Earlier this year Saltzman sold the truck (affectionately named Murphy, after Murphy’s law) to focus on his newer projects, including Kangaroo Boxing Club, a barbecue restaurant in Columbia Heights born from the success of PORC.
“It’s bad enough I’m a plumber and a bus boy and do all the paperwork at the restaurant,” says Saltzman, who could smoke an entire brisket in the time it would take to share the stories of all the mechanical mishaps he’s endured. “I didn’t want to be a mechanic, too.”
As D.C.’s mobile vending scene continues to grow (with more than 180, the District has the second-highest concentration of food trucks in the country, behind Los Angeles), food truckers are looking to brick-and-mortars as the next frontier.
Since D.C.’s first food truck launched in 2009, nearly 20 local food truck owners, like Saltzman, have morphed their mobile concepts into brick-and-mortar operations. Other spots include SOL Mexican Grill, Far East Taco Grille, TaKorean, Pleasant Pops and Popped! Republic.
“Food trucks have provided a great stepping stone to brick-and-mortar,” says Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the DMV Food Truck Association and co-owner of the BBQ Bus, which opened a permanent outpost at Denizens Brewing Co. earlier this year. “You have assets when you go to the bank. You have Twitter followers. You have Yelp reviews. You’re less of a risk for investors.”
Kristi Whitfield’s hand cramps when she thinks of the number of cupcakes she’s iced since she and her husband, Sam, launched the Curbside Cupcakes truck in 2009. Last October, the two opened Curbside Cafe in Southeast D.C., where they serve sandwiches, salads and coffee alongside their namesake confection.
“If it weren’t for the food truck, none of this would be in existence,” Whitfield says. “We didn’t have the backing to open a restaurant when we started. Who would have lent to us? ‘We’re in love and we think it’s a great idea!’ Are you kidding me?!”
Brandon Byrd debuted his Goodies Frozen Custard and Treats truck in 2013 with classic custard sundaes served to doo-wop music. Earlier this summer, he opened a soda shop at the National Harbor that acts as a complement to his 1952 Metro van.
“If someone misses us in roving mode, they can always catch us at the National Harbor,” says Byrd, whose van happens to stall during our phone conversation. (“The moral of the story is: Don’t leave your lights on when you’re getting gas.”)
Which points out another more obvious benefit of expanding to a brick-and-mortar location: fewer vehicle-related mishaps. At the end of this month, Kirk Francis plans to open a brick-and-mortar version of his roving cookie truck, Captain
Cookie and the Milk Man. Though the Foggy Bottom storefront is only 523 square feet, it feels palatial compared to Francis’ 80-square-foot truck.
But ask Francis what he’s most looking forward to at the new space and he’ll tell you without skipping a beat. “No potholes. I’m sick of cookie trays crashing to the floor.”
From both sides now
When food trucks hit the scene in D.C. in 2009, many restaurants opposed them. As the founding director of the DMV Food Truck Association, Kristi Whitfield of Curbside Cupcakes has always advocated for a free market. “When brick-and-mortars said food trucks were stealing their customers, it chafed me because you don’t own your customers — you earn them,” Whitfield says. Now that she owns a restaurant, her opinion hasn’t changed much. “If somebody were to park a pop tart truck in front of my store, would I be overly excited? No,” Whitfield says. “But customers deserve the best pop tarts. And if [the truck] makes better pop tarts, it’s not up to me to legislate them away. It’s up to me to make better pop tarts.”
On a roll
The following local establishments all have roots in the food truck world. Most are brick-and-mortar restaurants, while some are permanent pop-ups or kiosks at Union Market.
- Beer and Welding Sandwich Shop: 2024 P St. NW; 202-223-1575
This lunch counter within Oasis Deli & Grocery comes from the Ball or Nothing food truck team.’
- BBQ Bus: 1115 East-West Highway, Silver Spring; 301-557-9818
Earlier this year, the BBQ Bus partnered with Denizens Brewing Co. to open a restaurant on the roof
- Chupacabra: 822 H St. NE; 202-505-4628
- Curbside Cafe: 257 15th St. SE; 202-495-0986
- DC Empanadas: 1309 Fifth St. NE; 703-400-5363
- District Taco: Multiple locations; districttaco.com
- Far East Taco Grille: 409 15th St. NE; 202-601-4346
- Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats: 150 American Way, Oxon Hill, Md.; 202-630-6455
- Mothership: 3301 Georgia Ave. NW; 202-629-3034
This bistro was founded by the owner of the El Floridano truck.
- Pleasant Pops: 1781 Florida Ave. NW; 202-558-5224
- Popped! Republic: 2381 S. Dove St., Alexandria; 703-299-0040
- Kangaroo Boxing Club: 3410 11th St. NW; 202-505-4522
- Seoul Food: 2514 University Blvd. W, Silver Spring; 571-236-4750
- SOL Mexican Grill: 1251 H St. NE; 202-808-2625
- TaKorean: 1309 Fifth St. NE and 1212 Fourth St. SE
- Tacos el Chilango: 1119 V St. NW; 202-986-3030
- Captain Cookie and the Milk Man: 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
- Rito Loco: 606 Florida Ave. NW
- Sweet Bites: 6845 Elm St., McLean, Va.