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The Greyhound

Let Them Eat Cake on Wheels, Hon!


“Let them eat cake!” Marie Antoinette allegedly exclaimed in France during the late 1700s. If she was born two centuries later and in eastern Maryland, she would not only have an epic beehive hairdo but also the power to make Baltimore a better place for food trucks.

Last week, Baltimore City Council proposed a bill that would prevent food trucks from parking within 300 feet of any “brick-and-mortar” establishment; that is, any restaurant location. Additionally, food trucks will only be able to park in spots specifically designated by the city for their use. “They want to take the meters away from us,” says Marcello Salles, while rubber-banding fresh greens and conversing through his Darua food truck’s Plexiglas window as it sits on the 4000 block on North Charles Street. “We’ll give you spots,” Salles says with a bittersweet smile as he summarizes the city’s stance. He further explains, “But they gotta be where there are no people.”

Damian Bohager, president of the Maryland Mobile Food Vendors Association, echoes Salles’s concerns. “Don’t get me wrong, the city has treated us great since 2011,” he said over the phone last week, “but this is overkill.” In fact, the bill might not only be overkill, but also unconstitutional. Food truck associations across the nation, like that of Chicago, have already sued their cities, claiming that these laws unfairly protect restaurants over trucks and go against the 14th Amendment.

Marcello Salles points out that the city cannot prevent a restaurant from moving into a vacant building next to a pizza place. Yet, Baltimore’s City Council wants to limit food trucks in this way, by keeping them away from restaurants. While this bill will put the food trucks at a severe disadvantage, Damian Bohager makes the claim that food trucks are already disadvantaged. Food truck patrons already can’t warm up from the biting Baltimore winter, can’t hide from the rain and can’t be served alcohol. Bohager laughs wryly into the phone, conceding that no restaurant patrons are going to decide to eat at a food truck when they arrive to a brick-and-mortar establishment for their dinner reservation. If anything, the followers of food trucks, both in-person and on social media, will be turned on to a new restaurant if the truck is parked near it, not vice versa.

If this bill were to pass, Darua Brazilian food truck would consider moving to the county, where the brick-and-mortar protection law only establishes a 100-foot bubble around a restaurant. Bohager says that the bill will create food truck parking spots throughout the city that would be granted to trucks in a lottery, which would take place every three months. In this system, trucks would be forced to abandon the weekly schedules that the association has worked out, and subsequently lose the rapport they’ve built with the universities, office buildings and other establishments that they serve on a weekly basis. The Food Truck Association understands that regulation is inevitable and is supportive of designated parking spots in the immediate downtown area. But the consensus is that a wide-reaching, heavily regulating bill like this one will devastate the food truck economy in Baltimore.

One cannot help but wonder why the city is so concerned with the effect of a community of self-policing food trucks. In Los Angeles, labeled as “food truck heaven” by Bohager, trucks have free reign over public and metered parking spots. While LA’s food truck market is saturated with nearly 10 times the number of trucks as Baltimore, they still do not have a 300-foot rule like the one proposed in City Council. The relationship between food trucks and restaurants seems to be positive, too. Trucks that tweet and have a strong presence on social media bring people to restaurants more than they pull patrons off of barstools.

To drum up support, food trucks have taken to the soapbox they know best: social media. The association created a petition after last week’s bill proposal and within 24 hours, they had approximately 500 names. The committee vote is on March 4, meaning that this might only be the beginning of a controversial battle between Baltimore’s government and its food trucks. So far, popular opinion seems to agree with my hypothetical Antoinette reincarnate: “Let them eat cake on wheels, Hon!”

To sign the petition, go to

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Let Them Eat Cake on Wheels, Hon!