Food trucks victorious in DC food fight

By Monica Garcia, JCamp reporter

Food truck operators declared victory in their battle with restaurant owners, as new rules recently went into effect to allow mobile eateries to continue operating in the streets of the District of Columbia.

Some brick-and-mortar restaurants sought to put strict limits on where food trucks could operate. Restauranteurs complained the trucks disrupted businesses by limiting parking in front of their establishments. Restaurant owners also complained that long lines at trucks blocked restaurant doors. They sought to limit the number of trucks that could operate in any area, as well as setting minimum distances the food trucks could park from restaurant doors.

“These regulations had the issue of possibly putting about 80 percent of food trucks out of business due to the new regulations,” said Bascal Halab, a member of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, which represents about 60 mobile eateries that operate in the district and northern Virginia.

“We just want to be treated fairly,” Halab said. “We are very proud of … all the hard work we put in.”

The DC Council on June 18 approved the new rules after years of bickering between restaurant owners and food truck operators. The regulations established vending zones throughout the district and restricted the number of food trucks that can park in those zones to three. A spot in these zones would be obtained by a monthly lottery. Food truck operators without special parking permits could only operate 200 feet from one of those zones.

Mayor Vincent Gray had until June 22 to either sign or veto the measure, or let it go into effect without his signature – an option the mayor took.

The new rules are an update of ones that were on the books for three decades. Those rules were meant to regulate mobile food vendors such as ice cream trucks. The old rules allowed ice cream trucks to stop at curbs for no more than 10 minutes – a time limit that is not feasible for food trucks.

Food truck owners staged a demonstration at Farragut Square last month, a popular lunch spot. On that day, the food trucks parked, but did not serve food.

“It was just a message to (the community) saying if these regulations pass, this is how it’s going to be every day,” said Kris Raghavan, owner and cook of Carnivore BBQ.

He said he views the future of his business with a passion.

“The people love (food trucks),” Raghavan said. “The citizens of D.C. are great. We love them they love us and we want to keep serving them.”