CheRuddell-Tabisola in front of his BBQ Bus, whose mission is to bring great-tasting food to the streets, offices, and homes of hungry folks in and around the District
Food trucks have seen an enormous culinary resurgence in the District: They serve everything from gourmet cheeses to frozen custard and have grown from just a dozen trucks in 2010 to more than 150 today. But while the District’s street dining scene has elevated to join the ranks of hotbeds such as Los Angeles and Austin, the past few years have marked a tumultuous time, with trucks becoming stymied by four rounds of proposed regulations. Leading the charge to protect all area food trucks is the District Maryland Virginia Food Truck Association (DMV FTA)—previously the DC Food Truck Association—and its director, CheRuddell-Tabisola.
The most controversial proposed regulations would have required 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk space to provide service, well reducing the number of legal service areas. “Everything [in the proposal] counted as an obstruction, including the most common city street feature: a parking meter,” notes Ruddell-Tabisola, 37, who works on a volunteer basis and also co-owns the BBQ Bus with his partner, Tadd.
To combat closures in the face of these regulations, the DMV FTA (which represents 65 trucks, at press time) created the Save DC Food Trucks campaign, with Ruddell-Tabisola at its helm. “Out of all the food truck owners, I had the most campaign experience. I came up with a plan and threw myself into it, starting mornings at 3 am and working until 11 or 12 most nights,” focusing on public communications, negotiations with the mayor and the city council, and fundraising with his colleagues, he explains. If the regulations initially proposed by DC lawmakers had passed, he says, they “would have made food trucks [in Washington] practically illegal.”
Between January and June of this year, when revised (and more food-truck-friendly) regulations passed, the DMV FTA held 34 meetings with the staffs of Mayor Gray and DC council members, and encouraged residents to send thousands of letters to the council in support of the city’s food trucks.
Ruddell-Tabisola’s work continues this fall: The DMV FTA plans to partner with the District to implement the latest regulations, the first stages of which begin October 1. “After that,” he says, “it’s all about putting on great, high-quality events.” The next is Taste of Two Cities, a semiannual competition between DC and Baltimore food trucks slated for October 23 in Washington.
The political director also looks forward to seeing members prosper: Recently opened restaurants in the area, such as District Taco and DC Empanadas, started as food trucks. More of these transitions are on the horizon.
“Food trucks marry a number of different concepts…. You see the convenience offered by fast food. You see food that you might only otherwise get at specialty restaurants,” Ruddell-Tabisola explains. “And, because most food trucks are owner-operated, you get a level of intimacy that you associate with a mom-and-pop. It’s all coming together under one roof.”