Che Ruddell-Tabisola is Executive Director of the DC Maryland and Virginia Food Truck Association (DMVFTA) and Co-Owner, BBQ Bus.
As Executive Director, Che has led the DMVFTA’s growth from a small advocacy group into one of the country's leading food truck associations, working to expand member benefits, introduce new programs and increase community outreach. He directs the group's legislative agenda to advance policies that remove barriers to street vending, promote entrepreneurship and allow for an environment where food truck small businesses can thrive. In 2011, Che opened the BBQ Bus food truck with his husband Tadd.
The DMVFTA is one of the country’s largest food truck associations with more than 100 members and 12,000 supporters. Founded in 2010, their mission is to enrich and promote the regional food truck industry by serving their members and engaging the community.
During 2012-2015, the group has lead efforts that resulted in improved vending laws in Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, City of Alexandria, and Washington, DC, as well as to lift a statewide ban on mobile food businesses from operating state-maintained streets in Virginia.
You can learn more about the DMVFTA here.
Food Truck Facts:
- The first of the new food trucks began to appear in 2009.
- In 2011-12 there were 75-100 food trucks in the DC area.
- Currently there are 300 trucks representing 250 businesses.
- 25-50 new food trucks are being added per year.
- Food trucks put money into the local economy and are growing into brick-and-mortar businesses. They create jobs and are a great use of public space.
What drives you in this business?
The food truck industry in this area creates opportunities for small business ownership. They also serve as incubators for people that are looking to open up brick-and mortar restaurants.
Many of the owners are former professional chefs, private sector executives, or government employees that were simply looking for a change of pace.
I'm also part owner of the BBQ Bus and my livelihood and that of my husband are directly tied to the success of my work with the DMVFTA. The people that operate the food trucks are like family to me. We don't compete with each other and we're all there to help each other out.
I see the food truck community as a supportive group of creators working to provide vibrant, integrated, and different food options to the people of DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
What is your greatest challenge?
For the food trucks, the challenge is building a business that can scale.
For the DMVFTA, it's resources. We never seem to have enough time or enough money to do what we want. However, we work hard to engage the local community with a variety of events: Curbside Cookoff, Capital City Food Truck Convention, DMV Food Truck Week, Trucktoberfest, Annual Food Truck Rodeo, and DMV Food Truck Bike Tours.
We are also exploring partnerships with brick-and-mortar businesses to create interesting retail opportunities.
Personally, I feel like I work all the time, but it's worth it because I'm doing what I love and it supports my family.
How do you cope with the unknown?
I stay flexible and keep the big picture in mind.
--Thanks for taking the time to talk, Che, and I look forward to seeing how the food truck industry grows in the future. I was struck by how Che referred to the food truck community as 'creators.' They are creating on a daily basis as they transform the food and retail scene in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia from the bottom up.