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What Happened to the Vendor Revolution?

Have DC street carts moved beyond hot dogs and half-smokes? Barely.

Back in March, we forecasted that the city’s decision to reverse a moratorium on sidewalk vendors and allow new, creative street foods would mean more falafel stalls and noodle vans (and for the downtown lunch crowd, fewer autopilot visits to Corner Bakery). But so far this summer, the K Street corridor looks exactly the same. New vendors, allegedly in the works during the spring, haven’t shown up.
According to John Rider, a vendor insider—he’s the “burrito man” of Pedro and Vinny’s at 15th and K streets—the city hasn’t created a comprehensive structure that would help street-food entrepreneurs acclimate. Many potential vendors don’t know the basics of operating a food cart—how to set up each morning or where to plug in appliances. Although a number of people applied for licenses earlier this year and finished the necessary paperwork, they’re stuck in limbo waiting for further instructions from city officials. “They need someone to come in there and clean up the system,” Rider says.

One postmoratorium vendor, Marcus Lopez of Mo-Joe Coffee at 15th Street and Vermont Avenue, has figured it out for himself. Back in March, we predicted that his snazzy stainless-steel cart and full-service coffee menu would signal a wave of entrepreneurs going beyond the half-smoke. And although he still sets up at 7 AM every weekday, his java-and-Jamaican business is, sadly, just java for now. His father’s jerk-chicken wraps were popular with nearby Export-Import Bank employees, but because of health problems, his father can no longer produce the family recipe. Lopez is looking into selling savory pastries filled with diced meat, potato, and onions, which he recently saw all over Chicago. He’s confident they’d do well at lunchtime on his busy McPherson Square corner, and he plans to taste-test brands soon.

Our fingers are crossed that the city will give some method to this street-vendor madness. Until then, we’ll support “burrito man” John Rider and chug down Marcus Lopez’s cafe con leche.

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