D.C. food trucks close for business to protest mayor's regulations

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Local,DC,Food and Drink,Eric P. Newcomer,Phil Mendelson,Vincent Gray

District food truck owners closed their windows in Farragut Square on Monday to protest new regulations they fear will cripple their business.

"This is a vision of the future," said Pascal Halabi, owner of a Mediterranean food truck called Kafta Mania. "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

But a spokesman for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington dismissed the protest as a stunt, saying food trucks would continue to operate in Farragut even if the new regulations pass.

"They chose to demonstrate today. I'm not sure what effect it had," said Kyle Rees, a spokesman for the restaurant association.

Farragut Square is normally crowded at lunchtime with hungry office workers who mill about as they choose from Korean tacos, lobster rolls and Chick-fil-A. But the downtown park was subdued during Monday's protest.

About 7 a.m. Monday, trucks owned by members of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington met up and drove to Farragut Square, arriving early to make sure only owners prepared to stay closed for the day found parking spaces.

Trucks received $100 tickets for parking past the two-hour limit, owners said.

"It's putting a dent in our pocket," said Halabi said. "We're willing to take that one-day loss."

Owners warned that if the mayor's proposed regulations took effect, they would sink the District's flourishing food-truck industry.

The proposed regulations would require food trucks to park in spaces with at least 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk -- hard spots to find in a city filled with parking meters.

The regulations would also allow the city to limit the number of food trucks in particular areas, leaving it up to regulators to decide how many food trucks could park in these designated zones.

Food truck drivers who work Farragut Square worried that could mean the end of the reign they've had over the park. More than a dozen trucks park there each weekday to compete for lunchtime customers.

Pedestrians passed by the shuttered food trucks, some taking "Save DC Food Trucks" stickers as they went.

Scott Weiss, 28, who works downtown, said he didn't know why the trucks were closed, but, he said, he loves food trucks.

"It would be sad if they were gone," he said.

D.C. Council members say they will look closely at the proposed food truck regulations.

"If the goal of the regulations is to level the playing field ... between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks, I think it's better for the government to stay out of the market," said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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