But no matter how cheap or tasty Greco’s food might be, the market is just begging for entrants.
A study by the Associated General Contractors of America released in September reported that construction employment in the District is the highest it has been in a couple of decades. For businesses like Greco’s, the sites provide a clientele who might otherwise have to bring food from home or eat at a convenience store. It’s not surprising that increasing numbers of vendors are joining in.
There might be a couple dozen of the trucks serving sites around the city, but the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs does not have any data on whether this particular segment of the food-truck industry has increased over time. The agency regulates the vehicles like it does other mobile food vendors and does its best to crack down on “gypsies,” the unregulated vendors working the field. Construction catering trucks are nowhere near as closely monitored as the more consumer-oriented food trucks, Greco says. Even when the trucks park on the street instead of on construction properties, Greco says, they do so for a much shorter period of time.
“The fact that they move from site to site to site does complicate enforcement a bit more,” says DCRA legislative and public affairs officer Helder Gil.
That might have been in play at Greco’s and Gomez’s next stop: the future Walmart rising from a parking lot near First and I streets NW. Around 10:45 a.m., just before Greco arrives, a woman in an SUV swoops in, peddling to-go containers of grilled tilapia, salmon or chicken for $8 to $10 out of the back of her car. Then she quickly leaves.
But this construction zone, located far from retail establishments, has enough business for everyone. Greco’s real nemesis is the woman who showed up at the old Wonder Bread factory. She’s now getting to three of his 10 sites on a daily basis, arriving about 15 minutes before him at each one and taking away a good percentage of his customers.
On this day, she’s already at the next stop as well, an in-progress residential building in NoMa. “She runs a good truck. I’ve got to give her credit,” says Greco grudgingly.
The fiery woman who identifies herself only as Anacleta, has added a few mouthwatering items to a menu that otherwise looks similar to Greco’s, such as a pulled chicken sandwich with cucumbers and cilantro, and a robust coleslaw that includes radishes and feta cheese.
About five minutes after Greco arrives, so do the D.C. police, who pull over and ask to see Anacleta’s permits. Apparently, the construction superintendent had complained that she’s not approved to sell at the site. But technically she’s on public property (the street) and produces all the right documents, so the police have few options.
Greco is convinced that Anacleta’s truck is longer than the maximum 181
2 feet permitted. Size matters: Greco formerly owned three trucks that were too long and finally sold them after receiving repeated tickets. But his complaints to the DCRA have so far gone unheeded. A couple of stops later, at the two-block-square O Street Market site, there she is again.
“This business used to be easier,” Greco says with a sigh.
Although he complains about the competition, Greco’s love for the job is evident in his easy, joking manner with customers. There’s a sense of freedom to it that he never found standing in the back of a kitchen.
“I like doing this,” he says. “As long as I’m making some money, I’m okay.”
Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer in Washington.