You are here

VIDEO: Cheers to Food Truck Freedom

Congratulations to mobile food vendors Benny Diaz and Brian Peffer—and their attorneys at the Institute for Justice—for scoring a victory for freedom of food commerce in the Sunshine State. Thanks to an IJ legal challenge that began last year, food trucks are now legal in Fort Pierce, Florida.

According to the IJ press release:

While the new legal status of food trucks is good for vendors and consumers, their benefits extend to the entire city. According to Upwardly Mobile, an IJ report, food trucks and other vendors help boost the overall economy of cities. “They become an attraction and increase the number of people in your downtown,” said Tom Richards, the city manager of Harbor Springs, Michigan, after his city started allowing food trucks.

The kind of limitation that was just overturned in Fort Pierce—limiting food trucks from operating with a certain distance of an existing brick-and-mortar food operation—has been written into law in other municipalities as well, and is pure protectionism. It gives a special privilege to sit-down dining locations and denies consumers a popular, flexible, and afforable option. The United States is in the midst of what many observers have termed a “food truck revolution,” with customer demand fueling a previously unimaginable growth in mobile foodservice options. In 2012, Smithsonian magazine traced the roots of the current craze to Los Angels in the 1930s (“How America Became a Food Truck Nation”), and now even established industry organizations like the National Restaurant Association are welcoming the upstarts. 

Given everything from tracking apps like Washington, D.C.’s Foodtruck Fiesta to the Food Network rolling out the 10th season of “The Great Food Truck Race” this summer, this delicious manifestation of 21st century culture appears to be here to stay. And even though many of the most popular food trucks on the streets of U.S. cities feature cuisines from around the world, there’s something distinctly American about the economic oportunity that this low-overhead version of the restaurant buisness offers.

Taco fans in the D.C. area has seen this for themsevles over the last several years through the success of District Taco, now a regional chain with fourteen fixed locations in Virginia, Maryland, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Before any of those were built, however, co-founder Osiris Hoil began with a single mobile vending location across the river from Georgetown in Rosslyn, Virginia. He started out with so little, he actually had to upgrade from a re-purposed hot dog cart to a food truck on his way to opening his restaurants. Washington Post reporter Patricia Sullivan write an excellent story about Hoil’s rise in 2016, and how regulatory barriers both threatened to hold him back and eventually shaped his path to success:

After naming the business and creating a logo that included an outline of D.C.’s geographic boundaries, Hoil and [co-founder Marc] Wallace learned that the District at the time required food carts to stay in a fixed position. Food trucks, which could move, needed licenses that could be hard to get. Frustrated, the pair turned back across the river to Arlington, where the rules were more lenient.

Hoil hitched the taco cart to the back of his truck and moved it to a curbside spot in Rosslyn, between a Chipotle and Baja Fresh.

But even two big national chains were no match for Hoil’s family-tested recipes, and the rest is history. In a particularly compelling twist, Hoil hired Patriot Contracting to help him build out the interiors of the permanent restaurants he eventually opened. It was the same company that had laid him off, in 2008, from the construction job he had gotten when he firsted moved to the D.C. area in 2005. And in good news for the food scene in general, the D.C. Council liberalized the regulations governing food trucks in 2013, meaning more opportunities for people like Hoil and his employees to climb the ladder to success.