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May 11, 2011

City official threatens to shut down Souper Freak and Iced Gems for improper permits

Irene Smith of Souper Freak just got majorly moved along.

Smith said she was shut down by city official Alvin O. Gillard (director of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission), who, Smith said, told her that he had been dispatched to shut down all of the city's food trucks in the aftermath of Jill Rosen's article yesterday about the fits and starts of Baltimore's food trucks.

This is all according to Smith. 

More to come.

UPDATE/12:23 p.m.: Laura Vozzella just went down to talk to Irene Smith

Smith told her that she had a line of seven people when Alvin O. Gillard told her he was shutting her down. He presented a card that identified him as director of the Community Relations Commission and told her he was also head of the city’s street vendor’s board, Smith said.

(According to Smith, Gillard told her that she needed to have an on-street vendors license. Smith says she produced for Gillard her mobile vendor's license (far more expensive to procure than an on-street vendor's license) or risk a $50 fine.

He told her she would need to get on the agenda for the board, which meets every other month. The next meeting is June 3, but he said the agenda was very busy and she might have to wait until the August meeting.

He told her, “I answer to the mayor.”

Smith said she asked what would happen if she stayed open. The section of the code he presented her with listed a $50 fine. Gillard, Smith said, told her she would be fined the first time, but he’d send officers if she continued to stay open and it would be up to their discretion if they arrested her.

She decided to risk it and stayed put. 

“I’ve got $600 worth of food,” Smith told Vozzella.

UPDATE/12:53 p.m.

Tony Richardson, co-owner of the Iced Gems food truck, told me that a city official who identified himself as Alvin O. Gillard this morning approached the cupcake truck, which Richardson's daughter was operating. The interaction that Richardson described matches up with Smith's account, including the official's unwillingness to patiently explain his position or to listen to the vendor's defense.

Gillard oversees the city's Vendor Licensing Board. It's not clear whether this is related to his directorship of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission, but it prompted Richardson to say, "he's the one who needs a lesson in community relations."

UPDATE/2:30 p.m.  -- City supports food  trucks

I just spoke with Alvin O. Gillard.

The City, he assured me, absolutely supports street vendors and food trucks in particular. But the City also has a responsibility to make sure all of the vendors are properly regulated and also to ensure that existing retail operations are not unfairly affected by their presence. Fair enough.

Gillard told me that that the Mayor has asked the Street Vendor Board, in the aftermath of today's mis-undertandings, to conduct outreach to Baltimore food trucks and to work with Health and Housing to assist Baltimore's them in coming under regulatory compliance.  There will be an indeterminate grace period while this outreach is being conducted.

So, whew.


Posted by Richard Gorelick at 11:21 AM | | Comments (52)


when is this city gonna stop stepping on it's own toes and step back a few feet to see the forest from the trees?

always saying one thing, doing another

The food truck, The Chowhound has been running for well over a year and went through and extensive health inspection and licensing process to be able to operate in the city. It does not stop harassment but all of the ducks are in a row. This sounds like exaggeration based on just her experiences. That being said, Baltimore has become very two faced when it come to dealing with these businesses. One the one hand we (the City) claim to promote business then we turn around and fight it on every front. Ridiculous.

Tiny Town lives! Close down everything that resembles a major city. Same reason we never built a stadium for the Bullets to play in.

I think that article mentioned that Souper Freak probably didn't have any of the proper permits. I wonder if that's the issue.

C'mon out to the county, there are PLENTY of office buildings that need you!

Anyone with that guy's attitude doesn't need to work for an agency with "Community Relations" in its name.

"I answer to the Mayor" -- well, buddy...the Mayor answers to us...the voters.

I would think a mobile food vendor license would be better than an on-street license. Does it mean, though, that she can only serve food while actually moving? Because that could be really tricky with soup.

Bureaucrats like this give bureaucrats a bad name. It's always rather pathetic to watch little people abuse their power.

So department heads are now taking to the street to personally enforce minor code violations? Seriously?

this reminds me of the odyssey with the Arabbers. The city claims to want to preserve them as part of our cultural heritage then shuts them down every year. Are there any arabbers left?

@Carol Ott - do you really believe city government answers to anyone?

Baltimore sucks.

Can we get this guy to shut down the 3 ice cream trucks that circle my block for 10 months of the year, 14 hours a day, with LOUD LOUD music?

at least the soup truck doesn't play music.

I can understand doing your job, but does he have to be a jerk about it?

Baltimore is seriously behind the times. More businness in downtown, brick and mortor or on wheels is great for Baltimore. Why are our elected and appointed officials so blind to this?

Damned old school media, look what you accomplished with your "reporting!"

Do ice cream trucks count as "food trucks"?

IPA = Idiot in a Position of Authority

After reading the article this doesn't seem to be a reasonable response. If the City has been granting licenses to the trucks then it shouldn't suddenly shut all of them down without warning or cause; they'll go out of business and never come back.

The reasonable response should be "how can we help these businesses coexist and thrive?"

Dear Alvin O. Gillard: You're doing it wrong.

Petty bureaucracy is not what this city needs. Stephen is right. The correct approach is "how can we help these businesses coexist and thrive"?

Surely you have better things to do with you time and our tax dollars Mr. Gillard.

Well, sounds like she DOES have proper permits. Idiotic city bureaucrats.

Here's a link to the city's requirements for cart and street vendors. It looks like maybe that mobile vending license comes from the state (requirement 2), but maybe there's a separate city permit that's also needed (requirement 4)?

I had a business in Baltimore City trying to redevelop depressed neighborhoods for 11 years and finally got fed up with all of the ridiculous red tape, fines, and "permit" fees for everything from owning a rental property that had to be "registered" to being fined for weeds growing around a tree on the sidewalk in front of my property. I finally moved to Florida where I now own two businesses and I can't tell you how helpful the government and the police are in helping me get my business going and keeping it safe. Oh and did I mention there are no income taxes here?! VOTE WITH YOUR FEET PEOPLE! Best move I ever made!

What a waste of city funds to pay for this pinhead's salary so he can go around and prevent people from spending their money on family-owned small business that will eventually benefit the city through income taxes. I agree with the previous post - he should be figuring out ways to help these businesses thrive! Clearly, he is on a power trip and I think he should be fired or reassigned to a position that does not involve any sort of understanding of economic policy and that does not require any official representation of the city of Baltimore.

The article in the Sun indicated that they were having trouble finding parking spaces and dealing with brick and mortar owners. It didn't seem all that unflattering to the city's government. Why would the Mayor overreact like that?

These bureaucrats "answer to the Mayor." The Mayor fails to lead on most things, this included. The decision to hassle these operators is a Mayoral decision. Hate the way the city crushes innovation and coddles the political donor class? Vote Stephanie OUT.

What an absolute joke.

ok, messing with the cupcake van is WAR!

Just want to clarify that Icedgem our Cupcake Truck has all the correct permits including a Motor Peddlers License for Baltimore City issued by State of Maryland at a cost of over $500, plus a Food Permit from the City Healt Department, and we were parked perfectly legally. Until today we have never had any issues with any authority in the City. We believe there is plenty of demand for high quality food from customers on the streets of Baltimore and that all businesses can thrive when people get out of their buildings in search of a tasty lunch or snack. Today it could be a Cupcake :) and tomorrow a delicious sandwich from a bricks and mortar restaurant. This country is about the right for people to choose, right?

baltimore is like the current govt it SUCKS..GOT TO HARASS THE WORKING PEOPLE

He should be investigating complaints of discrimination, that is the Commissions' primary responsibility. That's why they have sat on cases for years, because he's out chasing mobile food vendors. Typical baltimore city government.

Moondoggy . . . read the article and updates, particularly about Iced Gems, then comment.

This is nothing short of the City kowtowing to the brick and mortar establishments who believe that they have some kind of exclusive right to service customers. This is a joke.


@bryanintowson - Well, no. But a girl can dream, right?

And why do the mobile food trucks have to work with Baltimore Housing? The health department at least makes sense...but Baltimore Housing? Wow, talk about a deterrent to small business.

what about the ice cream trucks feeding obese people at 10:30 pm? we have them running our streets with music on till 10:30 pm. Baltimore is suppose to care about the health of it's people, and they allow these trucks to run around the clock.

Come to Anne Arundel County to the Airport Square office park on Nursery Road. This is a HUGE office park near the airport with loads of empty parking spaces and lots of white-collar cubicle employees with expendable income just waiting for something other than the same three or four restaurants we eat at every day.
Take I-295 South to Nursery Road exit. At the traffic signal turn left. At third light cross Winterson Road and you'll see the empty parking lots on your right. There must be 6 buildings that could see a van or truck in the middle of that lot. The landlord is COPT, so call them to make sure you can park in their lot 443-285-5400.


Seriously, if a director is going around doing this he has far too little real work to do. Leave code enforcement up to enforcement agents and tell this self-important bureacrat to accomplish something worthwhile or get out. I am thinking about writing a letter to the Mayor. "I answer to the Mayor." Fine, let's have him explain himself to the Mayor too!

Sounds like Gillard got back to the office and found the Mayor tossing his crap out the window.

I wish Baltimore City would go after drug dealers, and deadbeats like the ones at Orchard Mews Apartments, with the same ferocity that they go after hard working citizens and taxpayers. We actually pay the bills around here, the thugs do not. YOUR DOING IT WRONG BALTIMORE CITY!!

A motor truck peddlers license from the state and a zoning permit from the city are two different things. You need a city permit to park a food truck or hotdog stand in the city.

Silly vendors, complaining to the paper, hoping the City would help them through embarrassment and good will rather than paying the right people off....have to wonder if Mr. Gillard wasn't willing to fix the problem for them for an on-the-spot fee.......

It's not an either-or ... the food trucks OR the drug dealers.

Has anyone ever eaten Souper Freak food? Had 2 co-workers go there the first time they showed up at Hopkins and the food was so bad, none of us will try them. Good riddance as far as I'm concerned.

I for one disagree with your co-workers.

I bet those illegal alien tienda's sprouting up all over Bloddymore will not be affected!

Hi everyone. First let me thank our many fans and customers who have spoken out on our behalf. I know all of the food trucks are very honored and humbled by your support.
Just to clarify, we have a mobile street vending permit. That cost $450 plus a $175 inspection fee plus a food managers certificate which costs more than $200 including the mandatory classes. When we left the Health department we asked very carefully if we had done all we needed to do to go on the roads. We were told we were set and ready to sell.

Three weeks ago when we were harrassed by a police office working at the behest of a Johns Hopkins official we were told that we needed a $25 dollar street vendors license. (I should make clear here that overall the police department has been wonderful to us and has on every other occasion acted professionally and responsibly so I don't want the impression to be that the police are our enemies.) I was told to look at Article 19 for info about that. That section, it turns out, is related to drug paraphernalia. There is a street vending license in Article 17 but that clearly seems to be pertaining to fixed street vendors who post at particular corners to sell items like bottled water or chips. Therefore we felt our mobile street vending license superseded this license.

Todays interaction with Mr. Gillard was upsetting. Because although we have every intention of complying with every rule or permit process, our business was told to shut down for at least a month if not longer. This would effectively drive us out of business. Mr. Gillard made it clear to us that he was reacting aggressively in light of our participation in the Baltimore Sun story by Jill Rosen. We tried our ever level best to diffuse the conflict and work collaboratively with Mr. Gillard so that this drama did not get played out for the world. It makes the city I love look bad. It reminds me of how the uprising in Tunisia started. We are better than that as Americans, Marylanders and certainly Baltimoreans.

But throughout the process I have stated publicly and privately prayed that cooler heads would prevail. To that end, Mayor Rawlings-Blake has answered my prayers. Her leadership could not be more appreciated.

We are going to work this out. We are going to keep selling the foods we feel passionately about, to neighborhoods who adore us and with deep respect for our fellow enterpeneurs with brick and mortar buildings. This is a wonderful city with exciting new ventures and we are thrilled to be part of this exciting time.

Thanks everyone for supporting Souper Freaks and all the other amazing food trucks on the roads. You are incredible.

Your Souper Freak,
Irene Smith

At least the food trucks don't sell drugs like the ice cream trucks.

Tunsia and food trucks. totally the same.

Also off Nursery Road in AA county is Hock Business Park, a stone's throw from I295. Another place with nothing but offices and plenty of suburban parking and people with expendable income.
Good idea from previous anonymous to contact the landlord before you park. Last year there was a farmer's market every Wednesday walking distance from my office bldg, advertised to all tenants by the landlord. So you food trucks should forget the city for one day a week and contact business park landlords and get them to do the advertising work for you. They will notify all tenants, and then the receptionist in each company notifies all employees in the building via email. And then we'll walk over to your truck and buy all your food and you won't be hassled. You might be able to get your county licenses by showing your city licenses and paying the fee -- no classes to take and no hassle.

I asked this in another thread, but I'll repeat it here:

// So Mr. Gilliard decided to harass these businesspeople on his own volition? Why was he out there in the first place? //

I find it hard to believe that a fairly high-level City bureaucrat would personally go out harassing food trucks unless someone above him told him to do so. So, who was it?

I suspect that Mr. Gillard is afflicted with a shortchanged anatomy, which causes him to fill his chest with air and expel nonsense at businesspeople in an effort to compensate. This is what we get for "Community Relations"? Meh.

Tunsia and food trucks. totally the same. Actually, it is similar. The revolution in Tunisia was started by a government official telling a fruit vendor that he couldn't sell his wares in the marketplace.... Sound similar?

I have worked for both the State of Maryland and The City of Baltimore during my career as well as co-owned a private business and am horrified at how poorly the tax and business licensing departments are run. The people working for these agencies don't even know the laws and codes themselves that they are charged with enforcing. There is no accountability. One agency doesn't talk to the other. I have seen many businesses close down because of red tape and clerks who give people the run-around. If the mayor wants to clean up Baltimore, she should start with her own house --City Hall. Do some undercover shopping of departments and clerks and when they perform poorly --fire them! Also, Baltimore City -- your taxes are out of control. Three times that of Baltimore County and for what? The last thing you should be doing is running tax paying business out of town that the community wants. Shame on you!

I agree with what some others are saying about the food trucks moving out of the city, we who work in the counties would love them and there is plenty of parking. I work out in Timonium and there are a ton of office buildings also owned by COPT that I believe would welcome them :)

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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