A minor parking mishap attracted a crowd of restaurant owners in Courthouse yesterday.
Just before lunchtime, the “KBBQ Taco Box 2″ food truck accidentally struck the front bumper of a parked car on the 2000 block of Wilson Blvd, as the truck was trying to squeeze into a tight parallel parking space. There was no damage evident — but police were called and a citation issued, as a small crowd of restaurant owners and mangers gathered.
As it turns out, the car belonged to a delivery driver for the Afghan Kabob House across the street, and this was the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks in Courthouse.
The war started last month with the emergence of an unlikely leader on the restaurant side. Bar Concepts, a restaurant consulting company, had been brought in to operate the back bar area of the recently reopened Summers Restaurant. Though Summers is not exactly known as a haven for Courthouse office dwellers seeking a quick grab-and-go bite to eat, Alan Beal, COO of Bar Concepts, zeroed in on food trucks — at least those that parked along Wilson and Clarendon Blvds — as the enemy of local restaurants.
Beal swiftly organized a coalition of about a dozen Courthouse area restaurants who say that the trucks “are running amok” and having “a serious impact on these brick and mortar restaurants” by parking directly in front of their establishments. The collective effort was on display Thursday as owners took turns complaining about parking enforcement to police.
Food trucks, they said, were reserving precious street parking spots in front of restaurants by having workers park cars on the street as early as 6:00 a.m. Some weren’t even feeding the meter, they said.
There’s nothing illegal about reserving street parking spaces in such a manner, the cops said, though they did encourage the owners to call when they did spot a violation like an expired meter. There is also a two hour limit on parking, which is enforced, but there’s a loophole: trucks can simply pull into into another open space after two hours, provided it’s at least 25 feet away from their existing parking space.
With little recourse other than calling in the meter maids, the owners seemed to agree to double down on an unofficial group tactic: encouraging employees to park on the street, thus taking away available parking spaces from the trucks. One owner could be heard telling several employees to be sure to park on the street during their shifts. Another ran across the busy four-lane road when a spot opened up, driving his Mercedes from a small private lot behind his restaurant, making a U-turn and pulling into the open spot, thus boxing out the food truck hoard.
Beal — who was in D.C. during the fender bender fracas — insists that he doesn’t oppose food trucks, only their parking choices. He said trucks park directly in front of businesses, billowing smoke, creating crowds that block the sidewalk and taking away customers. He has been documenting the woes on a YouTube channel.
“No one opposes food trucks, they’re good for consumers and good for the economy,” he said via phone. “The problem is where they’re parked.”
Purposely blocking parking spots, for hours on end, only hurts restaurants by keeping the spots from potential customers, according to Beal. “It is kind of unethical,” he said of food trucks, or anyone else for that matter, reserving street parking spots for commercial gain.
Beal said he has been having constructive conversations with the county about solutions that could work for both restaurants and food trucks. That potential solution — which had until then not been revealed to the media — is creating and enforcing specific areas for food trucks to park in a given area.
Cara O’Donnell, spokeswoman for Arlington Economic Development, said the county is hoping to implement a “street vending zone” pilot program in Rosslyn within a few weeks.
District Taco, the Mexican restaurant that started as a taco cart in Rosslyn five years ago, is coming back to the neighborhood.
Owner Osiris Hoil said he signed a lease today to occupy 3,000 square feet at 1500 Wilson Blvd, in a storefront across Clarendon Blvd from Starbucks. It will be a welcome sight to District Taco’s fans in the neighborhood, who haven’t been able to partake of all-day breakfast burritos and other favorites since the cart closed last year.
“Oh man, I’m super excited for this,” Hoil told ARLnow.com over the phone this morning, hours after finalizing the paperwork. “We have a lot of customers in Rosslyn that love us, and I’m excited to go back with them.”
The space will be District Taco’s seventh location, and he’s planning to sign leases for three more by the end of the year, including another one somewhere in Arlington. Hoil’s original brick-and-mortar store is still going strong at 5723 Lee Highway, he said, and the customer service and atmosphere there is what he tries to replicate at all of his shops.
“The Arlington location is the original, and that one works very well,” he said. “We are a young company, we’re very excited, and we have a lot of energy.”
The buildout of his locations usually takes about five months, Hoil said, putting the Rosslyn store’s opening on track for mid-September this year.
(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) For the past two weeks, officers with the Arlington County Police Department spent the lunch hour issuing parking tickets to food trucks and other vehicles along N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn.
The increase in enforcement, according to ACPD spokesman Lt. Kip Malcolm, came after the police received complaints that the trucks were parking illegally beyond the two hour limit in the metered spots.
“They weren’t just writing parking tickets to the food trucks, they were writing tickets to all vehicles,” Malcolm told ARLnow.com. Officers from the Rosslyn district conducted meetings with the vendors about the parking situation. “Officers spoke with and warned food trucks about all the laws there.”
Malcolm said one food truck owner agreed with the enforcement. The vendor told police “it had to be done, the saving spots in overnight parking was getting out of hand,” Malcolm said. Not all food vendors that frequent Lynn Street — one of the busiest spots in the area for food trucks — think the enforcement is a good idea.
Maireni Melo, who works on Brandon’s Little Truck, strongly objected to the enforcement.
“They’re enforcing the two-hour parking limit, but they’re checking on vendor’s licenses and everything while they do it,” he said.
Brandon’s Little Truck was stopped from selling last week because of licensing issues, but they were back open for business today (Monday) for lunch. Melo sold out by 1:30 p.m., he said, and the line for the truck formed before the window even opened.
“We’ll just keep feeding the meter, even if there’s a limit,” he said. “We can afford a ticket. If you’re going to get a $35 ticket, that’s just a little more than three sandwiches.”
Che Ruddell-Tabisola, the executive director of the DMV Food Truck Association, said there’s been some confusion over whether trucks need to move after the two-hour limit on Lynn Street expires.
“Different enforcement officers have different answers,” he said. As for the enforcement campaign, spurred by complaints, Ruddell-Tabisola said similar situations have popped up around the area about the brick-and-mortar businesses complaining. “We’ve had situations where established brick-and-mortars oppose innovation and variety.”
“In the past complaints prompted enforcement, and if that’s the case here, I think that’s unfortunate, because food trucks are really good for the community,” he continued. “Food trucks are job creators, we contribute to the tax base, and ultimately we contribute to these vibrant commercial centers. You really want to have a dynamic mix of commercial and retail, different dishes, different price points. You want a mix of everything so everyone can benefit from it.”
The parking issue may soon be a thing of the past, however. As part of the Retail Action Plan the county will consider next year, food trucks may be able to vend from dedicated vending zones, including in Rosslyn.
“With social media and serial followers, vending can help pull customers into different areas,” the proposed Retail Action Plan states. “Establishing vending zones, to allow trucks to vend for longer than two hours or for alternative hours, can help prime an area that is not quite ready for retail or can attract people to other uses — parks, cultural venues or other businesses.”
Ruddell-Tabisola called Arlington “a real leader” in food truck policy. Malcolm said ACPD’s enforcement was for “a two-week evaluation,” but if vehicles continue to flout the law, police may consider another ticketing crackdown.
Crockett and Tubbs may be long off the air, but two men are trying to bring the flair of the “Miami Vice” TV show to their new Arlington-based food truck.
Miami Vice Burgers opened its window for the first time last Thursday on N. Stuart Street in Ballston. Owner Santo Mirabile and his partner, Gary Romain, have manned the truck in matching Hawaiian shirts on weekdays since then. Mirabile said he plans to continue to park in Ballston this week before circulating to Courthouse, Rosslyn and Crystal City.
“We have something nobody else has,” Mirabile said about his menu, which includes a Tubbs Burger, Sonny’s Burger and a Don Johnson Special — a 6-inch roll with Italian or Chorizo sausage, Chimichurri sauce and grilled onions and peppers. “We’re trying to bring a South Beach taste to Northern Virginia.”
Mirabile owned the El-Chaparral Meat Market in Clarendon for 27 years before he closed it and moved back to Florida; he grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and he said he’s always been a huge fan of the TV show. He said he couldn’t sit around the house all day, and his children always encouraged him to try to sell his burgers, so he decided to give it a whirl.
“I worked for Marriott for many years and I learned to love the food business there,” he said. “I love working with food and people. The food truck is a fun job.”
The burgers have eclectic toppings and sauces — Sonny’s Burger is a quarter-pound angus beef patty with guacamole, grilled onion, jalapeño relish, cilantro sour cream with a “Sonny” side up egg on a brioche bun. Mirabile could neither confirm nor deny the inclusion of an Edward James Olmos burger in the future.
Skyscraper construction near the Rosslyn Metro stop may force some food trucks to relocate or scale back their visits to the lunch hot spot.
“It sucks,” Louie Hankins, the co-founder of the Rito Loco truck, told ARLnow.com. “We can only park two or three trucks here where we used to park seven to eight.”
Construction began this winter on the Central Place apartment building, a 31-story skyscraper that’s projected to be completed in 2017, and has resulted in lane closures and parking restrictions on the stretch of N. Lynn Street between Wilson Blvd and 19th Street N.
Hankins said the construction hasn’t drastically decreased his business. Still, he is considering coming to Rosslyn once every two weeks instead of his usual weekly stop.
“It’s taking most of our parking spots,” said Cindy Hernandez, assistant manager of the Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling truck. With the limited space, other food trucks often beat them to a parking place. In that case, the Rocklands truck relocates to Courthouse.
“There’s more parking but fewer customers there,” Hernandez said. Rocklands used to park in Rosslyn five times a week, but they now only come twice.
Some trucks experienced push-back from authorities, like the Korean BBQ Taco Box truck, which received two tickets after parking on N. Lynn Street, according to Yog Noh, who works on the truck. Noh said that they now park on Wilson Blvd outside of Chipotle, where they see less foot traffic. “A lot of the people who buy our food can’t really see where we are.”
The KBBQ truck had at least 80 customers a day on Lynn Street before construction. Now they get 40 daily customers on Wilson. “I think it’s going to affect us because Rosslyn is one of the best spots we come to,” Noh said.
The KBBQ truck is not the only truck officials have asked to move from Lynn Street. According to Urban Bumpkin truck owner John Nguyen, security guards near the Cosi, at the corner of Lynn and 19th Street, started calling the police on his truck this morning. Nguyen claimed he had started parking at a one-hour metered spot, but was forced to move to Ballston for lunch.
“I said, ‘how are you going to write me a ticket if I just got here?'” Nguyen said. “We were parking in a legal spot with no sign. One of the parking enforcers said they were cracking down on food trucks.”
As a result, Urban Bumpkin served 75 customers in Ballston instead of the usual 100 or more they get in Rosslyn, Nguyen said.
Doug Maheu, the Arlington County Director for the DMV Food Truck Association, and owner of Doug the Food Dude food truck, said that parking is always scarce on Lynn Street because “it’s a gateway into D.C.”
“Lynn Street is probably the premiere spot in Arlington right now,” Maheu said. “Hopefully we can find some other places that are close.”
Maheu is speaking with the county about alternative parking and plans to contact the Rosslyn Business Improvement District. Mary-Claire Burick, executive director of the Rosslyn BID, said the organization is working to find a solution.
The District Taco cart, which was launched four years ago and has now spawned four brick-and-mortar restaurants, is retiring today in Rosslyn.
District Taco owner Osiris Hoil said the team that runs the cart is needed to support the restaurants, with locations at 5723 Lee Highway and at Metro Center, Eastern Market and soon-to-be-open Dupont Circle in the District. The decision was purely a business one, but that didn’t make it any easier for Hoil, who opened the cart using family recipes after being laid off from a construction job.
“It’s very emotional for me, because when we started four years ago it was just me and my taco stand,” Hoil told ARLnow.com today. “It’s part of my heart, but as a business decision, we had to let it go.”
Hoil said that, in addition to the Dupont Circle location opening next month, he plans to open in Crystal City, Rosslyn, Alexandria and Vienna, and is looking at space in Rockville and Reston Town Center. No new location is firmed up yet, he said, but he hopes to open another store by the end of the year and three or four next year. The taco stand is just too unpredictable to continue to operate while District Taco grows, said Hoil.
“One of the challenges we’re having is the weather,” he said. “This wintertime has been really cold, but also it’s just one of the reasons. We’re growing pretty aggressively this year and next year and we need our team to focus on our restaurants. It’s a little bit harder to manage the stand than a restaurant just because it’s a mobile unit and anything can happen while traveling.”
It might not happen right away, but Hoil is determined to open up spaces in Rosslyn and Crystal City close to where his taco stand set up shop most days. He said he’ll likely try to move into Rosslyn once the Central Place construction is complete.
Today in Rosslyn, in honor of the stand’s last day, District Taco is offering two free tacos to every customer that stops by, while supplies last.
Arlington’s El Chilango food truck has made Yelp’s list of the “Top 100 Places to Eat” in the United States.
The list seeks to identify “the spots Yelpers have deemed the ultimate, try-before-you-die, food-coma-inducing, so-good-it-makes-you-want-to-slap-your-momma places to eat.” El Chilango was ranked No. 58, was the only eatery from Virginia on the list and one of only two from the D.C. area.
El Chilango serves tacos from a semi-permanent parking spot in the residential neighborhood of Radnor-Fort Myer Heights, in the area of 14th Street N. and N. Queen Street, near Route 50.
A new food truck, DC Sliders, has come to serve lunch to customers in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.
The truck’s first day in Arlington was Feb. 6. It serves an array of mini-burgers, including the “Elvis” slider, featuring the King’s favorite sandwich ingredients: peanut butter, banana and bacon. Currently, it has regular stops in Courthouse and Rosslyn, as well as Reston and Tysons Corner, but it has also stopped in Ballston in the last two weeks.
Other menu items during its stop in Rosslyn yesterday (Wednesday) included the “Del Toro” — which comes topped with tomato salsa, refried beans, guacamole, corn, greens and tortilla chips — and the “Slider Mac,” a burger topped with ketchup and macaroni and cheese. Customers can choose two types of sliders and combine with an order of garlic fries for $11.
The line for sliders at 11:45 a.m. was the longest on the block, even with four other food trucks parked close by.
The truck was launched in Loudoun County last August, according to co-owner Carmen Morse, who owns the truck with her husband, Chris. Carmen Morse told ARLnow.com that they are waiting for permits to park in D.C. and, if business continues to go well this summer, they are aiming to launch another truck and, a bit down the road, open a brick-and-mortar store.
Date Set for County Board Special Election — Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman officially has declared that the Arlington County Board special election will be held on April 8. The special election is being held to replace now-former County Board member Chris Zimmerman. [Sun Gazette]
End of the Road for Seoul Food Truck — The Seoul Food truck, which makes stops in Rosslyn, Courthouse, Ballston and other lunch spots in Arlington, will be retired at the end of this month. The owners say they want to spend more time focusing on their brick-and-mortar store in Silver Spring, Md., next to the Wheaton Metro station. [Food Truck Fiesta]
Bike Boulevard Signs Installed — Arlington has installed signs and sharrows designating 9th Street S. and 12th Street S., which run along either side of Columbia Pike, as “bike boulevards.” The county has not yet, however, installed improved intersection crossings or trail links, leading some to say that the bike boulevards so far do little to improve safety for Pike cyclists. [Greater Greater Washington]
Preservation Arlington Mourns Loss of Homes — The group Preservation Arlington says a total of 14 demolition permits were applied for in January. “In review of the Arlington County tax records, eight of the eleven houses are owned by builders and are speculative redevelopments, and two are being redeveloped by individuals who bought the property within the last year,” the group writes. “The looming demolition of these houses and buildings represents an incredible loss of history, architecture, time, energy, and materials.” [Preservation Arlington]
Flickr pool photo by BrianMKA
Doughnut Truck Comes to Arlington — A new food truck devoted to doughnuts has hit the streets of Arlington. The truck, from the Penn Quarter eatery Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, is so far only selling doughnuts and coffee. It plans to stop in Rosslyn, Clarendon and Ballston. [Washingtonian]
Fundraising for Hot Car Mom — A local couple is trying to raise $50,000 for the legal defense of Zoraida Magali Conde Hernandez, the mother accused of accidentally leaving her 8-month-old son in a car for 6 hours on a hot day, leading to his death. The couple says they were “heartbroken” for Hernandez, who is facing a charge of felony child neglect. [Patch]
Flashback: Arlington’s Last Chicken Debate — It turns out this is not the first time that there has been a strong debate in Arlington about urban hen raising. Late in 1945, after the end of World War II, Arlington was preparing to reinstitute an urban chicken ban that had been dropped during the war. The renewed restrictions “drew public debate and strong views on both sides.” [Sun Gazette]
Republican Running for Moran’s Seat — Republican Micah Edmond says he’s planning to run for the Congressional seat of the retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). Edmond has previously worked in banking, defense policy and as a Marine Corps officer. [National Review]
Pyzyk Poached by Arlington County — ARLnow.com freelance reporter Katie Pyzyk has accepted a full-time position with Arlington County. Pyzyk, who joined us in 2011 and who holds the crown for our most-viewed story of all time, will be a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Community Planning, Housing and Development. We wish Katie the all best in her new position.
According to a tweet from Yorktown’s School Resource Officer Cpl. Jim Tuomey, “the food trucks will no longer be parked at the school. This is to be in compliance with [Arlington Public Schools] rules & county code.”
In a subsequent tweet, Tuomey wrote, “This was not my call, I like getting a milkshake every now and then…”
APS Spokesman Frank Bellavia said the policy is not the school system’s but a county ordinance, which prevents food trucks from parking within 100 feet of a school.
In an email, Tuomey said he didn’t know who owns or operates the food trucks, but they have parked at or near Yorktown “for many years.”
“They arrive before the first lunch period and leave after the last period of lunch they are here at the school every school day,” Tuomey said. “They have been very helpful in keeping students on campus instead of going off in search of other food options.”
Doug Maheu, the Arlington County Director of the DMV Food Truck Association, said he was not aware of the trucks’ presence near the school, and said he and his membership are careful to follow the county ordinance.
“Being in that area isn’t even part of our business plan,” Maheu, who owns Doug the Food Dude, said.
Arlington Popular With ‘Echo Boomers’ — Those between the ages of 25 and 34, also known as “Echo Boomers,” have increased in population by 10 percent in Arlington over the past two years. Such residents say they’re attracted to Arlington’s mix of urban amenities and suburban comfort. Instead of moving further out into the suburbs upon having kids, many Echo Boomers are opting to stay in Arlington and other areas around D.C.’s urban core. [Washington Post]
Bloomberg BNA Faces Snack Abuse — Crystal City-based Bloomberg BNA sent a memo to employees on Friday threatening to install surveillance cameras to monitor the snack pantry, after some employees were observed taking a copious amount of snacks home. Managers rescinded the threat after pushback from the employees’ union. [Jim Romenesko]
Federal Tax Credits for Housing Projects — Two affordable housing projects in Arlington have qualified for financing through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits program. [Arlington County]
Toscana Grill Reopening — Courthouse restaurant Toscana Grill (2300 Clarendon Blvd) is reopening today. The restaurant closed for repairs last month after a water pipe burst and caused some flooding. Before it closed, in an effort to not let the food in the kitchen go to waste, Toscana gave away hundreds of free meals to those willing to wait in line. “We were thrilled by the turnout of our free food event and look forward to serving the community with our full dining, takeout and catering services,” owner Joe Smith tells ARLnow.com.
Great Food Truck Race Stops in Clarendon — The Hawaii-based Aloha Plate food truck stopped by the Arlington Festival of the Arts yesterday. Aloha Plate is a current contestant on the Food Network show The Great Food Truck Race. [Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Prince Harry Visits Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — Britain’s Prince Harry is visiting Arlington National Cemetery this morning as part of his two-day visit to the Washington area. The prince is expected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and to visit the burial area for military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. [NBC Washington]
Now Official: Whole Foods to Pentagon City — Whole Foods has made it official and signed a deal with Vornado to open a 37,000 square foot store in on the ground floor of a planned 700-unit apartment building in Pentagon City. The store will be the company’s second in Arlington, and is expected to open in 2017. [Washington Business Journal]
Wieners Added to Testicle Festival — The Fairfax County-based Top Dog food truck has been recruited to serve hot dogs at next weekend’s Montana State Society Testicle Festival in Virginia Square. Jed Link, an organizer of the event, called the combination of Rocky Mountain Oysters and hot dogs “a culinary reunion that’s guaranteed to entertain.”
Flickr pool photo by Martin Humm
Arraignment for Air Force Officer — Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the airman who was removed from his post as head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program after being accused of sexual battery in Crystal City, is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon in an Arlington County courtroom. While the Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney office is prosecuting the case, the Air Force has the option of bringing its own case against Krusinski. [Associated Press]
CivFed Opposes Tree Removal at Cemetery — The Arlington County Civic Federation voted Tuesday to oppose a plan to remove 800 trees at Arlington National Cemetery in order to make way for about 30,000 in-ground burial spots and niche spaces. The resolution asks Arlington’s congressional delegation to sponsor legislation to stop the plan and asks the County Board to officially support the legislation. [Sun Gazette]
Four Students Earn Nat’l Merit Scholarships — Four Arlington students have been awarded National Merit Scholarships. The students receiving the $2,500 scholarships are: Ariel Bobbett and Elizabeth Roy of Washington-Lee High School, Nicole Orttung of Yorktown High School, and Robert C. Wharton of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. [Arlington Public Schools]
Day One of School Board Caucus — The first day of the Arlington County Democratic Committee endorsement caucus for School Board will take place tonight from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Drew Model Elementary School (3500 23rd Street S.). The second day of party voting will take place on Saturday. Incumbent James Lander is facing off against challenger Barbara Kanninen for the Democratic endorsement. [Arlington Democrats]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
The Arlington County Board last night voted to extend the one-hour parking limit for food trucks by another hour.
Food trucks will now be able to serve customers on local streets for up to two hours. They will not, however, be able to stay longer than the time allocated by the meter zone they’re parked in.
The previous one-hour limit had led to complaints and even legal challenges from food truck owners who argued that an hour doesn’t give them enough time to serve hungry customers in busy parts of the county where parking is at a premium.
“The extension of the vending time better reflects typical lunch hours and more closely aligns with the metered parking zones in Arlington,” the county said in a press release. “More than 90 percent of metered parking spaces within Arlington’s metro station areas are regulated for two or more hours.”
In voting unanimously for the change, Board members said food trucks are increasingly integral part of the community.
“Street vending has become a growing part of the retail scene in Arlington,” said County Board Chair Walter Tejada. “These changes, by giving vendors flexibility and ensuring consistent enforcement, provide balance and clarity for all of Arlington’s businesses that serve customers.”
Doug Maheu, Arlington County Director of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington and owner of the Doug Food Dude food truck, said in a statement that food truck owners are largely pleased with the change, but would have liked even more time to vend.
Although the members of Metropolitan Washington Food Truck Association would not consider these amendments perfect, we do understand that they are a work in progress. We look forward to participating in future conversations with Arlington County as well as other stake holders on crafting equitable vending regulations. We applaud the Arlington County Board for moving forward to make Arlington a thriving diverse business community.
Maheu said food truck owners will continue to ask for four hour “block permits” that would allow even more vending time. As for the possibility of an influx of food trucks from D.C. to Arlington, should the District enact strict food truck regulations that have been proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray, Maheu said he’s not overly concerned.
“I believe that the market will take care of competition as it always done,” he said.
Maheu said he’s aware of 3 or 4 D.C. food trucks that have applied for permits to serve customers in Arlington, but added that he didn’t believe those applications were made in response to D.C.’s proposed regulations.