The hot DC Food Truck debate continues.
Food Truck Enthusiasts all over the Washington, DC area are joining together in an effort to save DC’s Food Trucks. According to the Yes on Title 24 website, that supports vendors Some very powerful businesses are lobbying the City Council to prevent us from serving you where you work. The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), on the other hand, has proposed vending regulations that would allow us to continue to serve you AND allow for a more vibrant vending culture in the District. DCRA needs comments on record for these new regulations, Title 24 of Chapter 5. It is paramount that you voice your opinion on street vending and food trucks by emailing DCRA at email@example.com.
According to the DCRA website, Title 24 Chapter 5 “amends vending regulations in order to achieve the safe, efficient, and effective management of vending throughout the District of Columbia. This rulemaking includes provisions governing vending licensure, vendor operations, the designation of sidewalk and roadway vending locations, public markets, vending development zones, street photography, and solicitation from the public space.”
It was announced yesterday that the mayor’s office wants the concept of Food Trucks to flourish and serve as a national model but food truck vendors worry national restaurant chains will use the new rules to drive them out of business.
There are at least four sides to this debate. The BID, Restaurateur, Food Truck operator, DCRA, and the consumer. Some of the concerns can be addressed and hopefully a fair resolution can be reached that benefits all DC businesses, big and small. The DCRA has posted 200 public comments submitted as well as comments from restaurant industry stakeholders such as the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), DC Vendors United, and Business Improvement Districts (BID), such as the Golden Triangle BID.
DC area BIDs have expressed their concerns about Food Trucks including regulatory concerns such as insurance, specifically, liability, health inspections, food handlers licenses, trash and littering, use of public parking spaces, and sidewalks. One of the major arguments is that DC “brick and mortar businesses” that pay rent, utilities, property taxes, salaries, and benefits loose business to Food Trucks who don’t pay a lot of those fees and can produce a good product for a lot less money.
A local Food Truck owner helped to clear up some of the concerns by explaining that Food Truck operators actually carry two different kinds of liability insurance: general auto insurance and general liability which covers them on negligence, “food poisoning,” and other litigation not associated with the moving vehicle. In addition, Food Trucks Mobile Vending Health Inspection Certificate is renewed every 6 months and expect spot checks between scheduled inspections, as with brick and mortar restaurants. In addition, for public information, Food Trucks are required to display their Mobile Vending Health Inspection Certificate which is only given if they pass all critical areas. Violations are not posted in public view (nor are regular restaurants).They also obtain food handlers licenses.
Leland Morris with Red Hook Lobster Pound food truck said, “We really want to work in partnership with restaurants, not to compete with them. We’re not the only reason why people come to an area and we certainly wouldn’t pull up in front of a competitor to take away their business. That’s not what we’re about. I like the idea of a lottery and we would be willing to pay for the rights to use a parking spot to vend there but I want to retain the right to stay mobile. That’s the whole purpose a food truck — it’s mobility. Also, a competitor’s response shouldn’t be let’s get rid of them, it should be how to we step up our game and be better. Let’s keep it what it is –it’s small business.”
Nicolas Jammet, co-owner of six Sweetgreen locations and the Sweetgreen Mobile is in a unique situation. He’s at the crux of the issue with owning brick and mortar licensed businesses and a licensed food truck. Nic said, “the rules that are in place right now weren’t really meant for the insurgence of food trucks in DC; however, the ‘ice cream truck rule’ is the current protocol. There is food truck etiquette and some trucks are better about it than others. If there are going to be new rules in place, first we should ask ourselves, what is the goal?”
Jeff Kelley, co-owner of EatWonky, a new DC Food Truck said, “We would like to see an adjustment to the proposed regulations to include extended hours that comport with bar hours to accommodate late night serving and bring diversity to the later night dining scene. The city has indicated that demonstration zones will be developed to accommodate later service hours and allow trucks to remain stationary without customers present after Title 24 passes. Fundamentally, the argument is that variety in dining options is a net benefit to those who work and live in DC. ”
The consumers perspective is that DC wants choice and Food Trucks offer good value to the public and that the DC Government should encourage small business not hinder it. Public comments received from consumers support the Food Trucks for being “one of the best innovations we’ve seen in downtown in a longtime is the advent of mobile food trucks and an increase in better options in local food carts … I’ve enjoyed getting more variety in DC lately, and think the competition and innovation brought by these truck and cart based merchants is bringing benefits to consumers who live and work in the city. Food trucks allow small business owners to get into the business and hopefully grow to be successful entrepreneurs. This is the type of business we should encourage, not squelch”
Comments to the DCRA about the new regulations must be received by today Wednesday, August 25th. A petition from Change.org has been posted here. Change.org states, “If you live or work in Washington, DC hopefully you have had the privilege of sampling one of the many food trucks that can now be seen parked on street corners throughout the District’s most populated neighborhoods. Now, some very powerful businesses are lobbying the City Council to prevent us from being able to eat this delicious food truck fare.”
The new regulation propose that Food Trucks be assigned vending locations according to a monthly lottery. The DC Roadway Vendors Association, Inc. suggests that the lottery conducted in the past has not be entirely honest and that in order to prevent fraud, the lottery should be made more transparent by having the lottery done in public view. In addition, they argue that these vending locations should be selected for vendors three months in advance. The new regulations propose that vendors would allocated a vending location for one week of the month and that no vendor shall be issued a permit for more than two vending sites. The Roadway Vendors Association proposes that no more than one location be permitted per vendor and also proposes that vendors that operate under two classes of licenses, Food and Souvenir choose which class they wish to enter into the lottery, which prevents an unfair advantage to vendors with both classes of licenses.
The new regulations addresses the BIDs concerns about littering. The new regulations require Food vendors to keep sidewalks, roadways, and other public space adjacent to their assigned vending location clean. In addition, vendors will be required to affix to their stand a container for litter.
Perhaps the littering issue could be helpful to keep our streets clean. If you are interested in the Food Truck debate, make your comments known.