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PoP-Ed. – “Our food trucks are what made our brick-and-mortar restaurants possible”

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

As owners of three DC brick-and-mortar restaurants, we oppose Mayor Gray’s proposals to limit food trucks in the most popular locations in the city. These proposed regulations create vague rules where there is less than 10 feet of “unobstructed” sidewalk and give the Department of Transportation new powers to determine where food trucks can and cannot operate.

These proposals do little to satisfy the administration’s desire to manage public space and threaten to push out food trucks from large areas of downtown. Mayor Gray’s proposal would stifle entrepreneurship and put at risk the hundreds of jobs food trucks create.

As entrepreneurs, we oppose any policy that threatens the livelihood of small businesses — brick-and-mortar or mobile. But there’s an additional reason why Mayor Gray’s proposal troubles us. We are not only restaurant owners; we are also the owner-operators of three of DC’s first food trucks.

When we first set out to open our restaurants a few short years ago, it was the height of one of the worst recessions in history. Credit and investment money had dried up, and no banks were lending the +$500,000 needed to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. We cobbled together — from family, friends and savings — enough to open the next best thing: a food truck.

It turned out to be a smart move. Our food trucks enabled us to master the ins and outs of the food service business. We were able to test whether or not we really were up for the 24-7 work life of a small business owner. And when we returned to the banks for restaurant financing lenders counted our food trucks as collateral, tallied our Twitter followers as ready customers and saw successful businesses worth investing in.

Our food trucks are what made our brick-and-mortar restaurants possible.

We shouldn’t be the last food truck owner-operators to open restaurants in DC. When we started our food trucks it was just us on board the trucks; as we grew we hired a handful of employees; now our restaurants employ dozens of District residents.

However, if Mayor Gray’s proposal was adopted there would certainly be far fewer food truck owner-operators opening restaurants in the District. Or we may find a growing number of us hanging our shingle in the more business friendly communities just outside the District’s borders.

Stephan Boillon, Owner, El Floridano food truck and Mothership restaurant

Roger Horotwitz and Brian Sykora, Owners, Pleasant Pops food truck and Pleasant Pops Farmhouse Market & Café

Trent Allen and Josh Saltzman, Owners, PORC food truck and Kangaroo Boxing Club restaurant

After the jump read more details from the Food Truck Association:

A survey of sidewalks in the Washington, DC Central Business District released today found that food trucks are threatened at 8 of the 10 most popular food truck locations if Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposed rules are adopted.

The survey measured sidewalk widths in 10 of the highest-demand areas for food trucks and compared those measurements against Mayor Gray’s proposal to require at least 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk in order for a food truck to be able to serve customers.

“The Gray administration has cut-and-pasted rules meant for stationary brick-and-mortar businesses and now proposes applying them to our very mobile businesses,” said Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington (FTA) and co-owner of the BBQ Bus food truck. “However, that makes no sense. A food truck doesn’t permanently reduce the amount of sidewalk available for pedestrians, unlike, for example, seating for a brick-and-mortar restaurant’s outdoor café — for which the 10-foot rule was intended.”

Even then, sidewalk cafes are able to operate with as little as 6 feet of unobstructed sidewalk, Ruddell-Tabisola added.  In addition, constructions companies are required to maintain only 8 feet when building a covered sidewalk outside a construction area. And the District of Columbia’s Public Realm Design Manual states, “Where utility poles, sign supports, fire hydrants, tree boxes, etc., are provided in the sidewalk, the minimum usable width of sidewalk shall be 3 ft. to allow for wheelchair passage.”

DDOT officials have said that they can make exceptions to the 10-foot rule by establishing Mobile Roadway Vending (MRV) locations, but there is no process or criteria in the proposed regulations to determine how MRV locations are determined, where they are placed or the number of food trucks permitted there.

“The real-world outcome of Mayor Gray’s proposal threatens food trucks to be where customers want them the most,” said Mike Lenard, FTA board member and owner of the TaKoren Food Truck and Union Market locations.

The survey measured sidewalk widths in 10 of the highest-demand areas for food trucks: Capitol South, Chinatown, Farragut and Franklin Squares, George Washington University, L St. NW, L’Enfant Plaza, Metro Station, Union Station and Virginia Ave. NW and compared those measurements against Mayor Gray’s proposal to require at least 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk in order for a food truck to be able to serve customers.

Of the 10 locations surveyed, only Metro Center and L St. NW had more than 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk.

The survey was conducted by FTA members.

The results of the sidewalk survey come less than a week before the deadline to submit comments about the proposed food truck regulations.

Comments can be submitted:

  • Over
  • By e-mail to [email protected]
  • By letter to Mr. Helder Gil, Legislative Affairs Specialist, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 Fourth Street, SW, Room 5164, Washington, D.C. 20024

Comments are due by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13, 2012.

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