Who needs table service? On this warm June evening, five food trucks gathered in a parking lot near the Clarendon Metro station are serving Mediterranean wraps, frozen yogurts, grilled cheese sandwiches and other dishes to a half-dozen customers who are perched on folding chairs, at a picnic table and on the curb.
As Metallica blasts in the background, PhoWheels truck owner Huy Nguyen dishes up pork belly banh mi topped with fried egg to Phuong Ngo of Vienna, who tracked her favorite food truck here through a notification on Twitter.
“I rarely come to Arlington,” Ngo explains. “I’m really hungry.”
It’s the third week of Clarendon Truck Rally Thursdays, the brainchild of Mark Mooney, chief executive of Link Locale, which provides telework space in offices above the Wells Fargo Bank. Mooney sees the event as a way to promote small businesses and a sense of Clarendon community, as well as to make better use of Link Locale’s centrally located parking lot.
While the food trucks have agreed to pay a fee for using the space, Link Locale will not ask them to pay until the event attracts a robust stream of foot traffic.
Jennifer Cihon and Thomas King of Rosslyn say they welcome the rally’s variety and seating options. Noshing on Vietnamese tacos with mushroom-onion tofu, Cihon says she appreciates the freedom to bring her two beagle mixes along to dinner. “They’re my babies,” Cihon said. “I like taking them places so they can get out. We like to eat out, and a lot of places like to have you eat outside but they don’t let you bring your dogs. We’ll be sure to come back here just because of that.”
Besides PhoWheels, other trucks included Gourmet Delight, FroZenYo To Go, the Big Cheese and KaftaMania. The trucks will vary each week, with the goal of including one sweet truck among the offerings every time.
“We like coming out and doing [truck rallies] like this,” said Haley Townsend, who manages the Big Cheese food truck. “It’s a lot of fun. People get to see us that wouldn’t normally get to see us.”
When passersby try Big Cheese’s offerings, she says, such as the Barely Buzzed grilled cheese — Cowgirl Creamery cheddar with an espresso and lavender rind on Lyon bakery sourdough bread — it often leads to requests for Big Cheese to stop by their own workplace during the day, or to dish up lunch for a business event.
The truck owners see other benefits, as well. Pascal Halabi, owner of KaftaMania, says he and PhoWheel’s Nguyen used to park around dinnertime at Trader Joe’s one block over, but they were stymied by a lack of seating space and Arlington rules restricting after-hours food trucks on public roads.
Halabi says he hopes Truck Thursdays will catch on.
“The space is awesome,” Halabi says. “On public roads, you can’t serve after 8:30 or 9,” when people in nearby bars want to grab a bite to eat. “You want to catch the drunk people,” Halabi jokes. “This is only the third week, so I think today is a little bit better than the two previous weeks. It definitely has potential.”
Mooney says he was inspired in part to host the event because of his admiration for food truck purveyors.
“To me, some of these food truck guys are the epitome of small-business guys and entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s a challenge to start a business anywhere, but in this area it’s particularly expensive, so this is pretty cool. We like this idea of building a sense of community in Clarendon and a place that’s vibrant. To make it a fun place to go, not just a parking lot.”
Clarendon Truck Rally Thursdays will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. every Thursday through October.
Lanyi is a freelance writer.