February 4th, 2013
Judge Tosses Out Prosecution Against Arlington Food Truck Favorite
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - An Arlington County judge today granted the Commonwealth's
Attorney's motion to nolle prosequi in its case against the Korean fusion food truck Seoul
Food, completely dismissing the case.
Anna Shil, who owns Seoul Food with her husband JP Goree, faced the possibility of up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Her alleged crime? Not moving her truck "far enough."
Seoul Food has been serving Arlington residents for the past year and a half. But in recent months the County began enforcing a provision in its law that forces food trucks to move every 60 minutes. Violating the anti-competitive restriction is a Class 1 misdemeanor, meaning that Arlington treats serving customers for 61 minutes as harshly as driving drunk or assault.
Worse yet, Arlington County's law is vague and open to different interpretations. The law does not specify how far a food truck must move, only that it must "remain stopped for ... no longer than sixty (60) minutes." On three different occasions, three different Arlington officials gave Seoul Food three different explanations of how far their truck must move to comply with the law. Most recently, Shil moved the truck within the 60-minute period, but Arlington police still cited her because the officer felt that Seoul Food had not moved "far enough."
With today's dismissal, Shil can breathe easy knowing that she won't go to jail for the crime of serving customers from her food truck.
"I'm happy this is behind us and we can focus back on making the food we love, serving our regulars and preparing to open our brick-and-mortar restaurant," said Shil. "And I hope this case spurs the County to get rid of its 60-minute rule."
Seoul Food is a member of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, which has more than 50 members in Arlington and Washington, DC.
"This case highlights the absurdity of treating what amounts to a parking violation as a crime on par with assault," said Doug Povich, Co-Owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound-DC and Chairman of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington.
"We have had good discussions with the Arlington Economic Board and County Board of Supervisors to revise a law that just doesn't make sense," Povich said. "The Food Truck Association hopes to work with the County in the months ahead to craft a food-truck law that serves the County' residents and workers and keeps food trucks as a vibrant part of Arlington's business community and streetscape."
Shil was represented in the case by attorneys in the Washington, DC office of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP, a leading international law firm. Gibson Dunn attorneys Noah Sullivan, Michael Huston, Alex Harris, and Michael Diamant vigorously pursued Shil's defense in order to secure the case's dismissal. "We applaud the Commonwealth's Attorney's decision in this case and think it shows that they understand why this ordinance is problematic. A person cannot be prosecuted for a crime when the rules are vague, unclear, and conflicting," said Noah Sullivan, one of Shil's attorneys.
Also supporting Seoul Food was the Institute for Justice, which is based in Arlington. "The Institute for Justice works to improve vending laws around the country, so when we heard about what was happening in our own backyard, we had to get involved," said IJ attorney Robert Frommer. "Until recently, Arlington County has been lauded as a vending success story. We hope that the County will scrap its counterproductive 60-minute rule and let food trucks get back to what they do best: serving their customers."
The Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington is a group of more than 50 food truck owner-operators in Arlington County and Washington, DC. We seek to sustain the wellbeing of our industry, foster a sense of community and work in partnership to improve food truck regulations. We are engaged community members who deeply care about our city and believe in working together to make a positive impact. The Food Truck Association's signature event is the Curbside Cookoff food truck festival series. For more information visit www.DCFoodTrucks.org.
January 22nd, 2013
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We've been fans of Seoul Food since husband-and-wife owners Hyun Shil (who also goes by Anna) and Jon Goree opened the colorful, Arlington-based truck more than a year ago. This morning we discovered via their Facebook page that they're opening a restaurant space in Silver Spring. Shil confirms that their first restaurant will be at 11310 Georgia Avenue, attached to the Exxon station formerly serving eats from Global Cafe African Grill.
While the menu is still being worked out, Shil says they plan to open for breakfast, lunch, and early dinner, with an estimated closing time of 8 PM. You may find an array of baked items in the morning alongside kimdap, Korean sushi rolls stuffed with ingredients like egg or kimchi. Mobile favorites such as hearty portions of bibim bap, kalbi (marinated short rib) burritos, and kimchi quesadillas will likely be on offer, alongside more seasonal specials; those in the past include japchae (yam noodles with beef bulgogi or vegetables), butternut squash curry, and coconut-custard cake. As always, the couple is committed to using organic meats, tofu, and vegetables, with plenty of vegetarian options.
Limited bar-style seating (sans alcohol) means you'll dine in a little more comfort than at the truck, but carryout will be the main focus. Shil says the owners are remodeling the space and outfitting it with a separate entrance; it will also be accessible through the gas station. Check back in with us for more details closer to the opening, estimated for between March and April.
July 5th, 2012
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Meatless street eats can feel like afterthoughts. But Seoul Food (@seoulfooddc) offers Japanese and Korean-inspired veggie options alongside local meats. Try caramelized kimchee sushi rolls, shiitake-studded sweet-potato noodles, and bibim bap with sticky rice, shredded vegetables, grilled organic tofu, and a fried egg.
March 6th, 2012
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Photos by Molly McDonald Peterson
The marinated grass-fed steak drips with sweet and spicy flavors. The bright greens, carrots, daikon, and radish create a kaleidoscope of freshness. And on top of it all is a flawlessly fried egg, its yolk a vivid orange bubble just waiting to burst.
It's pretty impressive that this fresh and tasty bibimbap, a traditional Korean rice dish, is prepared in a little truck outside the Ballston Metro in Arlington, Va. What's more impressive is that its ingredients are almost entirely sustainably or locally sourced. Seoul Food DC's bibimbap is its most popular (and possibly most delicious) menu item. That's probably because at just $7 to $8.50 (depending on what kind of protein you get), it costs pretty much the same as comparable dishes at local food trucks that don't use as fine ingredients.
"We don't make the price like the 'organic price,'" says co-owner Chef Anna Goree. "Customers don't want to pay $10 or $12 for lunch ... So we have to reduce our profit."
Because Anna and her husband, co-owner J.P., use sustainable and local sources, they pay an extra $2 to $2.50 per pound for beef and an extra 1.50 per pound for chicken. But they see the benefit in using higher-quality products. "Eighty-five percent of our customers are regulars," Anna says. "And they are our promoters." She frequently overhears regulars enlightening new customers about Seoul Food's antibiotic-free grass-fed beef or its pole-and-troll caught skipjack tuna. In Arlington, she says, people are becoming a lot more conscious about where their food comes from.
Before starting Seoul Food this past summer, Anna and J.P. both worked at Whole Foods--Anna as a pastry chef (her training was at L'Academie de Cuisine in Maryland) and J.P. as a butcher. Anna grew up in the food industry; her mother owned a restaurant in Seoul.
Seoul Food incorporates fusion elements, serving dishes like kalbi burritos, bulgogi sushi, and a butternut squash curry. "It's because I've lived here almost 25 years," Anna explains. "I don't eat only Korean." After years of cooking at home for three kids and crafting desserts for work, her repertoire incorporates Mexican, Italian, French, and all sorts of other influences.
But her Korean upbringing informs the philosophy about food that she and her husband share. "There's a saying in Korea that you shouldn't go more than 10 miles to get the food that you eat." The products at Seoul Food may come from more than 10 miles away, but they come from regional growers. The husband-and-wife team tried to work directly with farms, but ended up having to turn to their former employer, Whole Foods, to find their ingredients instead. With no employees, they couldn't afford the time to drive out to the farms each week.
"That doesn't surprise me," says Forrest Pritchard, farmer and owner of Smith Meadows, a Berryville farm that operates its own food truck in Arlington and D.C. Small farms are already so bogged down with raising animals, growing produce, and selling at farmers markets that working with restaurants can be a challenging addition. Restaurants need high volumes of customized shares, and they need them on a deadline. "That's the problem the CEO of Chipotle kept running into," said Pritchard. "He said he'd go to find some of these small farms and they'd only be raising three pigs in a month. Well a lot of these food trucks go through three pigs during lunch, easily."
Smith Meadows has a unique perspective, of course, having both a farm and a food truck. The truck sets up shop at the Arlington Farmers Market, the Takoma Farmers Market, and in Rosslyn on Lynn Street. The idea for a food truck came from years of selling at farmers markets. "The first thing we noticed was that nobody else was doing it," Pritchard said. "We're always interested in potentially doing something else to bring people to the farmers market, and it just seemed like a really easy way to take the products that we already had and make the market better."
Smith Meadows raises grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, and chickens, and its food truck serves up such dishes as a rosemary lamb sandwich with organic pesto and organic mustard, a breakfast sandwich made with free-range eggs and cheese from Fields of Grace Farm, and an array of empanadas. Like Seoul Food, Smith Meadows works hard to keep prices low. "There's so much that somebody expects to pay for a hamburger in a food truck," Pritchard said. "I ignore that at my own peril." His truck serves hamburgers for about $5 each, empanadas for about $3 each, and other sandwiches for between $3 and $8.
So if it's possible to use local products, keep prices competitive, and make a profit, why don't more food trucks and carts do it? "My instinct would be to say it's a matter of not enough abundant supply," Pritchard says. "We're in this really simultaneously amazing and frustrating point in food production where we don't have enough experienced food producers growing the food that we need."
In urban areas, there's the added hurdle of distribution. That's certainly been the experience of Michelle Nguyen and Gauri Sarin, the co-owners of Something Stuffed, a new food truck coming to Arlington and Tysons this month. "It is very difficult to get these products close to where you're vending your food, instead of having to drive out to farms," says Sarin.
Something Stuffed plans to source from farms including Mount Vernon Farm in Sperryville and Maple Avenue Market, a farm and local foods store in Vienna. The truck will work with Mount Vernon through a buyers' club. Similar to a CSA but without the long-term commitment, the club lets customers place orders to be delivered every two weeks to a few central drop-off points in Northern Virginia. If more farms offered such programs, Sarin says, it would be far easier to source locally.
While Sarin and Nguyen plan the debut of Something Stuffed, they are testing out menu items by hosting tastings and catering events. As the name suggests, the truck will feature stuffed foods like dumplings, empanadas, rolls, and wraps. "If you think about it, almost every type of cuisine from anywhere around the world has items that are stuffed, and that's a big draw for me," says Sarin, a self-taught chef. "It gives us more opportunity to be creative with our menu items."
Something Stuffed also plans on affordable pricing. "Food trucks have the reputation of being cheap and convenient," Sarin says. "But [that] doesn't mean you can't be utilizing good products too."
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October 26th, 2011
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Seoul Food D.C.
|(Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)|
Two months after Seoul Food D.C.'s debut, the marriage seems as happy as the one between the Korean and Latin cuisine served from their magenta truck. The vehicle travels a set circuit in Arlington (a brick-and-mortar location there is under consideration) because it's too big to operate legally in the District of Columbia, which the Gorees found out after the business had been named.
They'd already had some experience sharing a workplace. Previously, both were on the staff at the Whole Foods Market Fair Lakes: J.P., 37, as a meat cutter and Hyun, 46, as a pastry chef.
The Fairfax pair got the idea for their fusion fare from similar ventures in Los Angeles that they researched online. Hyun is from Seoul, and her family's recipes are the basis for the menu, large by food truck standards with eight or so entrees.
Madison, Wis., native J.P. estimates they go through two 40-pound cases of Napa cabbage every 10 days. After tasting their kimchi, we can see why.
The pungent, spicy Korean condiment of fermented cabbage takes a starring role in the warm kimchi quesadilla ($6; with beef or chicken, $7.50). Sadly, a 20-minute commute back to the office reduced the flour tortilla to a state of gumminess. But even my colleagues who always prefer corn tortillas approved of the quesadilla filling.
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