As the steel doors on a black van swing open, steam billows out. The smell of fresh Bar-B-Q can be smelled from hundreds of feet away, as Andre Chitikov and Rob Raber set up for the day ahead. What are they setting up? Their pride and joy.
“Hopefully some kids come out today, we didn’t think it was going to be this cold,” Rob Raber said. “Hope these kids are all back from Spring Break too. We have some good specials today, you guys in the mood for some Bar-B-Q?”
Kommie Pig is a food truck that specializes in chicken and pork products. They sell different entrees ranging from hot dogs with pork and chicken on them, to ribs, to fries topped with pork, onions, mustard, and ketchup. Their specials are written on a dry erase board that is in front of the truck. Bright colors on the menu board draw your attention right away.
As Rob, one of the workers, begins to set up outside of the truck, Andre, the owner, preps the food. A variety of BBQ sauces, ketchup, mustard, horseradish, hot sauce are set up for you to top off your hot dog or ribs. Cold drinks are available for you to grab as well. All the fixings you would need right in front of you. This isn’t a restaurant though. You are eating at a food truck.
“For now all we sell is chicken and pork,” Andre Chitikov said. “Hopefully in the future we can add some beef products and expand our menu.”
An old copy of The City Paper sits in the window of the truck and reads, “Best of Baltimore 2013:Best Food Truck-KOMMIE PIG”. They keep this old paper in the same spot every day to show people their accomplishment and hard work as food truck owners.
“Getting this award was really exciting for myself and Rob,” Chitikov said. “It shows that hard work pays off and makes us want to grow even more.”
“We are hoping to add a few more awards to our window in the future,” Raber said.
County officials and the Maryland Mobile Food Vendors Association had previously agreed to a pilot program that was exclusive to Towson. This program says food trucks must be at least 300 feet away from the front of restaurants.
This bill has not been put into full effect yet but it is starting to have food truck owners worried. Food truck owners showed up at the hearing of the Baltimore City Council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee regarding a proposal to regulate where food trucks can park, how they would report their business practices, and who would enforce these standards
“We want to create a bill so that everyone can benefit from it,” said a city council worker. “We first thought of something can push food trucks away from restaurants so that restaurants business wouldn’t be affected by the food trucks.”
A compromise must be met between the food trucks and existing restaurants. MDMVA, the Maryland mobile venders association is an organization that speaks for the food trucks. This organization helps the food trucks get their names out there to the public and explains what the organization is all about. The city council and the MDMVA started to work together to create something that will have equal representation between both the food trucks and the restaurants.
The city council is now attempting to hammer out rules and regulations with the Department of General Services, which requested the bill and will administer the program in the 150 days following the bill’s passage, before it takes effect.
Baltimore city is planning on adding at least 12 designated areas where Baltimore’s 35 food trucks can park and sell their specially made food.
The new legislation also would prohibit food trucks from taking up metered parking spaces, which would limit the places where food trucks can do their business.
This proposed bill includes any mobile vendor, including food carts, and the new fashion trucks. This bill is still in limbo and nothing specifically has been implemented yet.
Another meeting is being held in the near future for the public to get more information and to get more ideas from the food truck owners themselves.
A Johns Hopkins security guard pulled up behind the Kommie Pig van and gazed at the menu until it was his turn to order.
“I attended that hearing a little while ago about the possible bill they wanted to pass and didn’t quite understand it,” said the John Hopkins security guard who wished to have his name withheld. “I’m not even sure why they are trying to put this law into place.”
The security guard gazes through the specials offered but decided to go with his usual ribs with some potato salad and coleslaw. As Andre shows the security guard his food, the guard can’t help but smile.
“I hope this bill doesn’t have too much effect on you guys as food trucks, it would be a shame not to be able to get my daily rack of ribs,” said the security guard. “Even if they make you guys move, I’ll come find you. I need these ribs.”
For now, Andre and Rob’s main concern is that the bill will be passed. They will continue to serve their BBQ meals to the public at their normal locations until they are told not to. Their main focus is to continue to serve BBQ products to the public and to further their brand.
“Because we won’t know when this bill is going to be passed, we are trying to get our brand out there as much as possible,” Chitikov said. “We have been signing up for many food truck events and had a great turn out at The Gathering last week.”
Students, Doctors, Nurses, and all other professions start to line up to get their Kommie Pig fix. What was once an empty block now has cars and people lining up, the Kommie Pig food truck is Wyman Park Drive’s main attraction.
With this bill being considered, many food trucks may have to move to different areas and may have new regulations regarding where they can and can’t be. This can cost the food trucks money because their loyal customers may no longer be able to visit them.
Charm City Gourmet is another food truck in the area that is known for bringing gourmet food to the streets of Baltimore. Because they can move around, Charm City Gourmet can market itself to several different demographics. David Shapiro and Chef Christopher Cherry partnered in 2012 to create one of Baltimore’s premier food trucks. If this bill passes, this could cause many hardships for the food truck themselves.
Cherry, the chef of Charm City Gourmet, caters to special occasions, catering events, and even just lunch during the week. Their menu consists of seafood, chicken, pork, beef, etc.
“If us as food trucks cause no problems, then why do we need a bill with regulations and bills?” Cherry said. “I personally feel that in order for us to really understand what this bill is going to be, I feel that we need to pass it first.”
If it is paying the meter or being far enough from the restaurant, the food trucks owners are worried that this bill will have too many rules and regulations and will affect their businesses in huge way. They are afraid of the impact this bill could have on their businesses. It seems like there are more negatives than positives with this bill.
“I definitely want rules and regulations that are fair,” Cherry said. “I know they have 150 days to hammer out the bill, I just hope we will also have a say and be able to workout the details of the bill with them.”
Not only does this bill impact the food truck owners but it also impacts people who work in the restaurants. Servers, bartenders, and cooks have to deal with the potential of losing business to these food trucks.
“Being a server at Strapazza, a popular Italian restaurant in Towson, I can definitely see how food trucks affect our and others businesses,” said Megan Schendel a server at Strapazza, a local Towson restaurant.
With Towson being home to several festivals and big events throughout the year, this gives food trucks of different sizes and colors line up right on Towson’s main roads.These trucks park very close to restaurants, taking away business from them.
“I know that when Towson has certain festivals there are many many food trucks all on the streets of Towson especially around York Road,” Schendel said. “There are many different restaurants on York road and around the Towson Circle that definitely get affected by these trucks.”
As the line winds down, Rob begins to clean up and pack up the truck for their next destination. Andre starts to clean off the grill and cooking supplies.
“A solid lunch rush, now let’s hope people are in the mood for seconds,” Chitikov said. “We usually spend a few hours at each location, being able to move from place to place makes us (Food Trucks) unique.”
With the constant worry of this bill being passed, Andre and Rob still continue their daily routine. They will continue to do their daily rounds and sell their food until they are told not to.
“At this point the office is looking for problems when there isn’t one,” Chitikov said. “I understand they are thinking about the future, but in order to have a solution, we need a problem first.”
Food trucks are willing to stay the 300 feet away but are nervous to see what new rules and regulations will be implemented. For some of these food trucks owners, they dropped everything to create these one of a kind food trucks.
With this new bill being created, these food truck owners won’t stop at anything to get their feedback to the council. If it’s going to council meetings and expressing their opinions, that is what they will do.
“Speaking for the food truck community our mobility is key,” Raber said. “We all could have opened up a regular restaurant if we didn’t want to be mobile.”