Not any one thing factored into Jerry Trice's decision to sell his appropriately named ChefDriven truck and quit the mobile vending business. But the usually unflappable, bone-dry chef behind ChefDriven does adopt a more agitated tone when talking about one particular aspect of working the streets to make a buck: tickets.
Sometimes, Trice tells me during a phone interview, his voice raising, "I got tickets before I got my seat belt off."
That's, of course, assuming Trice could even find a parking spot in the first place. Popular vending locations such as Farragut Square and Metro Center can fill with trucks — or their passenger-vehicle accomplices, there to hold a space — well before the lunch hours arrives. At last count, there were about 200 trucks licensed in the District, and the number seems to swell by the week as the city gives yet another cheesesteak or kabob truck access to the streets.
The older food trucks, paradoxically, now find themselves in a circumstance similar to their bricks-and-mortar counterparts: They're competing with more and more food trucks for finite lunch dollars. But unlike their bricks-and-mortar counterparts, food trucks must also compete for the finite prime vending spots for mobile vendors, a double whammy that appears to be affecting the District's still embryonic street-eats scene.
Not that Trice complained to me about competition. True to his experience as a chef at such restaurants as Yin Yankee in Annapolis (and, briefly, in Bethesda), Trice was more concerned about the quality of the new competition. The low barrier to entry in the food truck world has generated a lot of operators who apparently think heating up frozen beef and stuffing it into a store-bought pita bread constitutes genuine cooking.
"The quality has always been potluck,” says Trice, whose truck has served such plates as steak frites, cornmeal-crusted oyster tacos with green goddess sauce and a caponata-and-goat-cheese panino. "The quality top-notch food, it kind of remains fairly static. You can kind of get lost in the shuffle."
Trice won't have to worry about it getting lost in the shuffle anymore. As first reported by Food Truck Fiesta earlier this week and later confirmed by Young & Hungry, ChefDriven is driving off into the sunset after 15 months on the streets. He'll be serving his last meals today at Farragut Square.
After that, Trice will hand his truck over to the Everlasting Life Cafe, the Georgia Avenue vegan/vegetarian operation that recently bought the vehicle. Everlasting Life owner Vernon Woodland says he's still determining the menu for his truck, but hopes to sell fresh juices, smoothies, gluten-free dishes and some best-sellers from the cafe's hot bar, like the veggie country-fried chicken. Woodland is looking to roll out the Everlasting Life truck in a few weeks.
As for Trice, he has no regrets about his time on the streets, even with all the parking tickets and other hassles. "I’m super glad I did it," the chef says. "We definitely made money. It was part of my get-rich-slowly scheme."
As for what's next, Trice isn't sure. He might go back into a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. He might not. "It's still wide open," he says, "I need to sit still and listen to the universe.”