But now, after threats of being sued or arrested, Metro Halal owner Mohammad Khan has been forced to move the cart to a less trafficked, less familiar section of North Lynn Street. As a result, Khan says, his family and his business are suffering.
“It has affected my business very much,” said Khan, who also owns La’Jawab Kabob House on Lee Highway, where the cart’s food is prepared. “Today I lost money… In this bad economy, my business is destroyed by them.”
The “them” Khan is referring to is Monday Properties, which owns the 1100 Wilson Boulevard office tower. The company’s law firm has been sending cease and desist letters to Khan since May, ordering him to “stop trespassing” on the sidewalk. According to the letters, Monday Properties’ land ownership extends all the way to the curbs on Lynn and Wilson.
Although Khan reviewed the letters, he insists various county officials later told him that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Thus, when he received another letter in November, saying in bold-faced type that “you must immediately and permanently cease trespassing on the property,” Khan kept on serving hearty $5.99 meals to local office workers.
That was until Thursday, when, according to Khan, a police officer said he would be arrested if he did not move to a new spot.
“I was almost crying, because I knew it would take me another six months or one year to get my customers back,” Khan said. “I did not have time to tell my customers.”
Khan said he used to be able to sell between $300 and $600 worth of food in a given day, thanks in part to the convenient and familiar location. In his new location, he says, sales are down to $250 per day.
“That does not cover my expense,” Khan said. “And what about my family, my kids, my mortgage, my car payments?”
The Taco Carrito cart has been serving hungry Ballston office workers for nearly four weeks. But even regular customers may not realize that the people serving them tasty tacos and homemade Spanish-recipe guacamole have no culinary background whatsoever.
In fact, the reason why proprietors Don Stanke and Colleen Kenney never serve breakfast or dinner is because they work a completely different full-time job — the late shift at a local television station. Don and Colleen, who asked that their employer not be identified, say they came up with the idea for the cart two years ago at a bar, while discussing layoffs in the television news industry.
With so much uncertainty, why not start their own business as a fall back, they thought. Plus, it could be fun.
“I just thought it would be cool to be a vendor, to stand there and talk to people all day,” Don said.
Don, a news photographer, and Colleen, a tape producer, decided to launch a cart before they decided what to serve. With feedback from friends, they narrowed it down to pizza or tacos. Ultimately they decided on tacos, and set off researching the best recipes.
The cart originally launched last year and served Crystal City. All went well for two months, until Arlington police showed up with measuring tape and determined the cart was two feet longer than regulations allow.
“Rules are rules,” Don lamented, even though he says he was told by a health department employee that the extra length wasn’t a problem.
After selling that cart, buying a 20-year-old used cart that required restoration and customization, and getting their paperwork in order, the cart re-launched last month.
It was a long night for the county board, which didn’t adjourn its recessed meeting until a few minutes after midnight. In addition to a controversial resolution regarding the Secure Communities program, a briefing on next year’s budget projections and the passage of the Crystal City Sector Plan, the board took a number of other significant actions.
The board heard a presentation by County Manager Michael Brown regarding staff research into the proposed development plan for East Falls Church. Details are available on the county’s web site.
Funds for the design of a better Ballston beaver pond were approved unanimously. The $471,842 contract calls for a new design that will allow the pond to do a better job of treating stormwater while still providing a habitat for wildlife.
A plan to renovate 162 apartments in Colonial Village was approved unanimously. The board looked into concerns about parking and trash expressed by neighboring residents, but otherwise made no alterations.
After another somewhat lengthy discussion about outdoor patios, the board voted unanimously to renew Hard Times Cafe’s outdoor seating permit. The board specified an allowance of four tables and eight chairs on the North Highland Street sidewalk during dinner time.
The board voted 4-1 to advertise a steep fee increase for restaurant and food vendor licenses. The board was careful to emphasize that the fee hike, from $100 to $285, was mandated by the state and already in place in neighboring jurisdictions. The fee would apply evenly to brick and mortar restaurants and mobile food vendors.
At the very end, the board approved some sort of settlement with the owner of the long-delayed Bromptons development in Cherrydale. Update at 11:15 a.m. — The settlement deals with a dispute between the owner and the county over utility undergrounding. Under terms of the settlement, Bromptons owner R15, LLC will pay $255,000 to a utility fund.
The Rebel Heroes banh mi sandwich truck and the District Taco cart have spent the summer exclusively serving hungry crowds around Arlington. But each has their sights set on licenses to operate in the District.
That’s the explanation for why the popular Arlington vendors were invited by DC government to participate in next week’s inaugural “Curbside Cook-Off” at CityCenterDC.
As the Washington City Paper tells it, District Taco and Rebel Heroes will “stick out like tourists in downtown D.C.” during the two-day mobile food event on Oct. 7 and 8. Also participating will be 18 DC-based vendors, including DC Slices and Sweetflow Mobile, which occasionally slum over to Arlington for special events.
So if our beloved street vendors do get licensed in DC, will we ever see them again?
District Taco says yes — they’ll simply get another cart to operate in DC. We’re still waiting to hear back from Rebel Heroes.
Planetarium Group to Sell Seats — You can now have your name etched permanently in the David M. Brown Planetarium. The Friends of the Planetarium, which is raising money for much-needed renovations, is offering to engrave brass plaques on the back of one of 55 seats, for a donation of $1,000 or more.
BRAC Meeting Gets Rowdy — For the most part, it was an informative and respectful discussion. But some folks couldn’t contain their anger at the lack of transportation planning related to Alexandria’s massive Mark Center project. Military officials heard an earful. The meeting was organized by Rep. Jim Moran, who has sponsored legislation to delay the move of 6,400 military jobs to the building until sufficient transportation infrastructure is in place. More from the Washington Post.
Kelly Raises More Campaign Cash than Zimmerman — Republican candidate for county board Mark Kelly has been busy this summer. He raised $10,113 from July to August, compared to the $6,535 raised by incumbent Democrat Chris Zimmerman. Kelly also has more cash on hand than Zimmerman. More from the Washington Post.
New Food Carts in Arlington — Just when you thought the food truck craze was reaching a plateau, entrepreneur Ibrahim Hanifi comes along and launches not one but two “Tasty Kabob” carts in Arlington this week. The carts, which serve basic halal food, won’t be moving around like others. They’ve picked permanent outposts in Pentagon City and Rosslyn. More from TBD.
Dan Kain Trophies Owner Profiled — Jim Preziotti, who owns the once-iconic Dan Kain Trophies store, says that he’s getting ready to move his business away from its current location, which is scheduled for demolition. Even in his late 90s, Preziotti is pressing on with the move and a new online store. More from TBD.
We’re hearing that the planned opening for District Taco’s forthcoming brick-and-mortar restaurant has been pushed back
a month, to October 1. (Update on 10/14: The opening is now said to be set for the first week in November.)
The storefront at 5723 Lee Highway is now being used to prepare ingredients for the District Taco cart, following some changes to the existing kitchen (once used by the former occupant, the now-defunct Restaurant Vero). Tables and chairs are ready to go, we’re told, but there are still additional interior details and regulatory hurdles to be taken care of.
The county granted approval for a change of restaurant ownership yesterday.
There’s a new food cart on the scene in Arlington. Solar Crepes serves savory and sweet crepes, as well as coffee, cold drinks and snacks, all from a small, brightly-colored cart across Fairfax Drive from the Ballston Metro Station.
Owners Danna Andrews and Camille Dierksheide are trained chefs who share an interest in the environment, local food and good nutrition. That interest is apparent with the cart’s focus on sustainable, and locally-grown organic food. Many of the ingredients come from Lancaster Farm Fresh, a cooperative of growers in Pennsylvania.
Danna and Camille started to turn the vision of the cart into reality last September. They already owned their own catering and personal chef businesses and thus had a head-start on the culinary component of the cart. Danna’s French grandmother-in-law even helped out, supplying a family recipe for the cart’s popular chicken crepe.
When deciding where to operate the cart, the Alexandria residents say Arlington was a natural choice. Launching a food cart in Arlington, they said, was much easier than the District, where authorities had stopped giving out permits and returning phone calls. Alexandria, meanwhile, does not currently allow food carts.
Danna and Camille launched cart on Tuesday and were pleasantly surprised by the warm reception from curious local workers and residents.
The menu is constantly changing, with an emphasis on daily specials and seasonal items. On Wednesday, the savory specials were a tomato, basil, eggplant and mozzarella crepe and a bacon, spinach and cheese crepe. Fresh peaches were being sold from a box for 75 cents, while Toy Cow Creamery smoothies and Saratoga Springs water were on sale from an ice bucket built into the front of the cart.
Solar Crepes is just serving lunch now, Monday through Thursday, but Camille says they plan to start serving breakfast soon. Also in the works, when they can gather the funds: two 90-watt solar panels to power the cart and provide a more tangible explanation for its name.
See a review of the food at Solar Crepes here. More photos after the jump.