Washington, DC: D.C.’s Food Truck Fleet Lines Up For Its First Inauguration

This time around, the Fojol Bros. won't be the only ones serving at President Obama's inauguration. (Dominic Bracco II for The Washington Post)

By Tim Carman | WashingtonPost.com

This time around, the Fojol Bros. won't be the only ones serving at President Obama's inauguration. (Dominic Bracco II for The Washington Post)
This time around, the Fojol Bros. won’t be the only ones serving at President Obama’s inauguration. (Dominic Bracco II for The Washington Post)

Four years ago, as President-elect Barack Obama prepared to take the oath of office, just one of the 100-plus food trucks that exist today was patrolling the frozen tundra known as Washington. You could say the Fojol Bros. were invested in the hope and change that the new president had promised to the American public during the campaign.

“I think Barack Obama was an inspirational person to many in this city,” says Fojol co-founder Justin Vitarello. “And I think we have been inspirational to a lot of people.”

Fast forward to 2013, and the Fojol Bros. have three trucks themselves, two of which have gone dormant for the winter season (leaving only Volathai to roam the streets, hawking its brand of Thai food to hungry office workers).

“It was Inauguration Day four years ago when D.C.’s first food truck — Fojol Bros. — first hit the streets,” e-mails Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the DC Food Truck Association, “so it marks not only their birthday, but the beginning of the industry in D.C.”

Strangely enough, it’s those two mothballed Fojol trucks that will be working the streets around the inaugural parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 21. Fojol’s Benethiopia and Merlindia will be just two of 19 trucks selling all manner of meals along the route. Among the other mobile vendors are Crepe LoveCurbside Cupcakes,Cirque Cuisine, the Big CheeseCarnivore BBQCapital Chicken & Waffles,Borinquen Lunch BoxSurfsideSweetbitesGoodies Frozen Custard andJose Andres’s stab at rolling cuisine, Pepe.

The Sweetbites truck has special cupcakes for the big day. (Sweetbites)
The Sweetbites truck has special cupcakes for the big day. (Sweetbites)

“The inauguration committee wanted to make sure that there would be some food trucks within the security perimeter along the parade route,” says Helder Gil, legislative and public affairs officer for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which is handling the special inaugural vending permits.

“They’re still working out exactly where those locations will be” along the route, Gil adds.

Food trucks will also be permitted at three other locations around Washington during the inauguration. They’ll be scattered mostly around transportation hubs such as Union Station or RFK Stadium/D.C. Armory and Nationals Park, where tourist buses will park and allow people to walk to the Mall for the inauguration.

Unfortunately, DCRA does not have the exact name of the trucks that will work those locations; the department only has the names of the business owners. At present, DCRA indicates that 13 vendors will congregate around Union Station; seven around Nats Park and 11 around RFK Stadium/D.C. Armory. Among the trucks known to be working those areas are Goodies Frozen Custard (D.C Armory), Borinquen Lunch Box (Union Station), the Big Cheese (Union Station),Doug the Food Dude (D.C. Armory) and the Make My Cake from New York City (Nats Park).

The inauguration is one of the few times on D.C. streets that you can sample the food from other cities. The District allows any vendor in the nation to apply for a special inauguration permit. This time around, about 100 vendors applied before the Dec. 28 deadline, DCRA’s Gil says. That compares to the nearly 1,200 vendors who wanted to feed the public during Obama’s 2009 ceremony, which drew more than a million people. DCRA notes that Obama’s first inauguration attracted so many vendors because of its historic nature and that the 100 applicants are more consistent with most inaugurations

Each of those 100 vendors has been granted access to the District’s streets (pending inspection), just as each of those 1,200 vendors was approved in 2009, Gil says. Many of those 100 vendors, of course, will be hawking merchandise, not food. They will also be competing not just against other licensed vendors, but against the bane of D.C. public officials: the unlicensed street vendor.

DCRA hopes the smaller public turnout for this inauguration, expected between 600,000 and 800,000, will allow the police to crack down on these illegal vendors.