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The hot DC Food Truck debate continues.

Sweetbites Truck serving customers. Photo by L. Shapiro

Food Truck Enthusiasts all over the Washington, DC area are joining together in an effort to save DC’s Food Trucks.  According to the “Yes on Title 24” website, that supports vendors “Some very powerful businesses are lobbying the City Council to prevent us from serving you where you work. The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), on the other hand, has proposed vending regulations that would allow us to continue to serve you AND allow for a more vibrant vending culture in the District. DCRA needs comments on record for these new regulations, Title 24 of Chapter 5. It is paramount that you voice your opinion on street vending and food trucks by emailing DCRA at helder.gil@dc.gov.”

According to the DCRA website, Title 24 Chapter 5 “amends vending regulations in order to achieve the safe, efficient, and effective management of vending throughout the District of Columbia. This rulemaking includes provisions governing vending licensure, vendor operations, the designation of sidewalk and roadway vending locations, public markets, vending development zones, street photography, and solicitation from the public space.”

It was announced yesterday that the mayor’s office wants the concept of Food Trucks to flourish and serve as a national model but food truck vendors worry national restaurant chains will use the new rules to drive them out of business.

There are at least four sides to this debate. The BID, Restaurateur, Food Truck operator, DCRA, and the consumer. Some of the concerns can be addressed and hopefully a fair resolution can be reached that benefits all DC businesses, big and small. The DCRA has posted 200 public comments submitted as well as comments from restaurant industry stakeholders such as the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), DC Vendors United, and Business Improvement Districts (BID), such as the Golden Triangle BID.

DC area BIDs have expressed their concerns about Food Trucks including regulatory concerns such as insurance, specifically, liability, health inspections, food handlers licenses, trash and littering, use of public parking spaces, and sidewalks. One of the major arguments is that DC “brick and mortar businesses” that pay rent, utilities, property taxes, salaries, and benefits loose business to Food Trucks who don’t pay a lot of those fees and can produce a good product for a lot less money.

El Floridano Food Truck in Farragut Square. Photo by L. Shapiro

A local Food Truck owner helped to clear up some of the concerns by explaining that Food Truck operators actually carry two different kinds of liability insurance: general auto insurance and  general liability which covers them on negligence, “food poisoning,” and other litigation not associated with the moving vehicle. In addition, Food Trucks Mobile Vending Health Inspection Certificate is renewed every 6 months and expect spot checks between scheduled inspections, as with brick and mortar restaurants. In addition, for public information, Food Trucks are required to display their Mobile Vending Health Inspection Certificate which is only given if they pass all critical areas. Violations are not posted in public view (nor are regular restaurants).They also obtain food handlers licenses.

Leland Morris with Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck said, “We really want to work in partnership with restaurants, not to compete with them. We’re not the only reason why people come to an area and we certainly wouldn’t pull up in front of a competitor to take away their business. That’s not what we’re about.  I like the idea of a lottery and we would be willing to pay for the rights to use a parking spot to vend there but I want to retain the right to stay mobile.  That’s the whole purpose a food truck — it’s mobility. Also, a competitor’s response shouldn’t be let’s get rid of them, it should be how to we step up our game and be better. Let’s keep it what it is –it’s small business.”

Nicolas Jammet, co-owner of six Sweetgreen locations and the Sweetgreen Mobile is in a unique situation. He’s at the crux of the issue with owning brick and mortar licensed businesses and a licensed food truck. Nic said, “the rules that are in place right now weren’t really meant for the insurgence of food trucks in DC; however, the ‘ice cream truck rule’ is the current protocol. There is food truck etiquette and some trucks are better about it than others. If there are going to be new rules in place, first we should ask ourselves, what is the goal?”

Jeff Kelley, co-owner of EatWonky, a new DC Food Truck said, “We would like to see an adjustment to the proposed regulations to include extended hours that comport with bar hours to accommodate late night serving and bring diversity to the later night dining scene.  The city has indicated that demonstration zones will be developed to accommodate later service hours and allow trucks to remain stationary without customers present after Title 24 passes.  Fundamentally, the argument is that variety in dining options is a net benefit to those who work and live in DC. ”

The consumers perspective is that DC wants choice and Food Trucks offer good value to the public and that the DC Government should encourage small business not hinder it. Public comments received from consumers support the Food Trucks for being “one of the best innovations we’ve seen in downtown in a longtime is the advent of mobile food trucks and an increase in better options in local food carts … I’ve enjoyed getting more variety in DC lately, and think the competition and innovation brought by these truck and cart based merchants is bringing benefits to consumers who live and work in the city. Food trucks allow small business owners to get into the business and hopefully grow to be successful entrepreneurs. This is the type of business we should encourage, not squelch”

Comments to the DCRA about the new regulations must be received by today Wednesday, August 25th. A petition from Change.org has been posted here. Change.org states, “If you live or work in Washington, DC hopefully you have had the privilege of sampling one of the many food trucks that can now be seen parked on street corners throughout the District’s most populated neighborhoods. Now, some very powerful businesses are lobbying the City Council to prevent us from being able to eat this delicious food truck fare.”

Fojol Brothers Food Truck. Photo courtesy of Change.org

The new regulation propose that Food Trucks be assigned vending locations according to a monthly lottery. The DC Roadway Vendors Association, Inc. suggests that the lottery conducted in the past has not be entirely honest and that in order to prevent fraud, the lottery should be made more transparent by having the lottery done in public view. In addition, they argue that these vending locations should be selected for vendors three months in advance. The new regulations propose that vendors would allocated a vending location for one week of the month and that no vendor shall be issued a permit for more than two vending sites. The Roadway Vendors Association proposes that no more than one location be permitted per vendor and also proposes that vendors that operate under two classes of licenses, Food and Souvenir choose which class they wish to enter into the lottery, which prevents an unfair advantage to vendors with both classes of licenses.

The new regulations addresses the BIDs concerns about littering. The new regulations require Food vendors to keep sidewalks, roadways, and other public space adjacent to their assigned vending location clean. In addition, vendors will be required to affix to their stand a container for litter.

Perhaps the littering issue could be helpful to keep our streets clean. If you are interested in the Food Truck debate, make your comments known.


3 Responses

  1. Yes to food trucks, but yes to Title 24 as written?

    I have tweeted about this, but also wanted to share my two cents in full sentences : ) So, I am hopeful that the new regulations will be worked out to continue to keep mobile food trucks in DC, and so that the brick and mortar and mobile businesses can all get along. Frankly, I don’t even really see the competition, if a cupcake truck is in farragut north I don’t see how it’s competing with the cupcake establishments in dupont or georgetown. But with all of the “yes to title 24” hype, I think there are some problems with Title 24 as written –

    Section 556.1-556.2 – Taken together, these sections suggest that food trucks have to keep moving unless they have a customer, and if they are still sitting in the same spot without a customer, have to close. Once they do so they cannot re-open to serve customers at that same location. What if there is a 5 minute gap between customers, do they have to move then? If they are paying for the parking spot, as required by proposed Section 556.3, then why can’t they sit out the meter and keep serving customers that show up? Who’s going to enforce this? Can a food truck be forced to move by a meter enforcer even if they have paid the meter? If so, there’s a potential legal challenge there. A better, and more enforceable, solution would be to allow food trucks to sit in the parking space they have paid for.

    Section 556.4 (which makes Section 535 apply to mobile food trucks)– “Vending Truck” requirements – is nonsensical. The section purports to be different than the sections of vending carts and vending stands, and yet requires umbrellas for food trucks. I have yet to see a food truck with an umbrella that meets the definition, other than perhaps FoodChainDC. (But FoodChainDC may be in a different position than other “trucks,” it seems like it could fit into the cart definition).

    Section 556.8 – Fines for food trucks within 60 feet of an establishment selling the “same type of food” – This section may be “void or vagueness” as written. That doctrine provides that a government cannot impose fines on conduct that a reasonable person cannot tell is prohibited by the statute. As an example, is a cupcake truck the “same type of food” as a Starbucks that sells cupcakes and muffins? Since there is a Starbucks practically every block downtown, if that is how this is interpreted, that could make it hard to abide by the law. Is a lobster truck the “same type of food” as downtown restaurants like Kinkeads, DC Coast, etc. that serve seafood? Now, are my examples a reasonable interpretation? I wouldn’t consider those to be the same type of food myself, but I can imagine that restaurants that feel threatened would want a broad interpretation of this to keep competitors further away. A better solution would be to take this out or at the least, make it clearer when a food truck may be violating this provision. But why is this provision even necessary? How/who is going to enforce this anyway? MPD?

    Section 538 – Advertising – I have seen at least one commenter suggest the restrictions on advertising to only advertising that is the name of the business, price, and food or service sold is an unconstitutional burden on free speech. Without weighing in on that issue at this point, there are some problematic issues for food trucks I see in this section. That advertising of the truck can only be on the “front” and not the back or street side (Section 538.2) seems unnecessary. That advertising has to be mechanically printed and not written (Section 538.4) could also be an unnecessary burden for some food trucks, I have seen handwritten descriptions of items for sale.

    P.S. this is not to be construed in any way as legal advice, this is just my humble opinion.

  2. […] That’s basically where we are today. There’s a big debate over the proposed regulations roiling right now. Old food vendors want to keep out new food vendors. Brick and mortar stores want to make life […]

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