Around Washington DC a new breed of food trucks has gained prominence, serving food exclusively at construction sites which have dramatically increased in the last five years. These catering trucks drive to and from construction sites starting in the early morning and sometimes going late into the afternoon to feed workers that would have few other options. Since a downturn in 2008, Development in the District has picked up, raising demand for food trucks to serve construction workers who would have to bring food from home or eat at convenience stores otherwise.
However as construction sites have increased around Washington, so has the competition among the food trucks that serve them. Frank Greco is a 20-year veteran of the business and regularly serves ten construction sites around the district. Recently, competition has surged as food trucks serving products similar to his have arrived at the same sites, cutting into his profits.
“Three or four years ago, it was dead. It’s changed dramatically. Now there’s more jobs than I can handle. But there’s a lot more people selling food. I used to use more canned stuff, but you can’t do that anymore. People want homemade food now.”
Food trucks are selected by the superintendents of the various constructions sites, and most feel that Greco’s fresh food is a step above the other food trucks. But with competition increasing at these sites workers have become pickier about their food. Greco usually serves ‘guy food’, including grilled meats, entrees like lasagna, meatballs or shrimp scampi served in plastic foam containers for about $5. Greco goes through about $400 to $500 per day in food ingredients, forcing him to produce plenty of output and visit as many construction sites as possible in his 15 hour days.
Despite how heavily regulated food trucks are, Washington’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has very little data on how much food trucks have increased in conjunction with construction. Construction catering trucks in particular are barely monitored, moving from site to site and spending a short period of time at each one.
At the site of a future Walmart that Greco’s truck usually serves, and woman in an SUV sells to-go containers of fish and chicken from the back of her car, and leaves soon afterward. Another woman in a food truck has been regularly serving food at three sites Greco’s truck visits. The construction superintendent at Walmart called the D.C. police, who requested to see the truck’s permits. The woman parked on the public side of the street, and was able to continue vending, though the SUV that left earlier was assuredly an illegal vendor.
With unprecedented levels of construction in the District, new entrants in this food truck niche market are inevitable. Although veteran food truck owners like Greco lament the new hardships associated with the business, they still enjoy the freedom of the job and the ability to cook for and interact with their customers. Greco even afford a grudging respect to the food truck that arrives before him at his usual construction sites, “She runs a good truck. I’ve got to give her credit.”
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