly, this truck was just being dumb and deserved to be shut down for the day. Brick and mortars have to post their licenses above the bar for everyone to see, contractors have to post permits on the front of houses buildings they work on, keeping a copy of your permit in the truck you are selling from isn’t that hard, especially when it is apparently the law for you to do so. I can promise you they won’t forget again.

      Signed, not a brick and mortar owner but tired of people fleecing me as a DC taxpayer.

      • From everything I saw, he had a bunch of licenses next to the window. I don’t really know exactly what they were, but I highly doubt that a food truck owner (esp. as famous as Takorean) wouldn’t have the necessary documents on him at all times.

        Something’s fishy about this…

        • “The truck owner said that he did, and was getting someone from Takorean HQ to bring them out”.

          The truck guy obviously didn’t have them on him or he wouldn’t have needed to have someone from the office bring them out. Like I said, they won’t make that mistake again.

      • I’m guessing you’re not not a brick and mortar. But oh well, truth was never really for the internet.

      • the tax code is often use to encourage businesses (or mortgage purchasers, etc). In this case, i’m glad there were some rules to encourage a new industry in a city where decent, affordable food options are lacking.

        Now, making them pay sales tax should happen. The vendors say it’s impossible to calculate at the point of sale. Bogus. The Standard does it by charging odd prices for a sandwich so that when you include the tax, it’s a whole number.

        So, if you want your hipster dog with extra irony, then charge $7.27 and take $8. Keep track of your sales and write that damned check.

      • “Tens of millions of extra dollars a year”!?

        You cannot honestly believe that the DC food truck industry is a $100-200 million dollar a year industry. (Or maybe I’m in the wrong business!)

        Yeah, sure, maybe there should be sales tax on food trucks, but just tone it down. You are not being “fleeced” because of food trucks — which you apparently believe don’t serve any function other than as roving trash depositors.

  • Define “DC business.” How many of the brick and mortars around do you think are DC businesses?

    Also, define “fleecing.” If they’re abiding by existing law, how is that fleecing? There is a political process in place for leveling the playing field, if that’s what you think needs to be done.

    For now, though, this sounds to me like some sour grapes (Firehook around the corner maybe?) and police officers willing to scratch a back or two.

    • As I’ve said, I don’t own, run or work in any brick and mortar. That strawman argument of yours aside, I would think you as a DC taxpayer would be pretty upset as well.

      “How many of the brick and mortars around do you think are DC businesses”

      You really don’t understand how businesses function and how their taxable liabilities, even chain stores/resturants are assesed do you? Funny.

      Those nasty gray water dog carts and shirt vendors who line the street every day don’t pay sales tax either, and I’ve gone on record with my councilman a few times over the years complaining about that fact.

      The fact is, we have mobile vendors now pulling $300K-400K a year worth of gross revenue (untaxed) off DC streets a piece. They don’t pay sales tax, income tax, property tax, BID tax. Why should DC taxpayers be defending or accomodating businesses that make a point of having nothing vested into the town in which they do business? Thats the near definition of parasitic.

      Yes, the current law has a big wide loophole thats been the law for two decades that all of them are currently jumping through, but the Council submitted legislation to close it a month ago. By the looks of it, they will all be paying typical sales tax by the summer and their response to the proposed law illustrates just how much they “respect” and “like” the District.

      • Is that you Ed?

      • Where did you get that gross revenue number? Just curious.

        Side note – money belongs to the person who earned it until the goverment takes it. Not the other way around – money is ours when the goverment lets us keep it. So not paying (legaly) a tax when someone else is required to is not a subsidy.

        • I really don’t get the cognitive dissonance when it comes to street vendors and food trucks.

          Takorean’s menu shows 3 tacos for 8. Lets figure the average per customer sale is $10 (food and drink). Multiply that times 100 customers a day (low in the summer, high in the winter). Thats 1K a day in gross revenue, 20K a month or 240K a year in gross sales.

          If they were paying the standard 10% sales tax, they would be paying the DC Treasury 24K a year, not $1,500

          The lobster truck sells their rolls for 15-18 a piece. Lets be generous and say that their average sale is $16 per person, times 100 people a day.

          Thats $384K a year and instead of paying 38K in tax, they pay $1,500.

          So on and so forth…

          Thinking you are a savy businessman or being surprised because your food truck makes so much money when you don’t have to pay the taxes your competition does, is like you being a banker for the past 2 years and proud and smug that your bank is rolling in the profit when the gov loans you your money for free and you turn around and loan it out for 5%

          When the DC Council passes the legislation this summer, we will see how functional their business model is. I suspect some of them will go out of business as they can’t survive without the free money subsidy their competion was providing. Others will simply raise their prices.

          • You know Ed, you should at least identify yourself and the role your lobbying organization is playing in trying to shut down the food trucks in DC.

          • @ DC Foodie,

            I don’t know who Ed is, but I’m not him.

            Time for you to create another e-enemy and strawman argument.

            In the mean time, hush…the adults are talking.

          • Except that the business wouldn’t be paying the 10%, the consumers would.

          • they don’t get nearly the profit margin of a brick and mortar establishment and so, in order to pay their employees and their bills and such, they would be forced to raise their prices.

      • Providing goods and services that people value (otherwise they wouldn’t make sales you estimate in your example) is not “near” the definition of parasitic. Presumably actual taxpaying residents of our fine city are some of their customers too.

        Having said that, I can think of no good reason to exempt food trucks from sales tax.

        • @ huh,

          The consumers are already “paying” a sales tax to the vendor, the only difference is that vendor is not remitting it to the city and keeping it for profit.

          There differnece is a brick and mortar sells someone a 10 dollar lunch, they have to send $1 of it to the tax man. A food truck sells a 10 dollar lunch and keeps the dollar for themselves. The fact that they make so much money isn’t exactly rocket science.

          Now add on all the other disparities, brick and mortars paying thousands a year in BID taxes, tens of thousands a year in rent and/or property tax and the uneveness of the playing field is pretty obvious.

          As I’ve said before, yes it is currently “legal” but it is an enormous tax loophole that is currently being closed.

  • I’m surprised there were cops available to hassle the food trucks today considering how many were following/dealing with the Elephant Walk.

    Ridiculous. It’s really no wonder why so much crime goes unpunished in D.C. Now if those cops could have gone around the block from the back of the Verizon Center down H street to the metro they might have been able to actually do their jobs.

  • Will a food truck please, for the love of god, set up at Federal Triangle!

  • If they dont have the papers or approvals they cannot do business there.. regardless of whether someone filed a complaint or if the police was just checking.

    If someone did complain, then ofcourse more than one party knew that they didnt have the approvals. Perhaps it was a rival food truck, why put the blame on restaurants?

    • Are there “rival foodtrucks? My understanding is that they sort of cooperate (so that they can advocate to stay in existence).

      • trucks do cooperate and work as friends and treat each other as neighbors. most of them are quite good to their employees, to boot, which i can’t say for most of the brick and mortar places. also, they are inspected way way way more often than any brick and mortar and are likely safer to eat at than many food places.

        • One man’s “cooperation” and “working as friends” is another man’s “dividing territories” (illegal).

          • You’re really full of shit. Since there are multiple food trucks at single locations, “dividing territory” is a completely inaccurate argument. You must work for the DC Restaurant Association.

          • they definitely don’t “divide territories” and they definitely DO work together. you clearly don’t know wth you’re talking about. meet some of the people who run the food trucks, then maybe you’ll understand.

          • I think the food trucks are great and I hope there are more of them. I’m quite certain many of them are good people. I have seen no evidence that the food trucks are dividing territories (not that I have been looking) I certainly don’t work for the restaurant association.

            Though snarky, my point was just that cooperation among would-be competitors is something that probably shouldn’t be touted on a public forum. There are people who work in this city (at the DOJ) who aren’t inclined to think of competitors being friendly and cooperative as a good thing.

  • I hope the food truck guy called the police on that cop if his papers were in order. Just because a cop is doing it does not make it legal.

  • “Just because a cop is doing it does not make it legal.”

    It’s 100% legal. MPD is authorized to check vendors for their licenses and cite people for vending without a license if appropriate. That’s about all we’re equipped to check unless you’re one of a few people who’ve been trained by DCRA for additional code enforcement.

    And thinking back, I believe there was a ‘Vending Enforcement Unit’ of one or two guys back in the day who checked everything.

  • I was there and the officer specifically stated that he received a call with a complaint and that the truck needed a permit to operate on that particular corner, which is not true, so of course the truck didn’t have it. The situation was resolved when Officer Steinbeck, the MPD food truck liason, arrived and cleared things up. Takorean did nothing wrong, the officer was in error (and I personally believe the call was an attempt at harassment).

  • Those serving shitty food just need to get over themselves and stop calling the cops.

  • I’ve never seen these food trucks venture up to upper Georgia Avenue or anything, the real PoPville. so i don’t really care either way about them or if they’re successful.

  • I really don’t understand the huge fuss about food trucks in this city when all of them that I’ve tried were decidedly mediocre. Even Takorean, which I considered an abomination. Can someone recommend a great food truck?

  • the yellow truck and fojol brothers are both great…imo

  • What makes these restaurant owners think that if the food trucks aren’t there that I’m going to patronize their establishments? If the truck wasn’t there I would still probably go someplace else.

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