D.C. is stepping up its regulation of the burgeoning food truck business.
It's lunch time on a sunny, 70-degree day in D.C.'s Farragut Square, and evidence of the food truck craze that's taken over the city is fully visible. About a dozen trucks line the park, and nearly 200 people line up to grab lunch -- they have barbecue, Korean, and Mexican cuisines to choose from, to name a few. It's like a giant outdoor food court.
There's no question that the trucks are popular, at least with customers. Traditional restaurant owners have at times had a less positive view of the food trucks, however, claiming that the food trucks are taking away their business and not having to abide by the same standards as brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Now, some changes may be in store for D.C.'s food truck industry. Food truck owners and traditional restaurants have been fighting over food truck regulation for the better part of a year; the upcoming changes will mainly affect the way the trucks are regulated.
While operational regulations are still being drafted by the city's consumer regulatory agency, the D.C. Council is moving on one element of food truck laws: taxes. A D.C. Council subcommittee approved a bill Thursday that would require food truck vendors to pay a 10-percent sales tax -- the same as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The bill now moves to the full council for a vote. Food trucks are currently exempt from the sales tax and, are instead required to pay a quarterly fee.
Meanwhile, new rules for the food truck industry that affect everything from parking to hours of operation are on the way. Many food truck owners support the rules, even as they admit that they may not have gotten everything they want in the new legislation.
Che Ruddell-Tabisola, co-owner of the BBQ Bus, says he's all in favor of updating the current regulations, especially the rule that states that a food truck must have a line of customers in order to remain parked in one place.
"Which is crazy ... what business isn't allowed to go with the ebb and flow of how folks come to lunch?" Ruddell-Tabisola says. "So the new regulations are not perfect but they are big improvement, at least in terms of that."
But vendors are not sold on all of the proposed changes, including the sales tax. Many would far prefer to pay the quarterly $325 fee in the current rules.
"These owners and operators are passionate about the food that they are bringing forward. Almost every single owner is in the window right now," says Jeff Kelley, a member of the DC Food Truck Association. "There are very few where you have that opportunity to connect with customer in a meaningful way.