By Derrick Perkins
Shocked at how quickly officials whipped up a proposal for letting food trucks within city limits, Doug Povich was less amazed by how fast local restaurateurs rose up in protest.
“I always expected some push back from restaurants, so I was a little bit surprised that the process seemed to be moving as quickly as it appeared to be,” said Povich, who’s chairman of the D.C. Food Truck Association and co-owner of the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck.
Povich is hungrily eyeing the Port City as a new stomping ground for mobile eateries, which have become ubiquitous in nearby Arlington and across the river in D.C. But Alexandria’s laws only allow food trucks to operate at construction sites — the rest of the city is off limits.
So he welcomed news earlier this year that city staff was nearing completion of a proposal clearing the road for food trucks throughout Alexandria. But when details of the plan came to light last month, many restaurateurs objected, with the loudest cry coming from Old Town business owners.
Under the city’s plan, approved trucks could take up residence along any stretch of available parking spots — outside of residential-permit parking zones — as long as they stay 20 feet away from a restaurant with outdoor dining. In Old Town, Carlyle and Del Ray, though, officials proposed clustering food trucks in limited areas.
But restaurateurs, particularly in Old Town, feel the restrictions are too loose. If they’re going to compete for customers, then food trucks ought to play by the same rules as traditional brick-and-mortar establishments, said Michelle Poteaux of Bastille.
Poteaux and a handful of other local restaurateurs discussed the proposal with city staff several weeks ago and aired their concerns.
“There were a lot of issues raised regarding the things that a brick-and-mortar has to go through to have a business here — the rules, the regulations,” Poteaux said. “If you’re going to add another food aspect to that, then they should go through the exact same rules and regulations.”
Citing similar concerns, Meshelle Armstrong of the Eat Good Food Group, which owns Restaurant Eve and other local hotspots, urged City Hall to ease off the gas pedal in a letter sent to officials.
“I personally am not opposed to the food trucks in entirety; however, prior to opening the gates to later attempt curtailing a runaway beast, all need to clearly understand how it will affect business, residents, the parking and the city as a whole if the number of trucks proposed are permitted in [Old Town],” Armstrong wrote, noting that she is a board member of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.
Officials agreed, and on June 4, City Manager Rashad Young sent a memo to the city council noting his decision to delay presenting the proposal until after an advisory committee of stakeholders had a chance to review it and make recommendations.
“I figured it would not be without its challenges to get something framed and presented. I’m not overly surprised that there has been a lot of consternation about this,” Young said. “Certainly, from the brick-and-mortar establishments, that’s not necessarily a surprise that they would be concerned about the additional competition, but we’re willing to have a conversation with them — we want to have a conversation with them.”
Though unsurprised by the delay, Povich hopes that he and other food truck owners — several already are based in Alexandria, even if they can’t do business in the city — can allay restaurateurs’ concerns.
“We honestly do think it would be a benefit to Alexandria and to other businesses, including bars and restaurants, to have some new entrants that have a bit of a different business model and that can attract people to different areas of the city and different businesses of the area,” he said.