When Rick Baker brought his bright yellow falafel truck to Georgetown last year, he never expected to become a center of controversy in the neighborhood.
But after slinging fried chickpeas and chicken shawarma every Friday night in front of the 9 Lb. Hammer on Airport Way South for 17 months, Baker says his truck, Hallava Falafel, has been targeted by angry Georgetown business owners who have interfered with his business and pushed him out of the neighborhood's nightlife scene.
Baker accuses one business owner in particular, Tim Ptak of the Airport Way bar Smarty Pants, of having a friend park a truck in Hallava's usual spot in front of the 9 Lb., restricting Hallava's access to the neighborhood's profitable main drag. Baker says the man, Bryce Wengard—the former owner of a Ballard auto-repair shop and friends with employees at Smarty Pants—leaves his half-ton Chevy pickup in the spot where Hallava used to park every Friday afternoon, getting in another car and driving home. Smarty Pants' Ptak denies any involvement in the situation. Wengard acknowledges trying to block the parking space with his truck.
On September 2, Baker put up a blog post on Hallava's MySpace page. "So it appears that the falafel truck is a real threat to some people," Baker wrote. "We have full permission to provide food outside of the 9 Lb. Hammer on Friday nights. FALAFEL TRUCKS ARE NOT A CRIME."
The King County health department requires mobile food vendors to set up schedules, but could not confirm if Hallava had done so.
On August 31, after losing an estimated $1,200 in business in the previous month, Baker says he confronted Wengard when he pulled up to the spot. In response, Baker says, Wengard backed his truck up in front of the 9 Lb. anyway. That's when Baker and Wengard got into a screaming match. Both men claim they were threatened, Wengard left, and Baker called the cops. When Wengard came back to his truck the next day, he says, his tires had been slashed. Wengard says the truck belonged to his sister—a Seattle Police Department officer.
"If you're going to threaten me, fine. [But] to follow through—that's just asinine," Wengard says. "I basically got frustrated the falafel truck was using that space. I don't understand how this escalated." Baker says he had nothing to do with slashing Wengard's tires.
Wengard acknowledges that he's a friend of several Georgetown business owners, and he admits he's been trying to push Baker out of the neighborhood. "There are ways of getting things done. Mine was by legally parking my trucks," Wengard says.
Wengard says he's just trying to help out other independent business owners in Georgetown who, he claims, are losing customers to Baker and the 9 Lb., which does not have its own kitchen. "I know what it costs to put a kitchen in [a bar]," Wengard says. "It's direct competition down there. [Baker] takes out of everybody's pockets."
Since the altercation with Wengard, Baker has cut his late-night business and has opened his truck for lunch down the street on weekday afternoons. He says he's frustrated with the situation and may be taking his truck to Portland soon, which, he says, is kinder to street vendors.
"A falafel truck that's there for three hours every Friday isn't a threat to neighboring restaurants," Baker says. "If that ruins your business, that's crazy."