19 Aug 2010

Food Wars: Bricks and Sticks Versus Mobile Munchies

Originally uploaded to flickr by awiseman

So much for friendly competition and the entrepreneurial spirit. When the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) proposed new regulations for sidewalk and mobile vending businesses, traditional brick and mortar dining spots, city business improvement districts and the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington took the opportunity to speak out against the businesses DCRA was “hoping to encourage with the new regulations,” according to Helder Gil, a legislative affairs specialist with DCRA.

“There had been a moratorium on sidewalk vending because there was confusion about who would regulate such businesses — DCRA or DDOT. As a result there had been no new vending locations allowed for several years,” said Gil.

On June 28, DCRA proposed regulations, posted on the DCRA site for public comment, that would ultimately break the moratorium on new vending operations in the District by determining new sidewalk vending locations and new vendors for those areas while also revising regulations for vendors.

“The overwhelming bulk is about where new sidewalk vending locations would be allocated and who they would be assigned,” said Gil.

Also included in the regulations are new rules that impact mobile vendors. The revised regulations state that mobile vendors must do business more than 50 feet from a restaurant selling a similar type of food, must be parked legally and must move to a new location or suspend business when they are done serving customers.

When Curbside Cupcakes sent out a call to their “Nation” of followers asking them to comment on the proposed regulations that are open to public comment before they are sent to the city council for approval, Gil’s email inbox was inundated with notes of support for mobile vendors. “In the last day and a half I’ve gotten over 300 emails. The mobile vendors are a small part of the new regulation but are getting the most attention. ”

Your comments can impact the regulations set forth by DCRA. If you would like your opinions on the regulation to be a part of the public record, comments are being accepted through the end of the month (in writing to Helder Gil, Legislative Affairs Specialist, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 Fourth Street, SW, Room 5164, Washington, D.C. 20024, or via e-mail at helder.gil@dc.gov) and are available for public viewing on the DCRA website.

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  • Jon

    Food trucks seem to be the new “it” food thing (replacing cupcakes, tart frozen yogurt, etc.) and who knows how long the trend will last. However, I think if mobile competition is impacting permanent restaurant locations, perhaps the restaurants need to examine their product or prices and determine why the pedestrian consumer likes the food trucks in the first place. The 50-foot distance is a courtesy. I’d walk farther than that if I knew better quality food was at the end of the walk.

  • I’m with you on the thought that the restaurants need to examine their products. Someone recently told me that the Firehook downtown loses a ton of business on the days that one of the cupcake trucks is parked outside. Well, duh! Firehook’s cupcakes aren’t all that good. Their cookies, however…I have actually passed by a cupcake truck for a Firehook cookie before. If Firehook marketed their sweets a bit better in the afternoon, and improved the quality of their cupcake, maybe they’d compete a bit better.

    I hope they can find a way to allow the trucks to keep operating around town. A few of them offer great food, and it’s a fun treat on the days when they come within a few blocks of my office.

  • ET

    I was talking to someone while standing in line for a Curbside Cupcake fix, and she told me that they had problems when parked near the Cosi on the corner of Penn and 3rd. Now those two are definitely not in competition for product so I fail to see what the problem was.

  • Sebastian

    Portland has had a thriving food truck industry for some time. It doesn’t seem to hurt brick front places there. It’s a terrific way for the little guy to start a business. Like the weekend Eastern Market, maybe it will generate some new brick front places.I’m pretty sure that they are bringing a new customer base out of their offices to get a cupcake or lobster roll.

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