Once a month from April through October, in a vacant Washington, D.C., lot near the famed Nationals Park, about 20 food trucks convene for an evening of music, food and dancing. Hundreds of D.C. locals have the opportunity to purchase everything from lobster rolls to Korean tacos, from homemade ice cream to gourmet hot dogs.
One thing you quickly notice while trying to figure out which 20-minute line to endure for your next culinary experience is the demographics of the food-truck owners. Food trucks have become a big business—some may even refer to them as the next big thing in culinary fads—but if you’re attempting to find food trucks owned by black people, it’s similar to seeking the figurative needle in a haystack.
But not impossible.
Nnamdi J. Nwaneri is one of the owners of NeatMeatDC, and his food truck is one of the few black-owned trucks in the D.C. area. NeatMeatDC started in 2007, when Nwarneri teamed up with his Howard University law school classmate Na’Im Moses. The two men realized they had similar goals outside the law profession.
You’d be mistaken if you thought NeatMeatDC served your average sloppy joe sandwich. With a menu that includes such masterpieces as a pulled spiced pork joe in a cerveza chipotle sauce, it’ll make you think twice about pulling a Manwich can from your local grocery store’s shelf.
When asked why he wanted to start a food truck, Nwaneri waxed poetic about his intentions. “‘A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society’ is a quote from Charles Hamilton Houston. We reference this quote many times, as it is interconnected to our legal education as well as our life’s mission. We believe that creating a viable business allows us to become social engineers to benefit ourselves, our friends and families, and, most importantly, our society,” Nwaneri says.
It’s this enterprising spirit that has motivated other black food-truck owners, too. But starting out in the food-truck business isn’t something that can be done overnight. The NeatMeatDC team took 18 months from conception to launch, and it’s still a growing endeavor.
One obstacle to overcome is the price of the truck. The going rate for a new truck is about $75,000, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options.
Chef Michael Bowling, owner of the Charlotte, N.C.-based Hot Box Next Level Street Food truck, decided to take a more cost-effective route: He bought a shell of a food truck from another truck owner and “designed it and had it built out.” Bowling, who has 25 years of cooking experience under his apron, started his food-truck venture after a restaurant he was working for shut its doors.