As the pandemic forces brick and mortar restaurants to close or switch to takeout and delivery, food trucks are filling the void by bringing the restaurant experience to residential neighborhoods.
Patrick Rathbone, the owner of the popular Big Cheese food truck, spent this morning (Tuesday) at Virginia Hospital Center making 50 sandwiches for medical workers there — 35 for those in ER and 15 for those working in the ICU.
On the Big Cheese website, people can make $10 donations to buy lunch for a hospital worker. So far, he said he’s made about 120 lunches for hospital workers and plans to keep it up through the pandemic.
Rathbone has a busy week planned, because after VHC he’s headed to the Westover neighborhood. The usual roundup of Metro-accessible Arlington locations this week includes something different: a few stops in residential neighborhoods, like Fairlington on Saturday.
“I had been focused on vending at Courthouse, Clarendon, Ballston, Pentagon City,” Rathbone said. “They’re all the places where there’s high-density residential. It’s more business than sitting at home but hasn’t been exemplary.”
Rathbone said business is down 80-90 percent of what it usually is this time of year, when workers flood out of office buildings at lunchtime looking for a meal and some time outdoors.
While Rathbone said he usually has a staff of between six to eight employees, right now it’s just him. With business down in the high-density areas, he wanted to take a chance and bring Big Cheese to some of the less dense areas of the county.
“I live in Barcroft area, put a post on the Arlington Neighbors Facebook page just to see if people in neighborhoods would want a visit,” Rathbone said.
The post got a large response, with over 130 comments, many of them asking Big Cheese to come by their communities. Rathbone said Shirlington, in particular, seemed excited about the prospect of a food truck visit.
“It’s something different,” Rathbone said. “They’ve been cooped up. Their kids have been cooped up. I think a lot of people are interested in supporting small businesses. With a food truck, it’s something coming to their neighborhood. I want to mix it up a bit.”
For Rathbone, it’s also a small part of offsetting the lost majority of his business.
“Basically, the business has gone from lunches and events catering to residential,” Rathbone said. “A big part of my business is event catering — all the weddings, PTA events, music festivals have all canceled. I don’t see how any of those are coming back this year at all. I am concerned, but I’m less concerned than if I had brick and mortar because that’s a lot more overhead.”
Rathbone said he’s also happy to be working, as it makes him less stressed than just sitting at home.
The Big Cheese isn’t alone in serving more residential areas. Food truck DC Slices has been offering pick up and delivery 951 S. Monroe Street, just off Columbia Pike. Astro Doughnuts also drew a crowd when its truck made a stop in a North Arlington cul-de-sac.
International foodies in Rosslyn will have another eatery option with the upcoming expansion of Fava Pot.
The restaurant — Egyptian Street Food by Fava Pot — is expected to open in September, just in time to celebrate the local chain’s 3rd anniversary, according to owner Dina Daniel.
The restaurant is rooted in Falls Church, where it has a sit-down location, and it also just opened a new pop-up in Union Market this past November. Before that, the eatery started as a food truck, which still frequents lunchtime hotspots Rosslyn, Courthouse, Ballston and Crystal City.
Daniel hasn’t yet announced exactly where the eatery will be located in Rosslyn.
“We are still in negotiations,” she said, adding that they will likely announce its exact location in two to three weeks. Still, she said that the eatery will have both sit-down options and food for take-out.
Unlike the Falls Church sit-down location, the Rosslyn location will be geared towards working professionals who have fast-paced workdays, according to Daniel.
“It is meant to be a quick bite but not fast food,” she said.
Over the years, Fava Pot has been the recipient of numerous awards and was recognized nationally for its food truck cuisine. All Fava Pot’s ingredients are made fresh in-house, according to Daniel.
Daniel said her favorite item is the Táamya, which she considers to be the eatery’s specialty. She called it an “Egyptian falafel” — the tiny ball has a crunchy exterior with a soft veggie-filled inside. Unlike other types of falafels, the snack is made with fava beans instead of chickpeas.
Yesterday (Feb. 13), Voice of America Asia featured Fava Pot on its YouTube channel as part of its Food Bites mini-series.
As an Egyptian immigrant, Daniel acts as a cultural ambassador for the community, helping people to experience new cuisines and understand more about Egyptian culture.
“I believe America has misconceptions of Egyptians,” she said, noting that Egypt has a distinctive cultural identity from the rest of the Middle East. The walls of the Falls Church location are covered with the stories of famous Egyptians, including athletes, academics and musicians.
To give back, some proceeds from the restaurant will go toward Coptic Orphans, an organization that assists underprovided kids in Egypt.
Red Hook Lobster Pound started as a restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn, before expanding to D.C. with a food truck that quickly gained popularity, which was then followed by a second D.C.-based truck and a kiosk at the District Wharf.
The trucks serve lobster and other New England specialties, like clam chowder and warm apple cider, as well as “lobstah box” meals that include a lobster roll, two sides or drinks, and a cookie.
Now, Red Hook Lobster Pound signs are up at the Naan Kabob space, and its trucks and food cart are regularly parked there. The company couldn’t be reached for comment, but signs inside the restaurant suggest it will serve as a bricks-and-mortar location for Red Hook Lobster Pound, offering dishes like lobster mac and cheese for $13.95.
For the time being, the company’s online schedule places one of the trucks as serving food at 3300 Wilson Blvd from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday nights.
Naan Kabob “temporarily closed” last October, but never reopened. The restaurant opened in 2017 to replace Pio Pio, a Peruvian restaurant that also had a penchant for temporary closures that became permanent.
There’s no word as to how much the Lobster Pound might have shelled out for its new Arlington spot.
Food trucks lovers in Arlington may now have more opportunities to buy their meals on wheels thanks to newly loosened regulations.
The Arlington County Board approved a series of code changes during its meeting this weekend that open up more parking areas for food trucks and also allow the trucks to operate later into the night. Members voted unanimously in support of the changes as part of their consent agenda for the Saturday, September 21 meeting.
Under the updated regulations, food trucks will be now be able park in places with sidewalks at least 6 wide, down from 10 feet. The amended code also clarified that trucks are can in certain cases operate past the standard business hours of 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
In a report to the Board, county staff noted that the changes will provide “greater flexibility in establishing on-street vending zones.”
The 10-foot sidewalk requirement previously barred trucks from otherwise desirable areas. One example was 15th Street N. in Courthouse, which officials said could accommodate five food trucks were it not for the 7.5 foot-wide sidewalk not meeting the 10-foot requirement.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of District Taco, which was co-founded by Marc Wallace and Osiris Hoil. The company is marking the occasion with an event in Rosslyn tomorrow (Thursday).
“ATTN, amigos!” the company said in a social media post. “Join us back where it all started for our 10 year anniversary… from 12-1 p.m. we will be on the corner of Lynn St & Wilson Blvd, in Rosslyn, handing out tacos and giveaways! Come celebrate with us and pose for a photo with our original taco cart.”
Hoil said he also plans on celebrating by taking a trip down to Mexico in August to visit family and reminisce about his mother’s cooking — the inspiration for many District Taco recipes.
Hoil’s entrepreneurial story began when he came to the United States as an immigrant and was laid off from a construction company during in 2007, around the time of the economic crisis. He said despite his dismay at the time, he still thinks highly of the firm and hired them to build several District Taco locations.
The District Taco cart launched in 2009, but was retired in 2014. Since then, two bricks-and-mortar District Taco locations have opened in Arlington: at 5723 Lee Highway — its very first storefront — in 2010 and in Rosslyn (1500 Wilson Blvd) in 2016.
District Taco now has 14 locations, according to its website, and plans to add at least three more in 2020, according to Hoil. They also want to double their office space by 2021.
“Everything we have done is by scratch,” said Hoil. “We have learned so much from other people and big companies.”
Photo 1 via Twitter
(Updated on 07/12/19) Officials are considering making it easier for food trucks to serve up grub around the county.
The Arlington County Board is set to consider a request for a public hearing on loosening some food truck regulations during its meeting this Saturday, July 13.
Ultimately if the Board approves the changes, the county would lower the required sidewalk width in areas designated for food trucks from 10 feet wide to 6 feet. The proposed code changes would also add language stating that the County Manager’s office can allow food trucks to operate outside standard business hours (7 a.m.-8 p.m.)
The suggested changes came after a county study concluded there were seven areas in Courthouse that could be designed for street vending, according to a staff report to the Board. However, staff found that a 10-foot sidewalk requirement got in the way of some sites:
The location on 15th Street North is proximate to the established street vending zone on Clarendon Boulevard, could accommodate approximately five food trucks and could create an ideal concentration of vending options. This potential zone is adjacent to a 7.6′ wide sidewalk — less than the required 10 feet. The narrower sidewalk, however, is located adjacent to a public park that could accommodate queueing lines and allow for through passage of pedestrians.
If the members approve the public hearing, Arlingtonians will be able to weigh in on the issue during the Board’s meeting on September 21.
Currently the vote on whether or not to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes is a part of the County Board’s consent agenda for this weekend’s meeting. The consent agenda is typically reserved for items expected to pass without debate.
Image 2 via Arlington County
Busy Weekend for Fire Department — The Arlington County Fire Department helped to rescue a person trapped in an overturned SUV on northbound I-395 at Glebe Road Saturday evening and battled an attic fire in the Arlington Forest neighborhood early Sunday morning. [Twitter, Twitter]
Arlington’s Top Bond Rating Reaffirmed — “For the 19th year in a row, all three credit ratings agencies have reaffirmed Arlington County’s debt ratings of Aaa/AAA/AAA — the highest rating. Arlington is one of just 48 counties in the United States, and nine in Virginia, to receive the highest rating from all three credit agencies for its bonds.” [Arlington County, Fitch Ratings]
Amazon Makes Va. Political Contributions — “Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), with leases for its second headquarters in Arlington signed and hiring underway, is ramping up its political contributions in Virginia, weeks ahead of a key state primary.” [Washington Business Journal]
GGW Endorses Challenger in Prosecutor Race — “The two-term incumbent, Theo Stamos, is being challenged by a political newcomer, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. Greater Greater Washington’s volunteer Elections Committee considered the positions of these two qualified candidates, and we endorse Dehghani-Tafti.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Food Truck Nights in Ballston — “Local food trucks will be parked in front of Randolph Towers on the first Wednesday of the month from June to August. On June 5th, stop by for a taste of Maine from Red Hook Lobster Pound and comfort food favorites by Dogs on the Curb!” [Ballston BID]
An annual, family-friendly outdoor festival is scheduled to return next weekend with music, dancers, and games.
The 3rd annual “Arlington Palooza” will be held in Alcova Heights Park (901 S. George Mason Drive) from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, April 13.
This year, organizers at the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation say there will be laser tag, a bouncy house, face painting, and lessons in making flower crowns and pinwheels, among other activities listed on the event’s website.
This year’s musical line-up includes:
- 1-1:30 p.m. — The Sunshine Gang, a classic rock and roll band
- 1:50-2:20 p.m. — Sarah Baumgarten, an H-B Woodlawn student and singer-songwriter who plays the ukulele
- 3:15-3:50 p.m. — The Blue Flames, an five piece Arlington-based rock band
The Sultanas Troupe will perform a fusion of traditional Middle-Eastern and modern dances from 2:40-3 p.m.
The Arlington Art Truck will also join the festivities with a traveling show about electricity by Baltimore artist Neil Feather.
Police will close one block of 8th Street S. between S. Randolph Street and S. George Mason Drive during the event.
The county is warning that parking near the event will be “extremely limited” and is encouraging attendees to find alternative transportation. A spokeswoman for the event noted there will be bike valets, and that scooter company Bird is offering a $5 credit with the coupon code BEFREE.
The department said there will be a “designated drop-off area along S. George Mason Drive near 8th Street S.” for people with disabilities.
Photo via Arlington County
(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) Firefighters battled an intense vehicle fire today in front of the Arlington Assembly of God Church, along Route 50 in the Arlington Forest neighborhood.
Initial reports suggest that a food truck caught fire, though the vehicle was later reported to be a work van. A traffic camera showed flames and a thick column of smoke coming from the van as firefighters arrived on scene. The smoke could be seen from as far away as Crystal City.
The fire was extinguished after a few minutes and no one was injured. The fire marshal’s office is investigating the cause.
Engine 109 arrived to find this work van fully involved in the 4700 block of Arlington Blvd this morning. No injuries were reported. Fire Marshals are investigating the cause. Consider keeping a #FireExtinguisher in your vehicle safety kit. You never know when you may need one. pic.twitter.com/Dg6xyYGZxu
— Arlington Fire (@ArlingtonVaFD) January 8, 2019
— William F. Yurasko (@doubleuefwhy) January 8, 2019
Memorial Bridge Closure Delayed — “Work on Arlington Memorial Bridge was scheduled to close all lanes this weekend, but with the expected arrival of Hurricane Florence, the National Park Service announced that the closure has been pushed back. Now, instead of Friday, the temporary closure of both sidewalks and all six lanes on the crumbling bridge is planned for 7 p.m. on Sept. 21 through 5 a.m. on Sept. 24.” [WTOP]
Economist Food Truck Comes to Rosslyn — Today The Economist is scheduled to bring its food truck to Central Place Plaza in Rosslyn from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. The truck offers “a taste of the future,” including free meatless burgers. Also offered: a 12-issue subscription to the magazine for $12. [Rosslyn]
Bezos and Amazon Board in Town — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the Board of Directors of his $1 trillion company are in town for meetings and a much-anticipated speech at the Economic Club of Washington Thursday night. Some speculate the board is helping to evaluate the D.C. area as a possible location for Amazon’s second headquarters, while the company has denied rumors that Bezos will be making an HQ2-related announcement during his speech. [Washington Post]
AFAC Asks For More Cash — “The Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) has announced a special appeal to its donors, volunteers and the public to raise $50,000 to offset the funds lost when the Arlington government reduced its support… In fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the county government provided $50,000 in addition to the base grant of $477,925 to address a spike in families needing food assistance. The additional funding was not included in the fiscal 2019 budget.” [InsideNova]
Iota Book in the Works — The co-owner of the late, lamented Iota Club is trying to raise money online to compile a book showcasing memorabilia from the former Clarendon music venue. More than $1,000 of a $90,000 goal has been raised so far. [GoFundMe]
Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler
Today, if you want the El Fuego food truck’s unique fusion of Peruvian cuisine with international flavors, you’ll have to track it down first. But this fall, El Fuego will find a permanent brick-and-mortar home in Lyon Park.
El Fuego mixes traditional Peruvian food with influences from other cultures, with a particular favoritism towards Chinese and Japanese dishes. Freedom to pursue his own types of cuisine was what drew Manuel Alfaro to leave the restaurant industry and start his food truck eight years ago. Now, that same freedom is what’s bringing him back to starting his own restaurant.
“We’re going to have our own restaurant, so we’ll be able to do things that have been constantly requested,” said Alfaro. “On a food truck, you’re dealing with a kitchen that’s four feet by eight feet. You have to have a menu selected and limited.”
Alfaro says many of their dishes are broken up into summer and winter menus. Some foods, like a Peruvian pulled chicken and yellow pepper dish with the fusion twist of added cheese and wrapped in an eggroll, just don’t keep in a food truck during summer months.
“This is an item that needs to be cooked from frozen,” said Alfaro. “During the summer we tried to have that on the food truck, but it doesn’t hold up to the temperatures in the kitchen. Even though we have a freezer on truck, they still start sticking together. Having a [restaurant] location will enable us to have all of these dishes.”
For the past year, Alfaro says he’s been looking for a location to put his restaurant. But Alfaro said his options were slim. He was trying to find a location that had partially been built out as a restaurant or had previously been a restaurant to cut down on the immense initial costs of installing a hood in the kitchen.
But when Alfaro found the location on the 2300 block of N. Pershing Drive, it was perfect. The space was built as a restaurant, complete with a hood in the kitchen, back when it was originally envisioned as vegetarian restaurant Alt’s — the space only opened briefly due to family troubles among its owners, culminating in founder Bryan Morrell’s death last month.
When he first came to the area, Alfaro said he sat outside the restaurant around lunchtime and watched the traffic. There are several other restaurants in the nearby area, all of which were active around lunch. The street is a major cut-through when I-66 is backed up, and Alfaro said the nearby apartments and Fort Myer were promising for a steady dinner crowd.
Alfaro said the goal is for an opening in the middle of September, but experience in the restaurant industry tells him a grand opening sometime in early October is more likely. Alfaro said his vision for the opening day is to have the restaurant operational with the food truck serving more customers outside.
“We are serving something we are proud of,” said Alfaro. “This is our food. It’s not someone else’s menu dictating we serve this or that. This is food we are proud of… It gives us a drive to succeed and provide something any American can come in, try, and say ‘wow, this is awesome.'”