Coffee vendor gets OK to use county parking lot
Residents take to social media to voice complaints
Wee Bean Coffee Roasters, a customer favorite at the La Plata Farmers’ Market, now has approval to operate from the Charles County Government parking lot all week long.
The county granted the approval last week while residents fumed on Wee Bean’s Facebook page that the vendor was being forced out of the parking lot due to political pressure.
For its part, the county says that it was happy to grant the approval and that no one had
been trying to kick the popular food truck out of its traditional space at the far end of the overflow lot on Washington Avenue.
“It’s a benefit to all of us,” said county spokesperson Jennifer Harris. “It’s a winwin. There’s no downside.”
Harris noted that many county government employees are regular Wee Bean patrons, as are employees of the Circuit and District Courts across Church Street.
Erich Herrmann, Wee Bean’s owner, said that he has been a regular at the twice-weekly farmers’ market for at least three years. In August he began parking his trailer there on Fridays as well.
Although Herrmann did not have a permit to set up in the parking lot outside of the farmers’ market, no one in the county government objected. It was only when the county received two anonymous complaints — one in August and one in early September — that it looked into the situation at the end of the month.
Harris said that a county security officer visited the food truck to make sure his paperwork was in order and to ask Herrmann to fill out a form requesting approval for the use of county property.
Herrmann characterized the visit as “confrontational.”
“He made us get out of the trailer,” Herrmann said. “He accused us of trespassing and threatened to have us towed.”
Harris said that that the county is obligated to investigate all complaints that it receives and that the security officer tried to help Herrmann complete the required paperwork.
Herrmann said that in addition to automobile and liability insurance, he has a valid state business license, a farmers’ market vendor license and a health department certificate.
What he didn’t have, however, was a La Plata food truck permit and permission from the county to operate in the parking lot outside of the farmers market.
Hermann said that the former was taken care of on Thursday when La Plata expedited a food truck permit over to him.
La Plata Town Clerk Danielle Mandley told the Maryland Independent that the town’s recently revised zoning code includes a permit for mobile food service facilities.
“At this time no fees have been adopted for this type of permit,” Mandley said. “There are certain requirements that must be maintained, one of which is written permission of the property owner.”
Deputy County Administrator Deborah Hall said that it was this written permission form that the security officer sought to have Herrmann complete. She said that Herrmann had opted to complete the form in person at the county government building, although he could also have filed it over the phone.
“It’s a very simple onepage form,” Hall said.
Hall said that Wee Bean was the first vendor to apply for permission to use the parking lot, and because of that the procedure was “kind of a new process for us.”
“We actually need to do some work on our standard operating procedures ... to make sure we have everything in place for the use of our parking lot because we do anticipate others will have a desire to do the same thing,” Hall said. “We’re going to revisit the policies and make sure we have things in place. I don’t anticipate that will be difficult either.”
The permit and approval process became a matter for public debate when Herrmann took to Wee Bean’s Facebook page shortly after the security officer’s visit, writing that he had been “ordered to cease sales” on Fridays “due to local politics, the complaints of a few and the indecisive explanations of jurisdiction and regulation.”
The post eventually reached over 100 comments and more than 80 shares, and garnered over 250 reactions.
Many of the comments accused Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D) of exerting political influence to try and eject Wee Bean because her husband is the manager of the Starbucks franchise at the corner of U.S. 301 and Charles Street, less than a mile away.
The accusations stung Stewart into commenting on the county’s approval of Wee Bean’s application during last Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners open session.
Although she did not address the Facebook accusation directly in her comments, she did allude to them.
“One of the things that I think is good is social media, but it tends to be a double-sided sword [in] that sometimes misinformation is shared with the public,” Stewart said in her brief remarks.
“I’m really proud that ... we were able to work with the company to ensure that all the permits and all the paperwork [were] in place so that everyone is protected while the company is serving our residents,” Stewart said.
Stewart told the Maryland Independent that she had been alerted to the “personal derogatory comments about myself and a family member” by a friend.
“I don’t comment on Facebook,” Stewart said. “That’s just a personal way that I live my life as a commissioner. But I wanted to figure out what was going on.”
Stewart said that by the time she became involved, county staff were well on their way to resolving the issue.
“I’ve been doing this now for four years and some things shouldn’t surprise me, and I get that. But I’m human,” Stewart said. “I saw comments [on the Facebook post] about kickbacks and [claiming] my husband wants him to fail, and I’m thinking, ‘It’s crazy.’”
Stewart said that people forget that she was the commissioner who introduced the legislation that was ultimately passed to allow food truck vendors in Charles County.
The zoning text amendment was in fact the first bill that Stewart sponsored as a commissioner.
“I believe food trucks should have the ability to sell their food, and it’s up to the county and the health department to make sure [the vendor is] up to code,” Stewart said. “Why would people think I would have anything to do with this?”
On Wednesday, Herrmann posted on Facebook acknowledging that the situation had been taken care of.
“As many of you may know, [we] hit a bump in the road last week and are happy to announce we have smoothed things out and have reached an agreement with Charles County Government to bring craft cof fee to our community on Fridays once again,” Herrmann wrote. “We would like to thank Charles County Economic Development and our customers for their support and efforts in resolving these matters.”
“With that being said WE ARE BACK!” he wrote.
Herrmann said that he believed the social media attention had been effective in raising awareness of his situation.
“It absolutely helped,” Herrmann said. “It put a lot of pressure on the county, especially with the election coming.”
Although the county approval means that Wee Bean can operate out of the parking lot all week long, Herrmann said that he is planning to stick with Fridays for now in addition to the farmers market.
“We’ve sort of grown that audience,” he said.
Erich Herrmann, owner of Wee Been Coffee Roasters, the popular food truck that operates out of the Charles County Government parking lot in La Plata, credited public reaction to a social media post in helping him secure approval to sell from the parking lot all week long.