Student coffee cart allowed to reopen

The student-run coffee cart near Gelman Library will soon be back in business after a D.C. councilmember helped secure permission Wednesday for the cart’s owner to return to the H Street spot.

Junior Simone Freeman owns and operates Sol Cafe. Michelle Rattinger/Assistant Photo Editor
Junior Simone Freeman owns and operates Sol Café, near Gelman Library. Michelle Rattinger/Assistant Photo Editor

Junior Simone Freeman’s coffee cart – known as Sol Café – was shut down last week after a D.C. health inspector, government investigator and two police officers told her she was operating the cart with an illegitimate zoning license.

Freeman said the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs – which issues business licenses to D.C. establishments – could not give her a concrete answer as to why her cart was shut down last week.

“Different people were telling me different things,” said Freeman, who is a former Hatchet photographer. When she purchased the cart from previous owner Naceur Negra in March, Freeman said she was told that she was able to operate under Negra’s zoning license.

Freeman said the DCRA no longer gives out vending cart licenses, but said she was told when she purchased the cart in March that she would be able to keep her spot because Negra’s coffee cart had been licensed in the past.

But after she was shut down, Freeman said the DCRA told her that Negra was never allowed to sell her the cart.

Freeman said she grew more and more frustrated with what she said was the DCRA’s inability to tell her why her business was shut down, and eventually went to D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans’ office to discuss the issue.

Carolyn Long, the office manager in Evans’ office, made calls to the DCRA, rectified the issue and told Freeman Wednesday she could once again operate her vendor cart on H Street.

“Councilmember Evans represents Ward 2 and represents the constituents in Ward 2,” Long said. “Whenever they have issue he takes up those issues and tries to straighten them out as quick as they can.”

“She said you are free to operate, don’t worry about it,” Freeman said, though she said she still does not feel her operating license is safe from being shut down, because Long was unable to tell her why her cart could once again operate.

“I’m very happy, but I wish that the way we got back in business was a little more legitimate,” Freeman said. “It left me feeling empty because I was asking what happens if it happens again and she couldn’t tell me. I want to know the rules.”

Freeman said the only way she was able to get her operating license back was because she got her father, an experienced businessman, involved in the process. She and her father went together to see Evans, Freeman said.

“I still don’t know the rules, and it’s kind of a shame that because I’m in school and I’m 20 years old, and I came with my father who is a successful businessman, and we were able to pull strings and go beyond the law, but the majority of vendors would not be able to do that,” Freeman said. “A majority of vendors wouldn’t know how to do that and would get taken advantage of.”

The DCRA did not return a request for comment.

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