Housing Complex

Adams Morgan Restaurants Protest Weekend Latino Market in Unity Park

Should food vendors be able to sell here three days every week? (Lydia DePillis)

Should food vendors be able to sell here three days every week? (Lydia DePillis)

After two years in operation, some Adams Morgan businesses wish the Latino market that operates three days a week in Unity Park at Columbia Road and Champlain Street would please go away—at least most of the time.

The market, a business incubator overseen by the city’s Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) and now administered by the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is designed to help immigrants turn subsistence street food businesses into established restaurants. The 14 vendors currently participating in the program receive no direct subsidy, and are required to be D.C. residents, obtain food handlers permits, pay a flat sales tax of $375 quarterly, and attend classes in financial literacy.

Here’s the problem: Neighboring restaurants that sell similar food say the city-sanctioned market has stolen their lunch traffic on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—the busiest days of the week. And that, the businessowners complained at a contentious ANC IC meeting last night, is plain unfair.

“I put all that I have in this business,” says Juan Loyola, who worked in an Auntie Anne's Pretzels in Tysons Corner for five years before starting Pollo Granjero in 2008. “If I fail, all that I have is gone. Who’s gonna help us?”

“They pay rent. They pay for trash. They are inspected,” added Adams Morgan Business and Professional Association president Pat Patrick, who owns a local commercial real estate agency.  “These other vendors don’t have this.  The hallmark of capitalism is that you’re starting out on a level playing field. And by god, this is far from a level playing field!” (After the ANC meeting, Patrick asked OLA staffer George Escobar whether the vendors were all legal immigrants; Escobar answered that it’s not the District’s policy to check.)

In addition, Adams Morgan BID director Kristen Barden says the vendors may not be serving food that’s up to temperature or cooked in certified kitchens, leave bags of food waste next to trash cans that attract rats, and take up valuable parking spaces on the weekends (many with cars that have Maryland and Virginia plates).

“There’s a high risk level there for the general public,” Barden said, with regard to food safety. “It’s kind of crazy. They’re ripe for someone getting sick and suing them.”

Finally, Amsterdam Falafel Shop owner Arianne Bennett argued that having people operate at a food stand is no way to train them to run a business (there are no time limits on how long a vendor can stay in the program, and only two have “graduated” to set up their own restaurants). Instead, she offered to take one of them in as an apprentice in her own shop. “They’re just camping,” Bennett finished.

Working with Councilmember Jim Graham’s office and the relative government agencies, Barden has proposed that instead of spending a cumulative nine to 12 days per month in Adams Morgan, the market be converted into a “moveable feast” that travels around to different locations in the city. That way, she says, vendors can develop a broader clientele for when they eventually set up their own restaurants. At least, she says, move the market to lower-traffic days that local restaurants don’t depend on for most of their income.

But the businesses got some pushback from nearby residents who think the market adds diversity and brings more customers to the neighborhood. The ANC passed a resolution calling for several regulations be adhered to, but did not endorse Barden’s suggestion that the market be moved elsewhere. Commissioner Nancy Shia also said that asking vendors to pack out their food waste at the end of the day—an amendment offered by ANC Chairman Wilson Reynolds—would be “discrimination,” given the number of pizza slices end up littering 18th street on weekend mornings.

  • John

    I guess I can understand the complaint. Especially if you are Mixtec and slinging similar food 100 feet away. I can also see why downtown restaurants are pissed at all the food trucks swooping onto k street and stealing their lunch business. I personally think limiting the amount of food trucks in an area is acceptable.

  • JustMe

    There's no constitutional right to run a restaurant free from competition from street vendors or food trucks.

  • http://none Nancy Shia

    The author did not understand the nuance of Mr. Reynolds friendly amendment and misquoted my comment. The vendors are required by their MOU to pack up their food waste at the end of the day, and they do. Vendors' trash is always contained in trash bags and left neatly for the DPW trucks to pick up at night. My objection was that the friendly amendment required vendor trash bags be removed, carried away, at the end of the day, a condition imposed by the BID, yet the BID refuses to demand 18th Street businesses even pack up the garbage that is left strewn in the street for the rats to feast on every weekend. By demanding the vendors' garbage be carried away, yet allowing 18th Street business' garbage of pizza slices and felafel sandwiches to rot open in the street, there is a double standard here, and that's known as discrimination. I vote for ALL garbage to be packed up and removed when the businesses close at the end of their day.

  • Lydia DePillis

    Nancy,

    Thanks for explaining your position. I don't believe I misinterpreted it, though: That's why I wrote "packed OUT" instead of "packed UP."

    Best,

    Lydia

  • Please

    John, perhaps the reason all of the downtown restaurants feel so threatened by the food trucks is that the trucks offer better food at more reasonable prices? Since "better" is subjective, at the very least, you can say the trucks offer more variety.

    I for one, have made several trips to Adams Morgan specifically for the Latino market and wouldn't bother to go to that neighborhood if it wasn't there anymore.

    I understand it's tough (and expensive) to run a brick & mortar restaurant, but at the same time, the food options in this town are seriously lacking, so I'm glad to have the food trucks around.

  • http://anc1c06.blogspot.com Nancy Shia

    The author should have said "carry out" "carry away" or "remove" because "pack OUT" is ambiguous. The specific language of the friendly amendment passed is: Trash REMOVAL will be instituted at the end of each day.

    The term "pack out" implied that Nancy Shia did not want the garbage packed (up, out, in or over, no matter), and by implication she'd prefer it left strewn around, like the garbage on 18th Street after the clubs close. That implication is not only false but slams the commissioner's common sense.

    The vendors have been packing up their garbage and leaving it for DPW to pick up the same night. Now they will have to carry it away. The double standard is the businesses on 18th Street do not have to pack up the garbage left on the street by drunk and hungry patrons after club zone hours. Their garbage is picked up by the Clean Team 4-16 hours after dropped on the sidewalks, and their trash bags are left at the public receptacles for DPW to pick up. Why was the BID so insistent that the vendors take their trash away at the end of their day when the trash in the BID's front yard is such an unhealthy blight on the neighborhood?

    While on this, 2 pieces of misinformation BID reps continue to perpetuate. Contrary to what some BID members claim, the vendors indeed pay taxes and they pay to rent the space for their stalls.

    'Spose it wouldn't be a good City Paper article if it weren't skewed to make some public official look silly. Ya gotta love that oh so cynical perspective.

  • jj

    as a resident of this neighborhood, i am FAR more bothered by the trash and rotting food from the jumbo slice places than from the market. i am happy the market is there! as for pollo granjero, if the food were any good i would be happy to also buy food there.

  • Michael

    My biggest complaint with this market is that they're constantly blocking and/or parking in the Zipcar reserved on-street space there at Euclid and Champlain.

    I also feel that the vendors should carry away all their own garbage. It's not like all our restaurants take their food waste and put them out on the sidewalk for DPT to collect. Instead, they pay for garbage collection services. Same rule should be applied to the vendors.

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  • Andrew

    Most the BID restaurants make their money in the evening to late night hours anyway. If the market vendors are currently hoarding away the lunch crowd from brick and mortar establishments, it cannot be that much lost revenue.

    Not to mention that most of these vendors are excellent cooks and are extremely friendly. This is in stark contrast to some of the establishments, like Pollo Granjero in Adams Morgan, that would rather charge an excessive amount for below average food, unkempt dining areas, and unfriendly customer service. The only traditional restaurant I feel any marginal sympathy for is the Amsterdam Falafel Shop because they actually keep their business clean and seem to actually enjoy customers coming into their restaurant.

    I think some of the traditional businesses could learn from how the vendors have treated the customers at the market. Whenever I frequented the market, each vendor is happy and more than willing to explain his or her dishes, provide advice at which one I should try, and let me sample if I was still undecided. Their customer service, quality, and genuine attitude toward their food makes the market an a great alternative to some of the less well-run establishment in Adams Morgan.

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  • Oberon123

    To Nancy Shia: You made your point the first time. You discredit yourself by your obvious need to beat up on this author, who left a very curteous reply to your original complaint. Get over yourself.

  • Allen

    My apartment is in Columbia Heights and we have several neighbors in the building who particpate in the PREPARATION and selling of food at Unity Market. These folks begin cooking at 3 AM and although the smell of food might be pleasurable at lunch time - it is a severe nuisance in the wee hours of the morning; especially to the immediate neighbors and those who live on the floors above. One resident suffers from migraine headaches due to lack of sleep and is on medication. Others said their entire homes smell constantly of food and most times it is nauseating.
    Worse, a resident passing by one of these units, when the door was opened, observed cookers using portable propane fueled stoves in their units (the building recently paid a company to remove four used tanks disposed in the basement). Despite the building's best efforts, we cannot control the rodent and roach infestation that thrives off of the bulk food waste from these apartments. These folks often throw food down the trash chute without bagging it and many times they simply leave it outside in the rear common yard.
    And there is more...in order to bring in the bulk food before and after cooking, these individuals often load their food carts onto the handicap wheel chair lift, hold up the only elevator for minutes at a time and constantly run into the drywall making holes without any concern for the appearance and cost to the building.
    The building has sent numerous warning letters and even confronted the residents doing the cooking. They continue to deny any commercial cooking saying that the truck load of food is for immediate family only. Tonight several residents watched as food was being brought in from a white truck with a sign in the back which read in red and yellow letters "Unity Market...Mercado".
    I for one would have great concern as to how and under what conditions the food sold at Unity Market is being prepared.

  • mallytabby

    Come on Allen, that sounds like conspiracy theory rumor mongering. You know someone who knows someone who is coming down with autoimmune diseases because of food prep???

  • SA

    i was interested in opening up a stand of Indian/Asian Food at this Park. But i don't know the step and procedures to it, so if you guys don't mind please let me know how i can do that. -Thanks

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