News & Politics

Who Is Stealing Alexandria’s Food Trucks?

A black market for food trucks? Not so fast, police say.

Popped Republic's truck being towed to a mechanic after police recovered it last November. Photograph courtesy Popped Republic.

On Monday, the Alexandria restaurant Satay Sarinah’s food truck was discovered, stripped, in Prince George’s County. It was the second time in the last few months that an Alexandria-based food truck took an unscheduled trip across the river. In late November Popped Republic’s truck was also stolen; it too was discovered in PG County after a local resident spotted it near his office and alerted WRC-TV via Twitter.

Popped Republic’s truck was found with “damage to the glass, door and ignition column,” WNEW reported. “Obviously, they wanted the equipment from the truck,” Popped Republic owner Rich Arslan tells Washingtonian. He says he is still in regular contact with the police and met with a detective Thursday.

Satay Sarinah’s truck was found with significantly more damage. The restaurant posted pictures of the devastation on Facebook.

Arslan believes the crimes are related, and certainly it's not hard to imagine that as food trucks become more popular (we track them everyday!), there could be a black market for the vehicles and their kitchens. Satay Sarinah's chef and owner, Sonny Setiantoko, says the thieves made off with all the food service equipment except his refrigerator and steam table. But they also took "half of my engine," he says.

Alexandria Police Department spokesperson Crystal Nosal cautions against drawing a line between the crimes just yet: The only public similarities at this point are the jurisdictions in which the trucks were stolen and recovered. "A lot of things are crimes of convenience," Nosal says, though, "it doesn’t seem for me that it would be convenient to steal a food truck, because you're going to be noticed."

Social media helps them get noticed. While the thefts are serious crimes, she says, "making it a fun thing to pass along" gets lots of people in this region and afield—West Coast police departments were retweeting the Popped Republic theft—on the lookout for the stolen vehicles in a way they may not be for, say, a missing 2010 Honda Civic.

And there's little evidence that food-truck thefts are part of any larger national trend, the way thefts of Tide detergent appear to be. A Nexis search of the past year turned up no crime trend, just the odd stolen trailer. However, In 2012, police accused a Kissimmee, Florida, man of burying a stolen food truck to serve as part of a "doomsday bunker." A city official, noting that such vehicles aren't designed for such uses, said, "I don't think it would have protected him from much."

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.