Alexandria City Hall paves a road for food trucks

Alexandria City Hall paves a road for food trucks
Food trucks arrived at an Old Town parking lot at lunch time earlier this year and set up shop, but it was likely illegal. City Hall wants to change that. (File photo)

Members of the city council want planning and zoning staff to cook up a plan for food trucks to legally serve their culinary creations in Alexandria.

The food truck craze, which has taken nearby Arlington and Washington by storm in recent years, stops short at Alexandria’s city limits. Long-standing ordinances regulating commercial activity bar the mobile food stands from serving hungry diners, though they didn’t dissuade a pair of food trucks from making an illegal stop in north Old Town earlier this year.

While Old Town isn’t necessarily ideal for the wheeled eateries, City Councilman Krupicka sees fertile ground in the Eisenhower valley, particularly within the Carlyle neighborhood where there U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers thousands of potential customers. He did not rule out Del Ray or Arlandria as potential food truck havens, but said further study is needed.

“Carlyle and the Eisenhower valley don’t have the [most diverse] of choices for the many employees and people who work and live there every day,” he said. “It adds to that attractiveness of Carlyle as a place to open a business … Given that we care a lot about office vacancy, it helps to have exciting food options nearby.”

A self-described fan of food trucks, Krupicka said he wanted to give planning staff a chance to unveil a pilot food vendor program in Market Square before calling for an end to the city’s mobile eatery prohibition.

Krupicka, joined by fellow Councilman Paul Smedberg, voiced his support for food trucks during an early December city council meeting in which members tentatively extended the pilot food cart program at Market Square for a second year.

The program, launched earlier this year, was heralded as a way to enliven Market Square. It was seen also as Alexandria’s answer to the food truck craze, Krupicak said.

“The mistake we made, which was something we had concerns about from the beginning, was not opening [the program] up to restaurants anywhere, and restricting it to the Old Town restaurants really hurt the opportunity for it to work,” he said. “Not every business owner has the opportunity to start something new.”

Whether the program was a success depends on who answers the question. Barbara Ross, deputy planning director, said the carts created a sense of vibrancy at an otherwise quiet Market Square. Neighborhood Restaurant Group staff, who participated, likewise called the program a positive experience. But other restaurants like Union Street Pub dropped out midway through the summer.

And Vice Mayor Kerry Donley publically questioned the successes during the city council discussion. Limited to eight vendors, all with physical locations in Old Town, the program had five takers at its peak, and eventually dwindled to just two.

Were the program to continue, it would have to include at least four vendors, Donley said.

As a result, Ross is opening the program up to anyone and everyone and plans to reach out to prospective vendors in January.

“We fully expect to have a vending cart program on Market Square next year,” she said. “It doesn’t even have to be a restaurant, it’s open to anyone who wants to come and play by our rules.”

Paving the way for food trucks to make their way into Alexandria won’t be as easy. At the behest of Krupicka and other members of city council, Ross expects to put together a group of staff with enough knowledge of Alexandria to lay the groundwork. While parking and sanitation issues come to her mind first, Ross admits there are many challenges ahead before food trucks become a reality in Alexandria.

One way or another, Krupicka wants to see mobile diners crossing into city limits by the end of next year. He expects resistance from existing restaurateurs, but believes the move will be a boon for the city.

“It’s a great way to start a new small business,” Krupicka said. “I think we’re losing an opportunity to have some businesses make Alexandria their home.”