Tysons Corner has developed a thriving food truck scene in recent years, but the colorful trucks serving up diverse lunch fare such as bahn mi, paninis, lobster rolls and bratwurst are now running into trouble with the authorities.
During the past couple of months, truck owners occasionally have been receiving tickets from the police for operating in Tysons Corner.
So far, the action has not deterred the food truck entrepreneurs from setting up shop on Solutions Drive, behind SAIC’s campus, and Boone Boulevard. Instead, they’re trying to get organized to work on a mutually agreeable solution with county leaders, as they have in other jurisdictions.
Wolf Antoni, who owns The Bratwurst King truck, got his first $50 ticket last Friday, a fine representing about half of what he earned that day, due to it being a cool, rainy day. On a good day, he can bring in a few hundred dollars during lunch.
“At this point I’m not intending to pay it and will go to court,” Antoni said. “Hopefully we’ll get a judge to agree with our case.”
Antoni said he and other drivers see a conflict between the fact that the county health department licenses the trucks for operation, but then there is essentially nowhere in the county that food trucks can legally operate.
Under the county code, vendors may not park a vehicle on any street in a business district to sell merchandise, according to county government spokesman Brian Worthy. The Tysons office complexes that food trucks have been frequenting would appear to meet the state’s definition of a business district.
Food trucks also must have a health department license, a solicitor’s license and comply with zoning regulations.
Antoni and other food vendors have reported that the tickets being issued are for selling merchandise from a state-maintained roadway, which would apply to essentially every street in the county.
“We’re all small businesses. We pay taxes and everything else,” Antoni said. “Why would you hinder a small business from prospering?”
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) said she is interested in ironing out the issues.
“It is not something that we have a lot of experience with,” she said.
Earlier this year, Bulova endorsed a proposal by Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) to look into the regulations and other issues surrounding food trucks.
Bulova is now planning to conduct a roundtable meeting within the next month with relevant county staff, food truck owners and the chamber of commerce to dig into all of the regulatory matters.
“How do we deal with that in a way that we can make it possible for these folks to safely do business?” Bulova asked.
For example, she said, they might be able to legally set up in private parking lots. Or, it is possible the county could need to work with legislators to adjust state codes.
Some of the food trucks operating in Fairfax County are now looking to form a local chapter of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington (formerly the D.C. Food Truck Association) to provide an organized way of working with the local government.
The association successfully has improved regulations for food trucks in D.C. and Arlington, said Uyen Nguyen, whose Lemongrass food truck occasionally serves up Vietnamese food in Tysons. Nguyen is a former board member of the association.
“Fairfax County has a handful of trucks that only operate within the county,” she said. Other trucks, like hers, might also frequent Arlington and D.C. “They’re going to put some of these trucks out of business.”
Nguyen said food trucks are very much in line with the county’s more urban, pedestrian-oriented vision for Tysons.
“I think the regulations need to catch up with demand, especially in the Tysons area,” she said. “To encourage more pedestrian traffic, you need things like food trucks.”