If Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Council want a firsthand look at food trucks — whose future city officials will decide with an eventual vote on the proposed vending regulations — they’ll soon get one. Starting Tuesday, the city has agreed to allow two or three food trucks to vend three days a week on a stretch of 14th Street NW previously reserved for council members.
“I am pleased to announce an exciting pilot program with the DC Food Trucks Association that will bring new culinary options to the occupants of the John A. Wilson Building and the surrounding community,” Nyasha Smith, secretary to the council of the District of Columbia, wrote to Terry Bellamy, director of the District Department of Transportation.
The Oct. 18 letter notes that the secretary has the authority to allow trucks to park on the “east side of 14th Street NW, between D Street NW, and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.”
The two vendors to launch the pilot program will be Red Hook Lobster Pound D.C. and That Cheesecake Truck, which will be working from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. Tuesday. Other members of the DC Food Trucks Association will vend from the same area on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through Nov. 8. The daily vending lineup will typically include both a sweet and savory truck, says Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the DC Food Trucks Association.
But isn’t this also an opportunity to lobby the people who hold the fate of food trucks in their hands?
“I wouldn’t politicize it,” says Ruddell-Tabisola. “We’re going to serve hungry people lunch. . . . The timing is coincidental, I think.”
At the same time, the executive director knows it can’t hurt to educate council members on how food trucks operate. Ruddell-Tabisola mentioned a September meet-and-greet fundraiser for council chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who was surprised to learn that vendors don’t cook the truck-based food in their own homes.
The food truck association sees this three-week pilot program as a chance to introduce trucks to the city’s power players and perhaps educate them on how vendors really operate: The trucks do pay taxes. They do pay rents. They do pay insurance. Ideally, Ruddell-Tabisola notes, the mayor and D.C. Council members will “get to talk to some of the owner-operators and hear their story.”
At the same time, Ruddell-Tabisola says, it was the Wilson Building people who approached the DC Food Trucks Association about this opportunity, not the other way around. Before the latest regulations were even published, Jamaine Taylor, assistant secretary to the council, e-mailed a number of trucks about the possibility of vending near the Wilson Building.
“Whenever we do something new, it’s nice to work in partnership with the host,” Ruddell-Tabisola says, noting previous programs with the D.C. Department of Employment Services and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. The partnerships allow people on both sides to promote the program within their own communities, he says.
But the executive director points out that, as political as this opportunity may seem, it’s really about food.
“I got into this business because I love feeding people,” Ruddell-Tabisola says. “This is a great spot and a great opportunity to do so.”
The city indicates that, if successful, it reserves “the right to extend the program.” Is this then an informal opinion poll on food trucks?