Washington food trucks head to the suburbs to find customers

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The coronavirus epidemic has emptied downtown Washington of its popular food trucks ever since their main customers – lunchtime office workers – fled in March the safety of their homes.

To survive, the truck operators followed them into the suburbs, taking orders online and advertising through social media.

With drastic staff cuts and major belt tightening, the toughest operators have managed to survive – up to now.

One of these operators is Jason Tipton, co-owner of the “Dirty South Deli (DSD).”

Tipton recently parked his blue food truck in a residential neighbourhood in north eastern Washington and handed out pre-ordered sandwiches wearing a face mask. He also catered to some new customers.

Food truck owners pose by their food truck parked in front of their newly acquired brick and mortar restaurant in Washington DC. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s a good surprise, it’s nice,” Tipton, 42, told AFP. “Today was very busy,” he smiled.

For this micro-enterprise with four employees – two of whom are in lockdown – adapting to the new circumstances is key to survival.

“We have an online tool now to take orders, we advertise our tours on Twitter and in the Facebook neighbourhood groups, and we use word to mouth,” Tipton said.

Tipton has also found customers in places on the outskirts of Washington near the University of Maryland, where teachers and students live.

“We enjoy home cooking but we miss the variety of DC’s restaurants,” said private music teacher Elise Blake, 37, as she took her DSD sandwich.

“This is different, a little bit of a splurge,” she said.

“It’s savvy for a truck to come to the neighbourhoods if you can’t go downtown,” added Blake’s boyfriend David Murray, 37, also a musician.

Tipton seemed satisfied with the day’s work. “We made enough money to break even,” he said.

The future, however, seems bleak. “We’re on our own, we just have to make money.”

The DSD partners would rather tough it out for a while because the alternative is to close.