By Michael Lee Pope | The Connection to you Community
It’s shortly after 1 p.m. on a beautiful spring day in Rosslyn. The streets are packed with people, many of whom stop to read the menu at Kafta Mania — a food truck owned by Pascal Halabi and his mother, who came to America from Lebanon about 25 years ago. Because Arlington County limits food trucks to a two-hour vending time, Halabi is about to close his door and drive away despite the fact that he still has customers wanting to place an order.
“How am I supposed to tell customers if they are waiting in line to get food after two hours that I have to shut my window and I can’t serve them?” he asked. “Would you tell a brick-and-mortar business that they have to close after two hours?”
Tension between food trucks and brick-and-mortar businesses is nothing new. But now that the Arlington County Board has given the green light to the creation of new vending zones, the rules of the game have changed a bit. The county manager’s office now has the authority to create new zones where food truck vendors could potentially stay longer than two hours at a time. The new zones might also allow vendors to open their doors late at night to cater to the bar crowd, rather than ending all sales at 8 p.m., which is now the case.
“I think the underlying problem is that there’s not a level playing field,” said Arlington Chamber of Commerce president Rich Dowd. “In a normal brick-and-mortar operation they have fairly heavy expenses, especially in Arlington.”
THE HISTORY OF FOOD TRUCKS in Arlington dates back to 2008, when the County Board took action to expand a set of rules created for ice-cream trucks. Back then, the vendors were limited to parking for five minutes at a time — and, even then, the customer was required to stop the vendor for a sale. Since that time, food trucks have exploded thanks in part to the social-media revolution. Today, the county has about 100 licensed mobile food vendors.
“We need more places to go,” said Chong Lee, who sells kimchi tacos out of a green truck called Lime Tree. “And we need more time.”
Owners of food trucks and food carts disagree with those who say they don’t pay taxes and fees.
“Well that’s not fair because we pay state tax,” said Sabri Uzun, who sells crepes out of a cart at Crandal Mackey Park. “But they don’t like competition so what can we do?”
NOW THAT COUNTY BOARD members have taken action to give the county manager’s office more authority to create new vending zones, Arlington officials have the ability to draft a new map that would allow longer hours and later nights for the vendors. But, according to commercial development specialist Jill Griffin with Arlington Economic Development, no discussion is currently taking place to create a new zone.
“We have to be careful,” said Griffin. “We need to look at the land use that’s around and the parking resources and what’s happening in the evening.”
For the time being, county officials have not taken any steps to create any vending zones. That means that all food trucks are limited to two hours in a specific parking spot, and that they must stop selling at 8 p.m. All vendors must live with that for now. County officials have the ability to create hours that are longer and later, although they seem to be in no rush to make that happen.
“Sometimes you are in the mood at 12:30 and sometimes at 1:30, and then they’re gone,” said Alioni Dameron, who works in Rosslyn. “So you are stuck with the usual corporate choices.”