Greasing the wheels for mobile dining

Greasing the wheels for mobile dining

Two of Washingtons popular food trucks served lunch to Old Town office workers a week ago, an unfamiliar sight in Alexandria where mobile vendors are largely illegal. 

Between handing out slices of pizza and plates of empanadas, employees said they had been given permission to station their food trucks in a friends parking lot, but in Alexandrias books, they were violating city law.

The sale of goods is prohibited on all public rights-of-way and pedestrian circulation facilities, on all private streets, pedestrian circulation facilities, alleys, roadways and driveways and in all off-street parking and loading areas, according to the citys zoning ordinance regulating the outdoor display, sale and storage of merchandise. 

While there are exceptions, they are few and far between. Just ask Meghan Baroody, who has plans to start selling her trademark Megrolls by truck beginning this spring. 

A native Alexandrian, she hoped to launch in the city, but the stringent zoning ordinance means shell be doing business is nearby Fairfax and Arlington counties.

Originally, my dream was to start a small business in my hometown, she said. I can still base my catering sales through Alexandria and I can still drive my truck up and down Alexandria, Im just not allowed to stop and sell my wares. Im going to have to say, Meet me 15 minutes away in Arlington. I just think it would be cool to start here.

The city has recognized the burgeoning market for cheap, outdoor food vendors, said Barbara Ross, Alexandrias deputy planning director. Slated for early April, at least four Old Town restaurants will set up food carts in Market Square through a city-run pilot program. 

Were hopeful that all of this can be changed over the next couple of years, she said. The food carts are a very first step in what we see as a burgeoning and positive opportunity for small businesses. Were not blind; we recognize that this is a very exciting market and enterprise that goes on in other cities. We want to do it right.

The program is limited to restaurants with Old Town ties, partly out of convenience its easy to wheel a cart back and forth from a nearby eatery and to keep local businesses onboard, Ross said. 

Local businessman Mike Anderson, owner of Mango Mikes and Chamber of Commerce chairman, has come out in favor of the carts. He worries city officials may have too many restrictions on the idea, including having final say over the carts design, but maintains the kinks will work themselves out. 

I think there are some people who might argue that its taking business out of the hands of the existing restaurants, but I dont see it that way, Anderson said. You need something thats moderately priced, thats quick serviced and thats what those carts provide. The people that want to have a full service dining experience, like going to the Warehouse or the Wharf. Theyre going to those places anyway.

While Anderson wants to see the program expanded to Del Ray, when it comes to meandering food trucks, hes unconvinced they have a spot in Alexandria. Vending carts, however, fill the void, he said. 

City Councilman Paul Smedberg works in the District and knows the popularity the food trucks hold across the Potomac River. They may not be right for Old Town, but the Washington lunch rush staple could work in other neighborhoods, like Carlyle, Del Ray or the West End, he said. 

Baroody remains hopeful shell one day sell her custom eggrolls in Alexandria, though it might be from a storefront rather than a truck. 

I think this food truck thing would be a great addition, she said. Im hopeful they would do that in the future, and maybe by the time theyre doing that Ill have my own Megroll shack somewhere.