Competition between two competing food truck courts has hurt many of RVA’s food trucks. But a meeting on Monday has helped set things straight.
On Monday evening, approximately 30 key players met at Kitchen Thyme to discuss the current state of RVA’s food trucks. Vendors and organizers of RVA’s food truck events addressed a major concern: local food trucks had fractured into two competing camps, adding an unnecessary burden that threatened their survival.
Jen Mindell, an attendee and co-owner of Rooster Cart, said the meeting was “long overdue” after what many felt was a disastrous week of business due to an emerging rivalry between the two organizers.
The food truck court that assembled in the parking lot of the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) began in early Spring. The principal organizer, Patrick Harris, owner of Boka Truck, felt burdened by the administrative responsibilities of organizing the event. He passed along those duties to GrowRVA, the group behind the South of the James Farmers Market. With the administrative duties handled, Harris looked to expand the presence of food truck courts in the city.
“Patrick wanted to branch off and start his own company,” said Mindell, whose Rooster Cart was a fixture at the VHS’s food truck court. While Harris began to expand the reach of his food truck events, GrowRVA wanted to add events of their own. Victoria DeRoche, owner of the Pizza Tonight food truck, who also attended Monday’s meeting, said of the two: “They have very different styles and philosophies in dealing with events.”
While Harris supports the efforts of GrowRVA, he said “they pair their events with art events and other events going on.” For instance, GrowRVA has organized food truck courts at the Visual Arts Center when public classes are held. The group has also scheduled recurring events at the Science Museum of Virginia during the museum’s Stargazer events, and during the First Fridays Art Walk. DeRoche said this exemplifies the GrowRVA approach to food truck courts: “take events already going on and enhance them.”
Unlike GrowRVA events, Harris wanted the food truck courts to be events themselves, not supplementing existing venues or occasions. “Our number one goal is creating a group dining environment,” said Harris. “I’ve been trying to find other locations…to have for the group.”
Harris and GrowRVA both started more and more food truck-related events. Several of those events were scheduled simultaneously but at different, competing locations. Mindell said that vendors felt they were being forced to choose which organization to support. “This is ridiculous. We need to be together.”
DeRoche said that certain events, such as Thursday nights at Hardywood, have “constantly been a success.” Food trucks that attend are more likely to do better business. DeRoche said that, in contrast, Wednesday nights at the Visual Arts Center were “terrible” for business. “I don’t know what it is.” The different, overlapping schedules of the two organizers meant that vendors had to quickly decide and confirm which events they would attend. It forced food trucks to make a decision that could potentially hinder their growth–an unhealthy choice during a nascent stage of RVA food truck culture.
On Monday night, the consensus of vendors was clear: “You guys [Harris and GrowRVA] have to work together and make a schedule for [food trucks] to be at every event.” Not doing so could cripple vendors.
“These past couple of weeks have not been great,” said DeRoche. Mindell said that Rooster Cart didn’t make any money last week. Both felt it was in large part due to the competing schedules. “When there was a race between the two of them,” said Mindell “the vendors are the ones that take a hit.” Monday’s meeting addressed those concerns, as well as tensions between GrowRVA and Harris. “Everyone had a chance to voice their opinions,” said Harris. DeRoche said vendors were visibly upset. “People got angry,” she said. “It affects you greatly.”
The two organizers have addressed the concerns of food truck vendors by altering their schedules to minimize competition (e.g. Harris discontinued the food truck court at Chesterfield Towne Center on Thursdays). Now, no overlap currently exists between the two groups’ schedules, except on the second Tuesdays of the month (GrowRVA organizes all events on the first Friday of each month).
- Mondays — First Baptist Church (2501 Monument Ave.)
- Tuesdays — Ronnie’s Ribs, Wings, & Other Things (2512 E. Main Street)
- Second Tuesdays — Science Museum of Virginia (2500 W. Broad Street)
- Every Wednesday — Visual Arts Center (1812 W. Main Street)
- Thursdays — Hardywood Brewery
- First Fridays — St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (815 E. Grace Street)
- First and Fourth Fridays — Visual Arts Center
- Third Fridays — Science Museum of Virginia
Harris said it wasn’t a rivalry that created the unintended competition, just a lack of communication. “I’m not actively trying to recruit [food trucks],” said Harris, “if people want to do it, they can…we are not competing with [GrowRVA].”
Despite the recent challenges, both DeRoche and Mindell remain optimistic that food trucks will thrive in RVA. “We’re on the right path,” said DeRoche. “We’re still figuring it out.”
“This is the first year and we’re sort of learning,” said Mindell. “I feel like next year is going to be killer.”