D.C. food trucks’ protest leaves folks hungry

Anastasia Dent rode a light-blue bicycle into Farragut Square in Northwest on Monday afternoon to meet a friend and try the fare of one of the nearly 20 food trucks that lined the perimeter of the park.

But instead of serving meals, the colorful kitchens that usually offer lobster rolls, piping-hot slices of pizza or spicy empanadas were closed — a demonstration of what the lunch hour could be like under new regulations proposed by city officials.

“That’s crazy. I even brought picnic blankets,” said Ms. Dent after her friend told her the trucks weren’t operating.

Ronnie McGriff also had to change his lunch plans when he learned that his usual stop in the park had nothing to offer. But he took the news of the demonstration in stride.

“I understand the need for protesting. It’s all some owners have,” Mr. McGriff said of the people who operate the small businesses. “And it’s not fair — especially for people traveling to D.C. You want them to have a different experience. Food trucks are very convenient and you get to try food you haven’t experienced before.”

What started as a handful of trucks a few years ago, the mobile vending environment in the District now includes more than 150 trucks, which sell everything from cupcakes to Asian noodles, barbecue to gourmet macaroni and cheese.

Every weekday, the fleet of food trucks spreads out across the District to various hot spots for lunchgoers, including Farragut Square, Franklin Park, L’Enfant Plaza and Union Station.

Opportunities and options are just part of the argument that the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington is using as it fights proposed legislation that it says severely restricts their business and deprives consumers of their right to choose what’s on their plates.

City leaders and the District’s restaurant association have taken issue with the food trucks, citing unfair advantages such as taking up valuable parking spots and choking business from restaurants that cannot simply drive to a new location.

“We understand the need for managing what’s going on in public spaces, but the problem is the city’s created a one-size-fits-all approach to the entire city,” said Doug Povich, chairman of the Food Truck Association and co-owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound-DC.

The D.C. Council is scheduled to discuss the proposed regulations at a hearing Friday.

The most recent version of the proposed regulations have bred contention among the food truck association and its fans.

Among the suggestions are that food truck owners put their names into a monthly lottery for a paid parking spot in one of the designated “mobile roadway vending” locations in the city. Food trucks that do not win a spot would not be allowed to park within 500 feet of the assigned spaces and must park on a stretch of sidewalk that is at least 10 feet long.

Juggling her 8-month-old son, Kristi Whitfield, co-owner of Curbside Cupcakes, looked around Farragut Square on Monday and said the reason for the association’s pushback is that “instead of competition, we’re talking about traffic congestion.”

“You have to trust the market. You have to trust the customer,” Ms. Whitfield said. “You shouldn’t look to the government to regulate consumer choice.”

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