The first step in enlivening the Takoma Junction section of Takoma Park came July 13, in the form of mahi-mahi tacos and lobster rolls.
In an attempt to bring some life to the disjointed and underused commercial intersection of Carroll and Ethan Allen avenues, the Old Takoma Business Association began recruiting food trucks to sell out of a city-owned parking lot each Friday night for the next few weeks.
The effort kicked off with Rockville-based Go Fish!, a seafood truck that earned instant popularity.
Co-owner Missy Carr sold more than 100 people almost 300 entrees in less than two hours. Carr ran out of food for the first time in a year of operation.
“I think the newness, just seeing the food truck in an area where they hadn’t been before was intriguing in a way,” Carr said.
It’s exactly the type of response Takoma Park leaders were hoping for. The Takoma Junction Task Force report, presented to the City Council in February, recommended more programming and urged the city to create more community gathering places in a part of Takoma Park that for years has been struggling for attention.
One of the recommendations, at least until the city can permanently develop the city-owned parking lot near the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op, was to encourage food trucks to attract residents and businesses.
“The area is underserved, and it’s currently underserved by sit-down restaurants,” association co-Executive Director Laura Barclay said. “It’s part of that larger plan. We haven’t fully structured where that money is going toward and we’re counting on a sort of Takoma Junction plan.”
The food truck pilot program, which the City Council authorized with a resolution on July 9, costs nothing to the city. Carr said it is common for swim clubs, property managers or event organizers to recruit her food truck. Barclay has food trucks scheduled for the Junction into early August: Pino’s Auto Grill on Friday, The Slider Barron on July 27, Curley’s Q BBQ on Aug. 3 and Stix on Aug. 10.
In May, the council agreed on funding for a number of Takoma Junction initiatives, including a $35,000 environmental study of the lot and funding for interim activities such as concerts or film screenings.
Mayor Bruce Williams said he’d prefer some type of permanent commercial development on the parking lot in the long term during a City Council walking tour of the Junction in May.
But the food truck concept could act as a catalyst for a more vibrant business area, city resident Yaron Semititsky said.
Semititsky ran the Organic Falafel Stand food truck that operated out of the RS Automotive gas station until late last year. Semititsky said the interest was there, but he had to shut the food truck down because he borrowed too heavily to finance it.
“It wasn’t so much a lack of popularity. It could’ve gotten better and maybe I would still be there,” Semititsky said.
Pizza Roma, a pizza and sandwich shop, and the co-op are the only food service businesses in the Junction.
To accommodate the three-month pilot program, the city will exempt vendors from city licensing requirements on the city-owned property. The vendors must be licensed by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. Many typically operate in Bethesda, Rockville and Gaithersburg during the lunchtime rush.
The July 13 kickoff, staged in the evening, created more of a family-outing type crowd, Carr said. Judging by the response, it’s an initiative that might be the recipe to spur activity in the Junction.
“It allows for a different variety. Cleary, they could handle two trucks,” Carr said. “There’s just not a lot of options there to just grab an easy, good prepared meal.”