Pedro And Vinny's Keeps Them Smiling
WASHINGTON, D.C., 4 April 2013 -- It may not look like much, but at the Pedro & Vinny's burrito stand on the corner of 15th Street and K St NW, proprietor John Rider has become famous for delivering high-quality burritos to the exact specifications of his loyal clientele. His regulars reward his attention to detail with continued loyalty.
WASHINGTON, DC, 4 April 2013 — Every weekday on the corner of 15th and K Streets in downtown Washington, D.C., a line of eager office workers waits for their latest calorie bomb courtesy of Pedro and Vinny’s. Come rain or shine, owner John Rider, 55, dishes up his famously delicious burritos from the confines of his iconic sidewalk cart.
And his customers can’t get enough.
“His sauces are great, he’s a fun guy, and he knows about the Washington Capitals, which is very important,” says Michael Bennett, 42, a Pedro and Vinny’s regular. “There’s a million different reasons to come here, but look, the bottom line is that the food is delicious.”
Regular customers are easy to spot, because they have answers readily at hand when Rider peppers them with questions.
“What kind of tortilla? Do you want cheese? Black or pinto beans? Guacamole?”
Each of Rider’s creations is unique, particularly when it comes to the application of hot sauce, for which he has a special verve and flair.
“How hot do you want it on a scale of 1 to 10?” Rider asks. “Cilantro? Yeaaaah, you want cilantro. Better take the rest of the afternoon off, because this is a masterpiece. It’s going to put you into a coma.”
A sidewalk man in a food truck world
Rider has operated a food cart since 1997 and has occupied the same patch of sidewalk near Farragut Square since 2002. And his following has only increased with time.
His continued success has been made all the more conspicuous by the recent boom in food trucks in the D.C. area. Even on a frigid Thursday in April, there are more than 40 food trucks operating within a ten-block radius, but Rider isn’t concerned.
“They rely on their novelty factor, but if they have to stay in the same area all month, they lose that,” Rider says. “People can come here every day, three times a day and not get tired of it.”
But while Pedro and Vinny’s has proved resilient, his brick and mortar neighbors have not.
“That Pizza Authentica over there? Their rent is more than $14,000 a month — I called and checked,” Rider says. “They can’t compete with these guys with that kind of overhead.”
The squeeze put on traditional restaurants by these culinary upstarts has prompted the D.C. government to take action. New regulations proposed by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs would limit the number of food trucks allowed in coveted patches of the city. Spots in those areas would be apportioned by a monthly lottery, and those who don’t win the lottery will have to stay 500 feet or farther from those zones.
“The proposed regulations have one outcome – less choice and competition for District resident’s dollars and fewer food trucks just where residents want them the most,” says Doug Povich, head of the Metropolitan Washington Food Truck Association
As a sidewalk vendor, Rider doesn’t fall under the same rules and restrictions as his more mobile brethren, but he says he sympathizes with both sides.
“I hope it doesn’t happen because I think the food trucks are good, but they’re hurting the restaurants,” Rider says.
Expansion in the future for Pedro and Vinny’s
If there was a time for Pedro and Vinny’s to expand into a full-fledged food truck, it has long since passed, Rider says. He’s more interested in seeing how his food fares in a more traditional setting.
Two years ago, he stumbled upon a small restaurant serving Bolivian food on Arlington’s heavily-trafficked Columbia Pike. The proprietors there were struggling, so Rider made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: he shared his sauces and his recipes so they could turn the small restaurant into a Pedro and Vinny’s.
“When we opened up in Arlington, we didn’t do any advertising and it got busy immediately,” he says. “It’s still growing.”
Rider says he is in talks to potentially open a new location in Vienna, Va. The demographics are ripe for new Pedro and Vinny’s restaurants across the greater D.C. area.
He says he has no interest in turning it into a corporate franchise like Chipotle.
“It’s working out well on Columbia Pike because those people are entrepreneurs; they’re not just employees, they’re owners,” Rider says.
But while expansion is always on his mind, his attention doesn’t stray long from the confines of his sidewalk cart, at least when another regular customer approaches.
“Hey, it’s the burrito man!”