A species heretofore unseen in these parts has recently been introduced to the downtown Silver Spring ecosystem: the so-called 'gourmet' food truck (truckus hipsterus). While superficially these vehicles may appear similar to the type of lunch truck which has operated in the parking lot of our Home Depot for some time (truckus commonus) or those from which you may have bought a pretzel down by the National Mall (truckus touristus), they are in fact another breed of vehicle entirely.
While gourmet food trucks have been an increasingly common sight in D.C. over the past couple years, for whatever reason they have yet to establish a permanent beachhead just over the border here in Silver Spring. Like overpriced cupcakes, the concept of gourmet food trucks was imported from New York to D.C. after being fashionable in the former for a number of years. Of course, If you had told me ten years ago that it would someday be socially acceptable to wear two-toned 80's sunglasses and a preferred origin of meals would be from self-propelled kitchens, I would have had to request an immediate 5150.
So it was with little fanfare that a cherry red truck operated by the Tops American Food Company spearheaded the food truck invasion of Silver Spring ten days ago. Its limited menu, sure to be popular with local vegans, consists of sausage, hot dogs, chili, or some combination of the three. The truck's ever-shifting location can be tracked via it's Twitter feed.
Admittedly, I was as intrigued as anyone by the truck's arrival, perhaps as much by the novelty of food trucks in Silver Spring as the actual food being offered. As I don't presently work in downtown Silver Spring, I haven't gotten the chance to check out the truck in person, though it did make a weekend appearance Saturday at the Silver Spring farmer's market. I'd certainly welcome the arrival of such a vehicle to my no-food-option-having office park, though sadly that scenario would only occur if the driver got horribly lost.
Prior to Tops, Silver Spring's recent mobile kitchen history consisted primarily of the Chez Dikel cart, which has on occasion served their French and Malian-fusion fare from the gas station lot at the corner of Colesville and Georgia. Of course, this clearly being a cart not a truck, it doesn't really count now does it?
|Chez Dikel food cart. Photo by Flickr user Eating in Translation|
Take Skew Works, for example: prior to opening last week, they were setting up their new restaurant on Wayne Avenue for a few months, no doubt paying significant construction costs along with a premium downtown rent while doing so. They finally open for business and some carpetbagging truck from Gaithersburg just sets up shop between them and the downtown office buildings, potentially siphoning off some of the lunchtime crowd that might otherwise have made it over to the new skewer joint.
In contrast to the significant investment required to establish a proper restaurant, start up costs for a food truck business might run just $25-$30K, while a yearly mobile food service license from the county averages only a dollar per day (though I imagine the expense of feeding parking meters exceeds that).
So I'm a little torn... are food carts in Silver Spring a good thing or no? They have the welcome potential to create a variety of lunch options that might not otherwise exist downtown, while at the same time, they would likely do so to the detriment of businesses who have chosen to make a more permanent home in Silver Spring.