Food trucks roar into Alexandria

Food trucks roar into Alexandria

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

Throngs of epicureans got a taste of the future of food trucks in Alexandria last week.

Throughout much of the day, hungry gourmands funneled into the parking lot of Southern Towers, located along the 4900 block of Seminary Road, for the West End Business Association’s first ever food truck rodeo. The inaugural event came as officials flesh out the details of the Port City’s food truck pilot program.

Though wildly popular elsewhere in the region, food trucks have had difficulty breaking into Alexandria’s market, in part because of longstanding regulations that effectively ban the roving restaurants. That changed a few weeks ago when city councilors cautiously approved a trial run of sorts, letting food trucks serve customers at off-street venues like farmer’s markets, special events and private gatherings.

Though the program will not go into effect until July 1, Friday’s rodeo served as the first major event involving food trucks since city council approved the program. It attracted thousands of residents and area workers, who sampled dishes varying from pizza and sandwiches to lobster and Banh Mi.

Despite long lines — at times a more than half an hour wait — residents heaped nearly unanimous praise upon the event and the various trucks.

“I really enjoy food trucks, and I always try to go to Port City [Brewing Co.’s] occasional food truck days,” said resident Nicole Radshaw. “I want to see some more variety, so I’m really looking forward to the city allowing them full-time.”

While snacking on some fried plantains, Myriam Lechuga said that although she isn’t sure how food trucks might affect heavily trafficked streets in Old Town, mobile eateries should get a shot in the historic neighborhood. Opposition to food trucks is stiffest there and in nearby Carlyle and Del Ray.

“I could see it causing problems on King Street or a couple other streets, but I think for people that work there, it would be a good option. And especially for the tourists, too,” Lechuga said.

Wendy Albert, owner of Tempo Restaurant on the West End, said she welcomes the four-wheeled vendors. Food trucks appeal to a different clientele than brick-and-mortar restaurants, she said.

“I don’t see it taking business away,” she said, referencing one of the concerns many local restaurateurs have about food trucks. “There always will be people who don’t want to stand in line on the sidewalk and want to sit down and eat. I’m not sure how it would fit in Old Town, but it’s totally different on the West End.”

The event proved so popular that many truck operators temporarily closed and restocked after the lunch rush. Mary Velazquez, who operates the Port City-based Borinquen Lunch Box with her husband, Enrique, was excited to see such pent up demand in her hometown, where, until recently, she could not do business on a regular basis.

“We knew it would be big, so we stocked extra, and I’m glad we had even more ready [back at home],” she said. “They definitely have to have [events like this] more often. We consider Alexandria our home base, so we’d love to vend more often here.”

And Doug Maheu, owner of the Doug the Food Dude truck, described the first few hours of the rodeo as “crazy, just crazy.” Like Velazquez, he had to spend the afternoon restocking in preparation for dinner.

“There’s no question that people in Alexandria want food trucks,” he said. “I have heard no bad feedback from residents whatsoever.”

Maheu said he’s excited that city council will soon allow businesses like his to operate more freely, even if the pilot program does not go as far as food truck supporters would like.

“I actually just got my yearly health department permit today,” he said. “Once July hits, we’ll have five to six trucks licensed year-round in Alexandria.”