Baltimore Food Trucks Just as Screwed as Trucks in D.C. and L.A.


She's souperfreaky!

Los Angeles started it, with fancy gourmet food trucks popping up all over the place, winning fans and Twitter followers among the city's foodies—and then promptly getting beaten down, ticketed, and told to move along by the powers that be. D.C. and New York followed, with brave mobile food vendors facing similar obstacles. And now Baltimore is joining the fracas, with its very own screwed up food truck fight. 

Charm City vendors are constantly chased from street corners and parking spots by local restaurateurs, meter maids, and other foes, as a recent Baltimore Sun piece ably documented. 

The article opens with the sad tale of Irene Smith, the owner and operator of a bright orange food truck dubbed Souper Freak. Smith is clearly the good guy in the piece, an entrepreneur looking to make an honest living by providing a product her customers love. She's downhearted about having a tough time finding somewhere to vend, but she's still trying to live the dream:

"You would think a place would be excited about this as a possibility in their city," she says. 

Naturally, a Baltimore city official read the piece, missed the point, and promptly cast himself in the role of soupervillain:

Smith said she was shut down by city official Alvin O. Gillard (director of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission [and head of the city's street vendor board]), who, Smith said, told her that he had been dispatched to shut down all of the city's food trucks in the aftermath of Jill Rosen's article yesterday about the fits and starts of Baltimore's food trucks.

The same ugly scene went down at a local cupcake truck as well, with threats of fines and other dire consequences. Smith has a mobile vending license, but was told she needed the entirely different on-street vending license as well—something she can't get without booking a spot at a street vendor board meeting. Of course, the board only meets every other month and they're pretty busy, so if she's lucky she might squeak in a spot in August.

This particular piece of brilliant public relations got the mayor's attention, and now Gillard is singing a different tune:

Gillard told me that that the Mayor has asked the Street Vendor Board, in the aftermath of today's misunderstandings, to conduct outreach to Baltimore food trucks and to work with Health and Housing to assist Baltimore's them in coming under regulatory compliance.  There will be an indeterminate grace period while this outreach is being conducted.

In other words, Baltimore vendors now live in the same state of regulatory limbo currently enjoyed by the brethren in many other major cities. Welcome to the big leagues, Baltimore!'s D.C. food truck rundown (with funky music) here:

Update: There are those who claim it all began in Portland. They may be right. But even Portlanders are having regulatory troubles as they try to bring beer and food trucks together at long last.

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  1. Are they paying taxes on these sales? If not, then they should be shut down.

    1. Or if they’re powering their trucks by burning homeless people. Since the article doesn’t specifically say they aren’t, I think it’s safe to assume they are. Shut em down!

    2. Easier said than done. Nobody’s paying taxes on spiderbags or WMD either, but all efforts at shutdown have so far been unsuccessful.

    3. What part of the story makes you think they do not pay taxes? A friend just purchased a new truck, just the sales tax alone was over 26 thousand dollars. 5k for permits, license and tags, insurance was 12k.

  2. Don’t they want people to work for a living? Why do they thwart every attempt to make an honest living?

    1. The dirty profit motive? the only honest way to make a living is by working for the government or maybe a NGO.

    2. That’s no way to breed a dependent, unionized class.

    3. There’s very little “honest” about running your business from a parking spot on a public right of way, the location of which specifically chosen to draw customers away from other businesses who operate on private land with the permission of the owner.

      There’s a very libertarian answer to the food trucks’ problems with city governments: buy or lease space in which to run your business rather than abusing space on the public streets which is intended for parking.

  3. I just got back from lunch at a food truck in DC. Sauca. Very, very tasty. What I don’t understand is why the brick and mortar’s don’t get their own trucks to compete. They might actually find that it increases their business in-house, if people can get a small taste outside.

    [stifles guffaw]

    Oh, and fuck the police city and the rent seekers, too.

    1. what did you get? they’re at 14th and K tomorrow and their pork banh mi is pretty good.

      1. You read my mind, good sir. Damn tasty, as is the Mumbai butter chicken.

        I’m down by GW and we get Tasty Kabob regularly as well, but I don’t like them as much. Still, I get to eat a decent lunch outside and look at college girls.

        1. I always want to try something else, but every time i get to the window I blurt out “banh mi”

          I worked in the Watergate years ago and always found foggy bottom to be a little lacking in lunch options. but like you say, the area does have some things going for it.

          1. It is the Dead Zone. All the pizza and chinese you can stomach!

            Fortunately, Georgetown and Penn Ave is about a 10 minute walk. I usually insist we walk through GW on the way, on nice days.

  4. Y’all need to come to Austin,Texas where the food trucks have their own trailer parks and you can freely get beer along with a doughnut sandwhich.

    1. But are there tractor pulls?

    2. The little enclave on East 6th is da bomb.

      Shit, I hate people who use expressions like “da bomb.”

  5. I don’t think it is accurate to say that LA’s gourmets are having a hard time. The SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association has largely forced the city to live within the guidelines of state law that protects mobile vending rights. Most cities in Southern California are being confronted by the illegality of their existing ordinances and having to reevaluate them.

    As far as the taxes canard, yes, trucks pay sales, gross receipts, licensing, and permitting taxes and fees directly. They indirectly pay property taxes through their commissary rents (just as restaurants pay them indirectly).

    That said, I continue to be amazed at how many people accept the principle that “fair” competition is determined solely upon how much revenues is provided to government. If that were the standard, how could LA Live or the Grand Avenue Project be justified?

    Shouldn’t the consumer go first? The optimal price-quality-location tradeoff should govern? Or should captive audiences have to pay 12 bucks for some wilted salad with processed chicken from Trimana Grill or 5 bucks for a crappy muffin from some concessionaire with an exclusivity clause in the county court building?

  6. Sorry, It started in Austin.

  7. When I lived in NYC there was this wonderful Jamaican Jerk Chicken truck down by the twin towers. So so very very good. And the falafel trucks! Makes my mouth water.

  8. Food trucks are more susceptible to government bureaucratic bloat than any brick and mortar, honest hard working people actually trying to succeed..

  9. Smith said she was shut down by city official Alvin O. Gillard (director of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission [and head of the city’s street vendor board]), who, Smith said, told her that he had been dispatched to shut down all of the city’s food trucks in the aftermath of Jill Rosen’s article yesterday about the fits and starts of Baltimore’s food trucks.

    She made the mistake of exposing the pettiness and arrogance of local government officials. She’s lucky she didn’t end up in a holding cell or tazed to death.

  10. I cannot believe these fines haven’t caused a riot. Aren’t Americans supposed to love food above country?


  11. Why doesn’t Baltimore set aside a few rundown city blocks, round up all the food trucks, and let them ply their illicit products far from the environs of decent, hardworking restaurants.

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