Gourmet food trucks bring coffee and Southern Maryland cuisine to Indian Head, La Plata
Zoning, permitting issues to allow trucks a wider audience on May 2 planning agenda
A couple of gourmet food trucks — one’s a trailer — have been bringing smokey barbecue and fresh roasted coffee to the La Plata Farmers’ Market and the Village Green and Pavilion in Indian Head the last couple of weeks. The entrepreneurs behind them are hoping county regulations are set soon to allow them to set up in public spaces around the county.
“We wanted to go brick and mortar but we just didn’t have the capital,” said Damian Tarlecki, who put the County Manners food truck in gear last week with business partner Jeremy Plemons and a silent partner. “We just wanted to work for ourselves. With our love of food and people, this was the easiest avenue for us. It’s going to gain us exposure and allow us to build a reputation.”
Their first customer on an unusually cool April morning last week on the Green agreed.
“Damian’s an entrepreneur. He can’t afford a brick and mortar spot,” said Charlotte Hall native and self-described foodie Nick Van Dalen while holding a smoked whiskey brisket sandwich intended for his wife. “You can do it with a food truck and expose your culinary delights. This is perfect for a young guy, or anybody, who wants to start a business. I think it’s fantastic.”
Van Dalen gave an enthusiastic thumbs up on the food after taking a bite out of his wife’s sandwich. “It’s good. Oh man, that is good,” he said.
Erich Herrmann of La Plata hit the road with his coffee roasting and pastry trailer in tow a year ago.
“It’s been good. The [farmers’] markets are a really good spot for me,” the Wee Bean trailer owner said. “We’re growing [the Village Green] out here together,” he added, talking about the new County Manners truck.
“We parked next to each other at the farmers’ market on Saturday,” Tarlecki said. “It’s just a good relationship because business breeds business. If you have four or five food trucks out here it offers variety. I think that’s a good thing.”
Herrmann envisions developing a “food court” in Indian Head and is working on getting a town permitting process in place.
Town of Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin said the zoning and permitting language has been put in a larger planning document that he hopes will be finished, reviewed and passed by year’s end. Until then, he said they can continue setting up on the Village Green.
“We love them in town,” Paulin said. “I’m not a coffee drinker myself but he has some really good hot chocolate.”
Herrmann is also working on promoting more use of the Green for community events and gatherings that could include food trucks.
“The Green is a perfect spot. It’s a community open space that I want to utilize,” he said. “Hopefully we can get some music going, set up some little festivals and community gatherings out here, and bring people together.”
As for the rest of Charles County, Tarlecki and Plemons are hoping regulations change to allow freer movement around the area. Currently, they can set up in private parking lots when invited, the Village Green in Indian Head and at organized events such as the farmers’ market in La Plata. “You can’t do it unless it’s private property, if I’m not mistaken,” Tarlecki said.
The Charles County Planning Commission intends to discuss a draft of a not-yet-finished zoning text amendment at its May 2 meeting which deals with the food truck issue potentially setting up a permitting and zoning process. The Charles County Board of Commissioners would have the final say if the planning commission decides to recommend a zoning change.
“The draft is not yet complete. It will be made public a week prior to the hearing,” Chief of Planning Steve Ball said in an email.
While Herrmann features coffee made from fresh roasted “organic, fairly traded” coffee beans, he also sells pastries made by Michelle’s Cakes in Indian Head and a few by his own hand. He’s worked out a deal with Michelle’s to use the baking business’ kitchen in the evenings.
County Manners, on the other hand, has a menu filled with smoked meat sandwiches, handmade kettle chips — “Truck Chips” — and other Southern Maryland-oriented fare, including a stuffed ham Cuban sandwich with “beer mustard.”
“We smoke everything ourselves,” Jeremy Plemons said. “The whiskey brisket smokes for 14, 15 hours; the pulled pork smokes for about 12 hours. We use all apple wood and mesquite wood chips. We make our own whiskey glaze.”
Plemons and Tarlecki have been cooking together professionally off and on for the last nine years, mostly in Washington, D.C. Plemons lives in Indian Head and Tarlecki currently lives in the District but spent part of his childhood in La Plata.
“We used our personal way about doing things and called [the truck] County Manners,” Plemons said.
“Our goal is to feature Southern Maryland with a twist,” Tarlecki said, “try to elevate the things that we’ve known and grown to love.”
For now, County Manners and Wee Bean can be found at the La Plata Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays and at the Village Green on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Jeremy Plemons, left, of Indian Head and Damian Tarlecki of D.C., who grew up in La Plata, revved up their County Manners food truck in late March and have been serving up smoked barbecue in Indian Head and at the La Plata Farmer’s Market.