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All We Can Eat
Posted at 03:40 PM ET, 09/12/2011

Should more local restaurants take to the streets?


Taking it to the streets: The Dangerously Delicious Pie shop joined the food truck revolution rather than fight it. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
A new survey by the National Restaurant Association reveals some interesting information for brick-and-mortar restaurants: The poll notes that nearly six out of 10 (or 59 percent) would be likely to visit a food truck “if their favorite restaurant offered one, up from 47 percent just one year ago.”

“Though food trucks are often equated with chefs and entrepreneurs, they also present opportunities for operators of established restaurants to expand their operations and presence, as a majority of consumers say they would visit a food truck run by their favorite restaurant. Mobile foodservice can be a good way to extend an existing restaurant brand beyond the four walls of the establishment,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the NRA in a release.

This is a somewhat bold statement from the association, given the long and historic struggle between brick and mortars and food trucks. The former have tended to view the latter more as pests worth exterminating than a trend worth emulating. But when reached by phone this afternoon, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association wanted to make it clear the group wasn’t recommending that members go mobile.

“It’s just an analysis” of the data, says Annika Stensson, director of media relations at the NRA. “It’s not necessarily saying that you should get into the food truck game.”

The group’s membership is comprised of entrepreneurs with eight or more locations in five or more states, Stensson says, as well as independent restaurateurs who are members of their local or state restaurant associations. The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington severed ties with the NRA last year, and in the recent past, RAMW has recommended that mobile vendors be located 25 feet away from licensed restaurants in an attempt to buffer established operators from the new invasion of food trucks. RAMW president Lynne Breaux could not be reached for comment about the NRA statement.

Locally, at least three brick-and-mortar restaurants have added a rolling component to their business: Dangerously Delicious Pies, the sweet-and-savory pie shop on H Street NE; Austin Grill, the small Tex-Mex chain; and Langston Bar & Grill, the soul food restaurant on Benning Road NE.

Sandra Basanti, co-owner and manager for Dangerously Delicious Pies, says its truck has been good for business. It’s not only profitable — at least on good days — but it generates revenue for an H Street NE business that doesn’t see a lot of foot traffic during daytime hours.

“I think it’s a great addition,” says Basanti. “It’s really nice having a food truck out there in the day time to sort of make up for” the lack of food traffic on H Street.

“Besides that,” she adds, “it’s just been sort of a good option to use a food truck in fundraising events and catering.”

Basanti notes that even though Dangerously Delicious Pies supports food trucks “100 percent,” she sees both sides of the argument about mobile vendors. She sees their benefits, and she sees how they can impact established brick and mortars. But she also thinks Dangerously Delicious Pies is in a different position than other brick and mortars: Food trucks don’t congregate much on H Street, so she and her partners haven’t experienced any of the negatives that other restaurateurs have.

Frankly, Basanti is a little nervous by the National Restaurant Association’s statement. She’s not sure more food trucks is the answer. She can foresee a strange phenomenon: Established brick-and-mortar restaurants taking business away from food trucks that were allegedly taking away business from brick and mortars.

“I would hate to see everyone’s favorite restaurants taking the place of the original food trucks that don’t have” inline businesses.

By  |  03:40 PM ET, 09/12/2011

Tags:  Tim Carman, food trucks

 
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