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

by Prince Of Petworth November 9, 2012 at 10:30 am 16 Comments

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:

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

  • ClevelandDave

    Lets be clear: this is not the opinion of brick and mortar restaurant owners in general in DC but of three food truck owners who happen to also own brick and mortar restaurants. I can’t speak to the facts behind the mayor’s proposal and if it is well thought out, logical and makes sense, but it is worth pointing out that the headline is flawed. I hope PoP will also post the opinion of the DC Restaruant Association when they come out with a statement or release.

    • I totally agree. This was misleadingly presented, and I think it hurt their credibility to spin themselves as brick-and-mortar restauranteurs, when really their allegiance is with the roach coaches.

      • Josh, PORC and KBC

        We are brick and mortar restaurateurs. We did start as food trucks. If the city wants for others to create more jobs and follow in our footsteps we’re simply asking for fairness in the laws of DC (land… everyone jumps down my throat). This is something that I have discussed with multiple restaurant owners who do not own food trucks, but still agree. While the headline may be slightly misleading, the fact remains. We’re five restaurateurs that wouldn’t be in business today if not for food trucks.

  • Former Dem

    Yes! more gov’t regulation to protect the clamoring special interest of the day. Inevitable unintended consequences to come up: some more regulation for that. Inevitable ‘red tape’ of multiple regulation schemes: a special office in the DC gov’t to serve as a central admin point of those regulations. Rinse and repeat until we’re broke. Except us lucky ones that make our living advising companies how to live within regulations; instead of using our brains to, you know, actually produce something.

    But maybe if we produced something, Cleveland Dave would ask the city to shut that down too.

    • ClevelandDave

      I’m not saying it is a good idea or not, I’m simply saying it is misleading both the title and to suggest (until you get down to the end) that they are primairly brick and mortar restaurant owners.

  • Anon X

    Who cares what the DC Rest. Assoc. thinks or says?

    But, yeah, its a bit unfair to say this is the opinion of “restaurant owners” they clearly represent the interests of food truck owners, with whom I agree.

  • petwurf

    did I miss a link somewhere? what do the proposed rules say?

  • Anonymous

    uuugh another reason from a very long list of them to vote Gray out of office.

  • OfficeDrone

    I always thought the point of food trucks was that by shedding all the fixed costs of a brick & mortar restaurant, they would be able to offer near restaurant quality food at more affordable prices, and so food trucks are allowed to bend the regulations we have in place for brick & mortar eateries.

    Yet, it seems like every item on every food truck’s menu is at least $8, which is the same, or more, than many of the brick & mortar places I see downtown.

    Food trucks are a cartel, and they’re a novelty only enjoyed by the segment of Washington with all the $$$.

    • Anonymous

      Exactly! Thank you.

  • So, Just Sayin’

    Notice that only one side, that of the businesses opposing regulation, has been presented here.

    And I’m not asking for the DC Restaurant Association’s opinion. I mean, what is the stated public interest that motivated the proposed rule to begin with?

    We have to have sidewalks. We have to have ample room on sidewalks for two streams of pedestrian traffic, wheelchair accessibility, interruptions by utility poles and parking meters, and other private uses such as sidewalk cafes and the occasional food truck vendor parking.

    Our primary purpose of pedestrian traffic has to be paramount. That’s why you can’t have sidewalk cafes just anywhere. And yes, when there’s diversion off the sidewalk onto the road during construction, the pedestrian walkway can be reduced to a smaller width, but that’s not optimal and only temporary, so I think that point is irrelevant.

    With all that in mind, I want to know more about what the city is thinking before blindly siding with a business association that has its business members’ profits in mind and not the larger set of concerns that a public agency has to deal with.

  • Give me a break. 3 of the ~122 food trucks licensed for DC streets opened a brick and mortar location in the past 5 years. Stop the presses.

    I haven’t been to all three, but calling the KBC place in Columbia heights a “restaurant” is being generous as well.

    78% of the ~122 of you aren’t District businesses. You are owned by MD/VA (or other states) residents, operated by non District residents and take their profits back to VA/MD every night. After years of whining, you were finally forced into paying the stadnard District 10% sales tax, which you went into kicking and screaming.

    Contributing to a BID tax is something you all (atleast the ones who get press) seem against, even though it is your trash that overflows streetside trash cans and on the street at lunch, trash the brick and mortars pay to clean up via their BID tax.

    You pretend to be saviors of the lunch crowd, doing society a favor by providing options to those so called expensive brick and mortars, but I have to say, the dozen or so food trucks I’ve tried were all as expensive, if not more so than any of the brick and mortars I try, and atleast there I get a place to sit.

    And lets lighten up on the fire and brimstone “height of one of the worst recessions” talk and acting like Food trucks saved capitalism and commerce in DC, where as I may remind you, there was no recession.

    Less than 3% of you have made the leap to stationary locations. Congratulations, but you are clearly the exception to the rule.

    Signed, a District tax payer who doesn’t own a resturant or bar.

    • Tall

      I can’t figure why someone would be against access to additional eating options. The brick and mortar restaurants by me have been overpriced and uninspired for years. I’d been going to the same handful of places that have a captive audience for nearly a decade. I still give them their due, but now I’ve got a dozen rotating options sitting in Farragut Park to choose from as well. There is no reason I would want that to go away.

      @ El Floridano – I will picket the Mayor’s office for a free Banh Mi. Offer is out there… Just think about it okay…

  • Anonymous

    I have never heard anyone complain about food trucks misusing public space or any such nonsense. This has nothing to do with public space management, safety, transportation, or health. It is simply pressure from restaurants to prevent competition in foodservice. As DC’s still ho-hum food scene proves, we are in desperate need of increased competition and innovation, not more vomitastic, overpriced “small plates” restaurants and gourmet burger joints. There is nothing “unfair” about restaurants having to compete with food trucks. Of course thetrucks don’t have to pay rent; you also can’t sit down inside them and be waited on. If customers judge that a food truck’s food is so much better than a restaurant’s that even the convenience of being able to sit down and be waited on isn’t enough to provide value to the customer, then that says a lot about how sucky the restaurant is, and about how much more competition is needed.

    • ClevelandDave

      To say the DC food scene is ho-hum is an insult to the incredible increase in quality and variety of food options in almost all parts of the city over the past decade. To think that a brick and mortar restaurant that pays taxes, fees and huge rents that easily go into the five figures in many places each month aren’t at a disadvantage when a food truck pulls up to the curb in front of their establishment simply shows ignorance. To believe that no one complains about the mess left behind after a truckeroo means you are either hard of hearing or aren’t listening.

      Those that have been looking at the food truck scene since its revival/inception will remember that they were in response to the uber highly regulated hot dog vendors where indeed there was no variety and little innovative spirit.

      The first food trucks in New York and LA split things open. They were revolutionary. I take my hat off to the entrepeneurs and innovators who run food trucks. It is, like most of the food service business a tough, risky business, however, there are some considerations that they must be (and I’m sure are) cognizant of and take responsiblity for.

      This includes the garbage their customers leave in public spaces. The congestion they cause. Public access issues. Paying taxes on par with permanent restaruants.

      Again, I’m not commenting on this legislation, but to suggest that they do not have responsiblities and costs that the public bears or to say that the restruant scene in DC is or would be ho-hum without them is just plain wrong.

      • Anonymous

        They might very well be at a disadvantage. What they are not at is an *unfair* disadvantage. There is nothing unfair about not having to pay rent or property taxes if you don’t have and don’t offer your customers…property to occupy (duh). If the brick and mortar restaurants still can’t compete, then that’s the free market.

        And the dc food scene is still sub-par. It is vastly better than it was, but still subpar, especially in the market range that food trucks target. We need more competition from food trucks.


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