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With First Convention, Food Truck Group Finds Its Road to the Future

By / Feb 18, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Its original mission largely accomplished, the association for food truck operators in the DC region needed a new sense of purpose. The group found it with its inaugural Capital City Food Truck Convention.

After it won the battle for favorable vending regulations in the District of Columbia last year, the DC, Maryland, and Virginia Food Truck Association (DMV FTA) found itself at a crossroads. The organization was founded to combat strict regulations that severely limited the ability of food trucks to operate in the District. Having worked successfully with the DC City Council to rewrite its street-vendor laws, what was next for the association?

“It was, do we pack up and go home, or do we become something more sustainable? Because at that point we really were just a perennial campaign,” said Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of DMV FTA and co-owner of the BBQ Bus food truck.

The association’s leadership met and had some internal discussions about the path forward, Ruddell-Tabisola said. “Our mission is about the promotion and enrichment of the industry, so we realized that not only would there always be a need for advocacy, but also for education and development.”

Hence last week’s announcement that DMV FTA would hold the inaugural Capital City Food Truck Convention in April.

“Putting on a conference or tradeshow and helping to connect the dots in an industry is a very traditional role for a trade association to play,” Ruddell-Tabisola said. “So this just seemed like the logical next step for us as an organization.”

In planning the event, the association surveyed members to get their input on the types of education they would be interested in. The result was a mix of entry-level sessions and sessions geared toward more experienced food truck owners who may need help taking their business to the next level.

“One area of frustration for me is that there is this real sense of longing among businesses that are a couple of years old or more that, ‘All right, we made it past the two-year mark. Now what?’ or ‘Why is my business not growing the way I thought it would?’” said Ruddell-Tabisola. “We wanted to put a special emphasis and focus on current business owners, but there’ll be some great resources and people available for folks who are just starting their food truck business.”

The group plans to open the event to the public. “I talk to people every week who want to go into the food truck business or open up some sort of food and beverage entrepreneurship type of business,” he said. “This is absolutely the food truck convention, but I think there’s a lot of interest from folks who just want to get in there and kind of get an up-close look at the industry.”

The decision to hold the one-day event at a whiskey distillery was in keeping with the industry’s theme of innovation, he said.

“Innovation doesn’t happen without attempts at doing something different. We were guided by that idea throughout the planning process and also the fact that we wanted to show the trucks incorporated into the tradeshow area. We think we’ve accomplished that with One Eight Distillery.”

Ruddell-Tabisola continued: “We worked really hard when we were planning it to keep it affordable for members and even the general public. We hope everyone who’s interested will come, and we think you’ll learn a lot and meet some of the industry leaders and people who are the brightest chefs and entrepreneurs right now in one of the most exciting regions in the country for food trucks.”

Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. More »

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