Not even three years into its existence, the DC Food Trucks Association has decided to change its name and expand its reach. Last month, the District-based organization voted to accept members from Maryland and Virginia and switch its name to the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington.
The name change won’t become official until the association files the proper paperwork. That probably won’t happen until later this year, well after the group concludes its massive outdoor street-food party, Trucktoberfest, set for Sept. 22 and now moved to the recently opened Union Market.
“We always wanted to [expand],” says Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the DC Food Trucks Association, “but because we’re an all-volunteer organization, we are shy about doing things that we don’t have the capacity for.
“We’re a member-based organization, so we need to provide a service to members,” he adds.
So what service will the association provide to food trucks outside the District? The question is valid, given the current tensions in Arlington between food trucks and the police (and presumably the bricks-and-mortar restaurants registering the complaints with police). But an equally valid question is this: What will the DC Food Trucks Association get out of the expansion?
There are good answers to both questions.
As to the first question, Ruddell-Tabisola says the association offers information and services that trucks trying to make it on their own can’t easily access, such as a forum to share ideas, product sources or best practices. The group also gives truck owners a place to organize. “I think it’s one of the most valuable things we have in D.C.,” the executive director says.
The organizing element has proven beneficial (so far) as the DC Food Trucks Association has battled various entities — the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, business improvement districts, the city itself — to get its voice heard while others strive to restrict street vending. The group could provide the same service to Arlington vendors dealing with an equally alarmed bricks-and-mortar restaurant community.
In fact, DC Food Trucks Association member Doug Povich, co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck, says he has already been meeting with Arlington Economic Development to try to relax the rules for vendors, allowing them to park for two hours without moving. The current limit of one hour has resulted in tickets and lost workdays for truck owners. “They’ve been extremely open in trying to make this work,” Povich says.
But Povich essentially has been representing himself, since the lobster truck vends in all local jurisdictions, including Arlington. With more food trucks from Arlington in the association, Povich says, his arguments to the county would carry more weight. To that end, Doug the Food Dude will host a gathering this month to gauge Virginia food truck owners’ interest in joining the association.
In the meantime, District food trucks show increasing interest in Northern Virginia, Ruddell-Tabisola notes. At least half of the 49 members of the DC Food Trucks Association say they already are vending, or plan to vend, in Arlington. That interest might be grounded in a grim reality: Their days could be limited in the District, as the D.C. Council and various agencies continue to wrestle with new vending regulations. There is fear among D.C. truck owners that the city may sharply curb their freedoms.
Which is why Povich thinks the association’s expansion into Virginia and Maryland is a good thing for the group, too.
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen from a regulatory standpoint,” says Povich, a lawyer by profession. “If D.C. does something draconian, we’d like to have the opportunity to vend elsewhere.”