The food truck trade is changing all the time. Here’s a look at some of the ways it is evolving.
There’s really no mystery behind the popularity of food trucks that specialize in desserts, says John Cox.
“Everyone is in these cubes in D.C. and Arlington, and they’re just bored to death,” said Cox, who started the Arlington-based truck Sweet Fleet with his wife six weeks ago. “We want to give them a 15-minute break from it all when they can come out, dance around and have some fun.”
The Sweet Fleet truck is painted bright pink, a throwback to “old ice cream trucks, the kind you would chase after as a child,” Cox says.
Other companies have jumped onto the dessert bandwagon, as well. Pleasant Pops sells Mexican-style popsicles made with fresh fruit, and Sidewalk Sweetsations ofers cupcakes with names like aDeemo’s Sweet Potato Dream and OMG! Apple Pie.
Randy Shore of The Streets says food trucks have become increasingly specialized — serving only ice cream, as the Dippin Dots and Sinplicity food trucks do, or specializing in a particular type of dessert, like That Cheesecake Truck does.
“People are realizing that they have to pick one thing they’re really good at,” Shore said. “The more gourmet these trucks become, the more people expect of them.”
Food trucks are banding together — and not just at lunch hotspots like Farragut Square and Navy Yard. Behind-the-scenes collaborations have also increased in recent months with the launch of the D.C. Food Truck Association.
“Restaurant associations have the really big guns, and they’re out there to get us with their heavy artillery,” said Mike Lenard of Takorean, who is also a founding member of the organization “We realized there is a value in coming together, in creating food courts and associations.”
In addition to hiring lobbyists to work on its behalf, the group also provides a general support structure for food truck owners that are wrestling with logistics like vehicle insurance and health inspections.
For customers, the increased collaboration means more events like Truckeroo, a monthly gathering of trucks in Southeast Washington.
“We always end up next to each other, and it’s nice because people can come out of their offices and one person can say ‘I want a taco today,’ and another can say ‘I want pizza today,’” Lenard said. “The more trucks there are, the more of a scene it becomes, and that’s what we want to create.”
Whether it’s Korean tacos, Cuban sandwiches, Israeli couscous or simply American macaroni and cheese, food trucks are bringing flavors from all over the world to the streets of D.C.
“People in Washington are very worldy and are willing to try new things,” said Mike Lenard, who founded Takorean, a Korean taco truck. “There’s a generic sandwich shop on every corner, and people don’t want to eat that any more.”
That’s what Enrique Velazquez is banking on. He moved to Washington in March and plans to open Borinquen Lunch Box, which will specialize in Churrasco sandwiches, fried plantains and other types of Puerto Rican food.
“I was thinking ‘where can I bring Puerto Rican cuisine where they haven’t seen it?’” said Velazquez, who was born in Puerto Rico and used to work as a chef for Disney in Orlando. “In Florida, there’s a Puerto Rican restaurant on every corner, so that wouldn’t have worked.”
He says the relative lack of Puerto Rican restaurants in the Washington area, coupled with its booming food truck enclaves, drew him up north.
Other ethnic food trucks in the works include People’s Bao, which will introduce the “soul food of China” to the masses, and Swaad Tandoori, which will serve Indian food.
“Every truck that opens has its own little niche,” said Brian Arnoff, who founded CapMac DC last year at the age of 23. “We’re constantly eating food from other trucks.”
Expanding to the suburbs
Like generations of people before them, food trucks are heading to the suburbs in search of untapped terrority.
“The trucks that are going to the ’burbs are looking at D.C. and saying ‘there isn’t a lot of space here,’” said Randy Shore of The StrEATS. That saturation, combined with D.C.’s stringent licensing requirements have kept Virginia staples like District Taco, Bada Bing and BBQ Bandidos from venturing into Washington, he said.
Cousins Vijay and Deven Chokshi are getting ready to launch Big Chok’s Hot Buns in Baltimore later this year. The decision, they say, was simple.
“We’re kind of breaking the mold, but we were both born and bred in Baltimore,” Vijay said. “We are Orioles and Ravens fans. Why shouldn’t the truck be here?”