MS. REBECCA SHEIR
So Paul Young's, Danny's Bakery, The Roma, these are all culinary examples of, I don't know, old-school D.C., I guess you could say. We turn now to a relatively new development in the local dining scene, food trucks, and the food fight that's developing around them. It's our weekly transportation segment, "From A To B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Food trucks in D.C. serve up everything from French fries and milkshakes to woopie pies to Korean tacos. With their innovative use of social media, these trucks have won themselves quite a fleet of devoted fans. But some folks in the restaurant business aren't quite as gun-ho. Transportation reporter, David Schultz, takes us inside the conflict between these eateries on wheels and their bricks and mortar brethren.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
It's around noon and Robert Clark is looking out onto the truck from his perch in a big, pink truck. He's got a laptop open with both Twitter and Facebook running and he's waiting for someone to come by and order one of his cupcakes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER
Man, it smells pretty good in there.
MR. ROBERT CLARK
Unfortunately, I've grown impervious to the smell of cupcakes.
The truck is parked near the lawn front in Metro Station in an area with lots of foot traffic, a good mixture of tourists and federal workers. Given the nice weather and the aromas wafting in the air, this truck is rarely without a customer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER
All right, can I get a raspberry (unintelligible) ?
This scene is a daily lunchtime ritual in downtown D.C. so it's easy to forget when the only foods you could buy on the street were hotdogs and pretzels. You know, back in the old days, 2008.
MS. CHRISTY WHITFIELD
I think this one used to be -- I think it was a mail truck so we found it, we bought it online and it was either a mail truck or like a UPS truck.
That's Christy Whitfield, founder of the mobile dessert business, Curbside Cupcakes. About a year and a half ago, Whitfield says her husband came home from work one day with an idea, what if we start selling cupcakes from a truck?
And so we really just starting talking about, well how would that work and what would it need to be and how would we do it? And then we realized we had been talking about it a lot, like it was getting -- something was exciting and we thought, is this something we're going to do? Should we do this? And we said, yes.
Thanks to seemingly perpetual trendiness of the cupcake and the trendiness of food trucks themselves, Whitfield's business was an almost overnight success. She has three trucks now and a slow day for one of them, she says, is selling just 200 cupcakes.
And on a big day, like a gangbuster day, maybe 800, maybe, you know, depending.
That's a lot of cupcakes.
It turns out to be a lot of cupcakes, yes.
And now between $2.50 and $3 each, Curbside Cupcakes is generating some pretty healthy revenues. So are lots of other local food trucks and that's garnered the attention of the folks at city hall.
About a year ago, the District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs proposed a sweeping new set of regulations for the nascent food truck industry. Their 64-page proposal contained rules on what these trucks could sell, how they could sell it and where they could sell it.
Food truck operators thought these new rules went way too far. But another local culinary group, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, thought they didn't go far enough.
MR. ANDREW KLINE
If you have a restaurant located on a street and a popular food truck pulls up in front of you, people see the crowd, they don't want to come to your restaurant.
That's Andrew Kline, the Restaurant Association's head of legislative affairs. He says the District's current rules are stacked in favor of the food trucks.
Our restaurants, and this is just an example, if they want to open a sidewalk cafe, there are 18 different agencies, WASA, the police department, PepCo. on and on that the application must be reviewed by. When a food truck pulls up on the street in any location there's absolutely no review whatsoever.
Kline wants to see the District change that and he says, contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to do with tamping down competition.
That's not our issue at all. Our issue is management of the public space, is let food trucks compete, but let them do so on a level playing field.
The restaurant association carries a lot of weight in D.C. According to campaign-finance records, it's donated money to 10 of the 13 current city council members and to the mayor. Yet in the year since the District proposed the new food truck regulations, nothing has happened.
A consumer in Regulatory Affairs spokesman says, that's probably due to the 2,500 public comments it received, more than for any proposed regulation this city has ever put forth by a factor of 10. That's the thing about social media savvy businesses, they're really good at mobilizing their customers.
Back at the Cupcake truck Whitfield remands the conflict she and her fellow food truckers are in with their bricks and mortar counterparts. She says restaurants with good food and good logistics have nothing to fear.
If you are running an innovative business model, then you are not worried about food trucks taking your business away from you. And if you're not, you're looking for regulations to protect you from competition in a way that is wholly inappropriate.
It's something Whitfield didn't bargain for when she and her husband hopped into their truck, the politics of the cupcake. I'm David Schultz.
For a link to a real-time food truck trekker in Washington, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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