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From the editor Food trucks are not unique to Philadelphia, but they certainly hold a special place in the city’s cultural landscape. From greasy breakfast sandwiches off a truck near Suburban Station to a cheesesteak “wiz wit” off a cart near Temple University’s campus in North Philadelphia, a plethora of people rely on street food vendors in the region every day, and that number continues to grow. From the outset, we wanted this publication – authored, edited, and designed by nine students in Temple University’s Master of Journalism program – to be more than a compilation of reviews, and we worked tirelessly to include content that was both relevant and interesting. The ensuing pages highlight various storylines related to the food truck industry – permit matters, nutritional regulations, cook-off competitions, and entrepreneur stories – in addition to exploring some of the top-ranked food trucks in the Philadelphia region. The entire publication was completed within a month, and would not have been possible without the guidance of Dr. Edward Trayes, director of the Master of Journalism program and professor of our Editing the News I class. His assistance with various aspects of the project was immeasurable. Once you finish reading the print version, I strongly encourage you to visit our companion website at http://www.phillyfoodtruckmag.blogspot.com/ to comment on our stories. While there, be sure to also offer your opinions on the various food trucks we sampled and reviewed. Enjoy our efforts! Thanks, Patrick Gordon Editor in Chief
Moveable Feasts The definitive guide to Philly’s food trucks
Food Truck Permits: Keeping it Legal ......................4 Denamarie Ercolani
Creperie at Temple c’est Magnifique.....................42 Denise Clay
Philly Food Trucks Take on New York’s Best at Vendys.................................................................8 Patrick Gordon
Cupcakes Anyone?.......................................................42 Denise Clay
The American Dream ... on Wheels........................12 Denise Clay
Staying Healthy, Even at a Lunch Truck.................50 Natalia Chiarelli
Economics of Food Trucks...........................................15 Scheming of a Food Truck of Your Own?.............54 Denamarie Ercolani Shannon McLaughlin The Rise and Fall of Coup de Taco Iron Chef Jose Garces Talks Tacos..........................56 As told by Owner Jeff Henretig...............................16 Natalia Chiarelli and Shannon McLaughlin Emil Steiner Filling up with Cornbread.........................................60 Food Trucks in the ‘Burbs...........................................28 Maggie Reynolds Danielle Lynch Neither Wind Nor Rain..............................................62 What are you Eating?.................................................32 Denise Clay Maggie Reynolds Reviews Section............................................................66 A Look from the Inside...............................................36 Shannon McLaughlin Sexy Green Truck Replaces Burgers with Salads.........38
Contributors Editor in Chief Patrick Gordon
Assistant Editors Danielle Lynch Emil Steiner Dan Wisniewski
Natalia Chiarelli Denise Clay Danielle Lynch Maggie Reynolds Emil Steiner
Denise Clay Natalia Chiarelli Denamarie Ercolani Patrick Gordon Danielle Lynch Shannon McLaughlin Maggie Reynolds Emil Steiner Dan Wisniewski
Food Truck Permits: Keeping it Legal By DENAMARIE ERCOLANI
Food trucks are hotter than ever in Philadelphia, but the city has rules to keep expansion in check. Owners of food trucks in the city are limited to certain areas, and districts depending on which permit(s) they obtain. Meanwhile, other cities, such as New York, havenâ€™t experienced as much turmoil within their food truck movement. There are over 5,000 mobile food vendors in New York City, yet these vendors are free to roam the city, unlike those in Philadelphia. Though trucks are a small business, they require a significant investment. Costs include the truck, permit acquisition, supplies, security and insurance. Food truck experience is no longer a prerequisite for success in the food truck business. Restaurant owners such as Jose Garces are seeking an extra boost in
revenue and sales without having to pay a high monthly rent. Although overhead is lower, the permits needed to legally operate a food truck are pricy to get and tedious to obtain. In the city of Philadelphia, a food truck is required to have: 1. Motor Vehicle Vendor License, $300 2. Non-Permanent Food License, $150 3. Business Privilege License, $300 To speed up the permit process, the food truck vendor can obtain a Business Tax Account number. If this number is presented, the vendor can secure a Motor Vehicle Vendor and Business Privilege Licenses on the same
Photo by Maggie Reynolds Philadelphia Parking Authority official tickets a â€œjunker truckâ€? on the University of Pennsylvania campus.
day according to the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I). The Motor Vehicle Vendor Licenses expires at the end of December each year. The Non-Permanent Food License also expires annually during the month of April. The Business Privilege does not expire; however, the Department of Public Health must inspect and approve the truck prior to the vendor receiving certification.
sinks, freezers, and cookers. Prior to construction and fabrication of the truck, all new mobile food vending units are required to have properly prepared plans drawn to scale submitted and approved by the Office of Food Protection.
Inspectors determine whether a vendor has met standards stipulated in a 13-page document of code of the Mobile Food Vending Unit-Plan Submission Guide.
A Food Establishment Self-Inspection Checklist is provided in which owners have to self-inspect their trucks for rodent infestation and food contamination and maintain sanitary utensils and cooking equipment. They also have to monitor employee hygiene, such as the washing of hands, pulled back hair, etc.
According to the Department of Public Health, the guidelines for mobile food vendors regulate the size of trucks as well as the food preparation surfaces,
All food handling requires that an individual within a valid City of Philadelphia Food Establishment Personnel Food Safety Certificate be present during
Photo by Natalia Chiarelli
Moveable Feasts vending unit operation. Maura Kennedy, director of strategic initiatives at the Department of Licenses and Inspections, explained that they do not write the vending code, they just enforce these regulations set by City Council. Within the city, there are certain areas where vendors are allowed to park their trucks for free while a permit and fee are needed in others. â€œWe have special vending districts within the city, but the only one that permits truck vending is University City. The fee for a motor vehicle truck in this area is $2,750 a year and it expires in December. Otherwise, if they are not vending in this area, they can set up on a street that is not on the Prohibited Streets List as long as they abide by the traffic regulations concerning parking,â€? said Kennedy. Unlike New York City, Philadelphia has approximately 250 licensed food trucks, according to the department of licenses and inspections records. There is no limit to the number of operating food trucks in the city, but in University City, only 75 truck vendors are permitted. Although Philadelphia requires vendors to obtain permits that only allow them to park and operate in certain areas, food truck entrepreneurs want to be able to roam the city. The city is weary on what tension and hostility the ability to roam could cause.
REQUIREMENTS FOR MOBILE VENDING UNIT FOODSERVICE OPERATIONS General: 1. All food must be clean, wholesome, free from spoilage, adulteration, and safe for human consumption. 2. All food shall be from approved licensed facilities or be prepared on unit, subject to Health Department approval. 3. A person-in-charge must be present at the site at all times. 4. Personnel must wear clean outer garments and must keep their hands clean at all times while engaged in food handling operations. 5. All individuals involved in food handling activities must wear a suitable head covering or hair restraint to protect the food from contamination. 6. All persons with signs, symptom or diagnosis with any foodborne illness must report it to the person in charge. 7. Restrooms must be readily available for employee use. 8. Mobile food units must be constructed so as to be easily movable by one person when fully operational and in compliance with all other provisions of the Philadelphia Vendor Code. Obtained from the Philadelphia Office of Food Protection
Philly Food Trucks Take on New Yorkâ€™s Best at Vendys By PATRICK GORDON
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Mario Batali has been successful in the food industry as a chef and restaurateur for 30 years, so when he expresses an opinion on something, people tend to listen. Case in point: the annual Vendy Awards, where Batali serves as a judge. Recognized as one of the top food events in New York City, the Vendys are an annual cook-off competition pitting the best food trucks in the Big Apple against each other for street vendor supremacy. Nearly 20 food trucks compete in the annual event and vie for one of four awards - Rookie Vendor of the Year, Best Dessert, People’s Taste and the coveted Vendy Cup, awarded to the best food truck as judged on by a celebrity panel.
enjoyed live music and unlimited food from 18 different vendors. Proceeds from the sale of each ticket (ranging from $80 to $220) went to the Street Vendor Project, earmarked directly to assist immigrant vendors with legal representation and advocacy efforts. “There really is a unique atmosphere, almost like you are at a carnival,” said Yolanda Simmons, a hot dog cart vendor based in Atlantic City who has attended the Vendys. “I like seeing what different people are doing, the different types of food and styles. Being in the business, it also gives me a chance to see new things that I may be able to improve upon with my cart.”
Simmons witnesses the day-to-day tribulations of running a sidewalk business “It’s like the Oscars of food for the real New firsthand, so she also appreciates the York,” Batali has said. newfound fanfare of her craft. The Vendys originated in the Big Apple in 2006 as a fundraiser for the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center. The competition has since blossomed into a yearly highlight for hundreds of food vendors and connoisseurs up and down the Eastern Seaboard. More than 1,000 people bought tickets to last year’s event on Governors Island and
“I’m glad people enjoy the trucks because it wasn’t always like that,” Simmons said. “We weren’t celebrated. People used to think we were a nuisance, but that’s not the case anymore. We now have our own day.” Thanks to a partnership between the Street Vendor Project and Philly Homegrown, an initiative of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, three food trucks
It’s like the Oscars of food for the real New York. - Mario Batali, celebrity judge
from Philadelphia were invited to the Vendy Awards last year. The trio of trucks marked the first time vendors from outside New York City participated in the competition. “It was a neat experience to show everyone what we could do,” said Tom McCusker, owner and operator of Honest Tom’s Taco Shop, one of the three food trucks invited to the competition. “They hauled the trucks up on two flatbeds. It was interesting to see the [best] food trucks of New York City all in one place, and Governors Island was beautiful.”
committed to hosting the competition sometime in late 2011. “Philadelphia is a natural choice for a Vendy Awards and other celebratory gatherings that shine a light on Philly’s homegrown and diverse food cultures,” GPTMC President and CEO Meryl Levitz said in a recent press release. “Residents and visitors alike are eating their way through the Philadelphia region like never before.”
Along with Honest Tom’s Taco Shop, Denise’s Soul Food and Birchrun on a Roll represented Philadelphia in the contest. “I think food trucks in Philadelphia are really starting to boom,” McCusker said. “From what people come and tell me, there should be another 20 or 30 trucks opening this year of all different types of foods.” The idea of a food truck competition is catching on elsewhere as well. Los Angeles held its first Vendy Awards last year and had more than 1,000 food trucks nominated for consideration. Philadelphia, too, will get involved with the Vendy circuit later this year when the city hosts its own food truck cook-off. Details of when and where remain elusive, but the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation is
Poster announcing New York’s Vendy awards: streetvendor.org
Photo by Natalia Chiarelli
Above: Honest Tom’s truck made the trip to Governors Island for this year’s Vendy Awards along with Birchrun on a Roll and Denise’s Soul Food. Right: The Vendy Awards have expanded to the West Coast, with an annual competition held in Los Angeles (poster provided by streetvendor.org).
The American Dream ...
For some of Americaâ€™s newest citizens, the road to prosperity is being navigated in a food truck. Feature and photography by DENISE CLAY 12
on wheels Denise Severe’s Carribean Soul Food truck may be mobile, but her biggest journey is already behind her. Severe started selling platters of her trademark dishes – including fried fish, oxtails, jerk chicken and collard greens – from her Philadelphia home when she first arrived here from Haiti. The food was such a hit with those who came to her home for weekly dinners that she decided to take the show on the road. “I bought my first food truck in 1996,” she said. “I have two now.” She’s not alone. At a time when Americans are willing to try any type of food at least once, immigrants looking for a way to make their mark in their new home are taking a variety of foods – including sushi, lo mein, curried chicken and quesadillas – to the streets to satisfy that need. Some, like Dien Vinh, owner of Tommy’s Food Truck on Temple University’s main campus, are even adding their spin to American food to try and get consumers
to see it in a different way. Vinh, a native of Vietnam, decided to take a chance on feeding the students through the help of a friend. “A friend of mine sold me this truck,” he said. “It had been here for a long time and we do well here, especially at breakfast.” People like Severe and Vinh are part of a growing trend, according to Future of Small Business, a report released by Intuit Inc. and the Institute of the Future. Immigrants make up the fastest growing segment of small business owners, according to the report, and immigrants will make up a sizable portion of the small business base by 2017. Furthermore, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, small business startup rates are higher among the 36 million immigrants in the United States than they are among the native-born. Immigrant women like Severe are 57 percent more likely to start a business than native-women, and immigrant men, like Vinh,
are 71 percent more likely to do so, said Robert Fairlie, an economist who produces the Kauffman Index. Part of that willingness to take a chance on creating a business on the part of the immigrant community comes from the barriers that meet them when searching for a job. Language, skill sets, and other things sometimes cause immigrants to forge their own path, according to the report. But once these immigrants figure things out and start a business like a food truck, it not only helps the immigrants’ community, but it also helps the
nation’s economy, said Steven King of the Institute for the Future. “Because immigrants can easily navigate “soft trade barriers” – culture, language, unusual rules or ways of doing things overseas – they increase trade and foreign investment in the United States,” he said. Below: Denise Severe began Denise’s Caribbean Soul Food from her home when she first arrived from Haiti. Now she owns two food trucks.
Food Trucks and the Economy Low startup costs and a slew of success stories By DENAMARIE ERCOLANI These tough economic times have spurred the popularity of food trucks for low-end entrepreneurs. Opening a food truck costs less than opening a restaurant, but is the risk any less? It turns out that food truck costs are harder to predict — gas and food prices are extremely volatile. Basic staples such as rice, corn and sugar are at all-time highs. Meanwhile, the increased worldwide demand and lack of production could cause domestic gas prices to reach $5 per gallon by 2012, according to the United States Energy Information Administration. The major advantage of food trucks is mobility. The owner has the freedom to find hotspots throughout the city, and move when business cools. With low capital expense – less electricity usage, smaller staffs, less insurance costs - the upside seems huge. But food trucks come with the cost of transience, most notably the unstable fuel markets that can befoul a bottom line. This volatility can cripple profits.
According to smallfoodbiz.com, financing a food truck is pricey, especially when it comes down to filling up the gas tank. Consider that the average food truck: •
has a 20-gallon diesel tank
gets 10 miles per gallon
drives approximately 50 miles daily, and
operates 25 days a month.
Diesel prices are currently $3.97 per gallon, which means that it will cost you $500 for gas over the course of the month. •
$3.97 (cost per gallon) / 10 (miles per gallon) = $.40 (gas cost per mile)
$.40 x 50 (miles driven per day) = $20 (gas cost per day)
$20 x 25 (days per month worked) = $500
The Rise and Fall As told by owner Jeff Henretig 16
At a glance, a food truck is one of the simplest business forms known to the American economy. My mom refers to the food truck as the grown up’s lemonade stand – and it is. You make a food product and passersby who haven’t eaten yet that day come up to your window and buy your product. You try to sell your product for more than it cost to make it and BAM, you got a food truck. Coup de Taco Blog November 4, 2009
All photos courtesy Coup de Taco, www.facebook.com
By EMIL STEINER
of Coup de Taco 17
In the beginning It all got started in June 2009, right after I graduated Wharton business school. At the time I had actually been thinking about franchising some kind of yogurt joint – a Red Mango or a Pinkberry, which were popular in New York, but hadn’t caught on Philly yet. I was also getting interested in healthier foods and nutrition. I had just read The China Study (T. Colin Campbell), and that had me thinking about veganism – food with no animal products. Unfortunately, the franchise model is tough for the entrepreneur. The parent company really has you by the balls. In most cases, you put up $300,000 to $500,000.You buy everything, but the franchisor has the control.You lose all creativity as the franchisee. Everything is vetted by the parent company and you bear all the risk. It just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. So I started thinking that maybe I should start my own company and then maybe someday turn it into a franchise. I wanted to do it regionally, small at first and then grow an audience. But it wasn’t until a wedding that the business began to take shape. During a reception in the summer of 2009, I met up with a couple of friends I’d known since grade school – Peter Berman and Rich Lopatin. We were just kicking around ideas about how there were no healthy late-night options in Rittenhouse Square.You either had greasy diner food or lousy pizza. With so many young professionals in the area, it seemed ridiculous that the selection was so limited. Two of us had just gotten our MBAs but, with the economy being bad, our offers had been deferred.
That gave us a lot of flexibility, and if you want to start a food truck in Philadelphia, that’s the one thing you need.
Planning the Coup Peter, Rich, and I wrote a [business] plan. The more we put stuff on paper, the more we realized that we could do this, and really quickly, too. When we first started talking we were interested in doing healthy food. The problem is that none of us are vegetarians. The more we thought about it, the less likely it seemed we could do that. Instead, we wanted to have a good food with veggie options and healthy meats. We were inspired by Kogi, a food truck in Los Angeles. The truck, founded by Mark Manguera, offered Korean barbecue fusion. By using social networking, he really killed it. He went on Twitter, announced where he’d be that day and people drove miles and lined up around the block to eat his food. He opened more and more trucks and even
started a restaurant. He was getting written up in the Wall Street Journal and Bon Appétit at just the time when we were getting together our business plan. We consulted with a sous chef at Snack Bar who made the case: Why not serve international food in the form of a taco? I just started experimenting with recipes. Soon I came up with our Thai Chicken and Chicken Marsala. The barbecue pulled pork was my mom’s family recipe. I mixed in seitan a lot and turned them into vegetarian options. As we started hiring chefs, the menu started to change. It’s a really cool format for chefs to experiment. We added Cuban Ropa Vieja. We tried Swedish Meatballs. There are limitless international dishes you can throw on a taco soft shell. It allows for culinary ad-libbing.
You Can’t Beat Bureaucracy Trying to start any business in Philadelphia is a pain in the ass. Trying to start a food business in Philadelphia is a full-time job. I can’t imagine how someone could do it if they were employed. It would be basically impossible. You can’t call or e-mail anyone – it’s just a mess.You go to one office and they don’t know who to talk to You wait and wait. Nothing moves at reasonable speed. You also need business privilege license from Labor and Industry. Then you also need a food vending license and the health inspection – that comes after you have your truck. You need to have sinks, equipment, fridges, freezers etc. The health inspection is just an obscure building
Left: Owners purchased a used truck from Craigslist to start their business.
Above: Jeff Henretig and Peter Berman begin the process of refinishing the old Choppies truck.
that you have to go to in person. Co-located with the local morgue in a bland building that is mismarked on Google Maps, the Philadelphia Department of Health is a marvel of modern municipal government. Although this department is a daunting obstacle for any entrepreneur to navigate, I have one observation that warms my heart when I go back there again and again for licenses, certifications and 20
the like. We’ve been there about six times and each time there are people of all stripes, clothing types, races, ethnicities, classes – you name it, this is a department with a diverse clientele. There are so many hoops to jump through, we went to at least four bureaucracies. That was our job for the first few months, as well as finding where to buy all our equipment and food and the truck itself. There are two places that outfit food trucks. They buy raw trucks and outfit them with kitchens, etc.
I can’t imagine how someone could do it if they were employed. It would be basically impossible. - Jeff Henretig
They’re really fancy, really nice – one in South Jersey, one in Fishtown. They outfit it with everything, but it’s extremely expensive – $80,000 to $100,000. We didn’t do that. We got a truck that was pretty good for what we needed off of Craigslist. It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done. We put another $10,000 to $15,000 into our truck, installing a new propane burner and new electrical wiring.You also have to secure all the equipment so it doesn’t move around when you’re driving. Our startup costs were still only around $40,000 to $50,000. In addition to the basic Philly Labor and Industry and health code permits, you also need an additional special district license to be a food vendor in University City. Since the University of Pennsylvania’s campus is a desirable area for vendors, they really make you work to break in. Once you’re in it, though, you get your own spot that no one can use - but you can’t be anywhere else. The only way to work with them is to be patient and to go in person.You put your name down
and make an appointment and you just sit around waiting until you make enough of a fuss that they decide to see you.You need to get photos and fill out forms and then you get put on a waitlist. Then you have to go back - there’s no faxing the information in. You have to return to the office, sit around and wait. Then, eventually, you may get on the black-box waitlist. But who knows if it will ever turn into a spot in University City? You have to keep following up and reminding them that you’re alive. They say there are 100 spots, yet they need to audit to see if there’s availability even thought there are only 40 or 50 trucks. Finally they said yes. And we were like, “Awesome!” The process took about three months. We started in June and we got it in the first week of September. We got it the day we bought the truck. Our spot was on 40th Street in between Spruce and Locust. 38th is the most desirable street because it’s closer to dorms, but we figured we could get a better latenight crowd where we were with more off-campus housing.
of Christian Street and they have a few food trucks. We’d never really used all the equipment before, so it was a trial by fire.
Once all the permits and truck came together, basically, all of the sudden it was the middle of It was pouring rain that day, and nearly every other October. The day after health inspection came through, it was Bloktoberfest 2009 and that was our food truck bailed. It was only us and “Honest Tom’s.” And, of course, everything that can go wrong does. first day in business and it was nuts. The health inspector shows up, as they sometimes do for big events. Even though we had just passed Bloktoberfest Philly is held around the 2000 block
Above: Richard Loptain assembles tacos with fresh ingredients.
inspection, they insisted on trying everything again. By that point, you just become immune to the idiocy.
We managed to sell out of our food even though we had no idea how to work efficiently. But we pulled through. We took the money we made and finished painting the truck. On Nov. 1, we opened for business on Penn campus.
It’s a thin line between hiring to staff until midnight.You can’t just experiment one day. But experimentation with hours is dangerous. When we tried a move one day to Temple, our Penn fans got pissed. Getting established requires putting in huge amounts of time. People at Penn started missing us. Diners were fickle.
The Social Network Giveth…
The Commissary Conundrum
Oktoberfest was great for us. Since we were one of only two trucks there, we got a lot of press. We met Drew Lazor, who writes the Meal Ticket blog for the City Paper. He gave us a nice write up. That was followed by Penn’s student blog, Under The Button.
The trickiest part of running a successful food truck is not what you do during working hours, but what you do after hours. If you don’t have a kitchen, you need a commissary – a place where you store inventory at night. Ideally this is where
They picked up the story from Drew and were stoked about a new, cool food truck. We had a huge few days. We started getting all this press. People really liked our stuff. I’ve always been very intrigued by consumer psychology and the role it plays in driving traffic to your retail location. Our goal was to create a social buzz around our truck that stems from a combination of a diverse menu of healthy unique items, superior customer service and sheer entertainment. As an entrepreneur, it’s tough to figure out what you’re willing to spend on labor and what you’re willing to do yourself.You end up exhausted. I was doing all the cooking and my partner was on the bus all day. We were hesitant to hire more people. 40th [street] is good for dinner and evening food (9 p.m.-midnight). We never quite caught on
Above: The truck served a variety of tacos and taco bowls. 23
Above: The completed Coup de Taco truck hits the streets in University City. you store the truck. We never could find a place that facilitated us, and that was a big piece of the downfall of the business. Most trucks in Philly have a restaurant that serves as their commissary. Sometimes itâ€™s the same owner. That was the big question for us, and the thing
that haunted us through the whole process. There are very few places where you can rent a kitchen thatâ€™s commercial grade at the beginning. Health inspection requires that you have one, though. But for what it costs, you may as well own a restaurant. Our food needed to be prepped elsewhere. Due to it being fresh and not just grilled burgers and steaks,
we couldn’t use the truck alone. That’s how you cook Indian, that’s how you cook Thai. Our whole model was based on using a restaurant and kitchen. At first we found a place called Philly Kitchen Share on South Street. It was very expensive. The facility worked for us, but just barely.
We tried to work out a model based on how much food we served. It was reliant on us having a lot of business. We had a lot of business during our first year. But we weren’t crushing it. It takes a little while for your brand to get established, especially at a place like Penn with so much competition. There are a variety of reasons we could have done better. All in all, we couldn’t afford it in the end.
Left: Henretig drives his newly purchased truck.
Successful food trucks, like Clover, in Boston, have a kitchen somewhere, and they make the jump to restaurant.You need a restaurant for it to make sense economically. There are tons of trucks that operate outside of law (meaning they cook at home). Another option is to buy a restaurant in a low-income area and use it for facilities and as a storefront, no seating. Then you put your truck in an awesome location and then you crush it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that option.
There had just been a coup d’état in Honduras. When he heard that we were serving taco-style fusion, he suggested the name. I thought that was really cool, and the rest is history.
A Taco by Any Other Name…
Looking back, I love the name in theory. It’s fun and quirky, but I don’t think it was the best name for the business in the long run. There ended up being a lot of confusion. People hear taco and think Mexican. They would come up to truck and be confused. We created a portable not-so-messy flour tortilla stuffed with rice, veggies, sauce and meat. It’s more like a mini-burrito than a taco.
The name Coup de Taco was from one of my best friends from college. We had been chucking around names, some worked but none stuck. I have an e-mail chain with all my best buddies. One is this super creative guy who works at law firm in Brazil.
If that’s what you came to us for, then you’d be disappointed or confused. People thought of tacos and thought they should be cheaper. We sold two for $6. It messed with the pricing. In that sense, the name didn’t really work great for us.
We had a cool logo. On the other hand it didn’t really capture what the food was and what people should expect. If I were to relaunch the business, I would almost definitely change the name to better reflect the product.
Blame “Entourage” We were approached by a marketing firm at the beginning of the 2010 school year. They wanted to do a promotion for HBO’s “Entourage” which is syndicated on PHL17. The firm, Mile 9 Marketing, was executing a campaign of guerilla tactics throughout Philly. They were contracting food trucks to give food out away to promote “Entourage.” They offered to pay us to give away food for two days – one in Center City and one on Penn Campus. They put in huge orders, 2,000 tacos. They also wanted to wrap the truck in an “Entourage” promotion. It seemed like a great deal for us. Then a number of things went wrong.
First, Mile 9 promised to repaint our truck if any damage was caused. Then after getting the wrap it became clear that they wanted us to keep it 30 days. They wrapped the truck a week in advance. Our truck basically became a billboard for the show. That created a huge controversy online. People accused us of selling out. Additionally, the chef we had hired was new and getting overworked. Two thousand tacos is a lot, and adapting the recipes was a challenge. The quality of the food wasn’t the tastiest. He didn’t get the spices right. Everything was going wrong. Our brand took a beating. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to work on it full time. The second year of business killed us. By that point, I had started my consulting job in New York City. It was too hard to manage the business in Philadelphia remotely, and the truck folded. But it’s the entrepreneurship that I love, and I think I’ll return to it at some point.
Left: Mile 9 Marketing wrapped the truck with an ad for the HBO program, “Entourage.”
Food Trucks in the ’Burbs West Chester food truck owners: ‘We love our customers’ Feature and photography by DANIELLE LYNCH
Rick VanNewkirk stumbled across the food truck business by accident. “My brother-in-law wanted to invest in something and decided on food trucks,” said VanNewkirk, the owner of Curbies Catering Carts, Inc. “He financed (the truck), and I said I’ll try it.”
space. The most difficult thing, he said, is working during the winter months because he has to keep the food warm. Josh Taylor, a West Chester University student, said he enjoys buying food from Curbies. He said the food truck reminds him of a diner because he gets “food with a personal touch.”
VanNewkirk, a Boothwyn, Delaware County resident, said the food truck has been in West Chester for the past three years. For 25 years he had worked for a heating and air conditioning business and bought the food truck from his brother-in-law last year. VanNewkirk said his truck, located on South Church Street between University and Rosedale avenues, is open for business during the school year. During the summer months, he does construction and excavating work. “I like the social aspect,” VanNewkirk said of his food truck work. “I get to know a lot of people and become friends with them. I’ve met people on campus from all around the world – it’s really interesting.” VanNewkirk said he enjoys seeing people’s reactions when they purchase his food, such as the cheese fries. He said his specialty dish is breakfast because customers can purchase it at any time of the day. “I like to see [the customers’] smiling faces,” he said. Curbies is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday during the school year. His wife, Kathy, stops by to help out during the busy hours of the day, which is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. VanNewkirk said it’s not difficult to work in a tiny
“ Left: Grateful Beans employees serve coffee with a smile. Above: Curbies Catering Cart specializes in breakfast food.
“I like it because I can get a good cup of regular coffee,” he said. “They give me good food.” After getting his order, Taylor thanked VanNewkirk and told him he’d stop by again soon. Across the street at Alexander’s Lunch Box, the owner, Arife Yilmaz, said she enjoys interacting with her customers.Yilmaz, an Upper Darby native who was born in Turkey, has owned the food truck for about two years. Yilmaz said the food truck has been in West Chester for about 20 years; she took it over when the former owner moved to Texas. Similar to VanNewkirk,Yilmaz said she wasn’t bothered by the small working space, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The interior is “suitable for two people,” said Samantha Biguers, a West Chester University student and employee at Alexander’s Lunch Box. “It’s not that bad.” Near Alexander’s Lunch Truck is a coffee truck
known as Grateful Beans. The truck has been in West Chester for about 14 years and is affiliated with Fennario Coffee & Tobacco shop, located in the 100 block of North Church Street in town. “We’re definitely not like Starbucks,” said Brendan Greene, one of the employees at Grateful Beans. “Our coffee is sold at fair-trade, which separates us from Starbucks.” Greene, a West Chester resident, said the majority of the organic coffee at his truck is from Mexico. The truck also sells Colombian, Brazilian and Guatemalan blends. It’s open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The truck offers specialty espresso drinks and also sells muffins and other baked goods. Similar to the owners and employees at the other food trucks in town, Greene said he isn’t bothered by the tiny workplace. The downside, he said, is working in cold weather. “It’s easier to work in a small space,” he said. “It’s easy to keep clean. It’s so nice and small and we love our customers.”
West Chester Officials outline Rules for Food Trucks In order to establish a food truck in West Chester, there are several rules and regulations an individual must follow, according to the borough’s ordinances. First, food truck owners need to fill out an application for a seller’s license with the borough. On the application, the owners must include their home address, name of their organization or company, hours of operation, vehicle information, driver’s license number, insurance card number and indicate whether they’ve been convicted of any 30
crime other than a minor traffic violation. “A license will not be issued to any person who has been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor or a crime of any kind involving moral turpitude, and such person shall not be allowed to engage in canvassing and soliciting in the borough,” states the borough’s peddling and soliciting ordinance. The owners need to have a Pennsylvania tax identification number and must also include their
food vendor’s license number, which is available through Chester County. Once the application is complete, the owners must write a $100 check to the borough and provide two photos of themselves, taken within six months of the application date, according to borough’s procedure for seller’s licenses. “Each person that is selling needs a license,” states a copy of the borough’s procedure. “So if there are four people on the hot dog truck each one needs a license.” Food trucks are permitted in the Town Center Zoning District of the borough. If food truck owners want to set up on private property, they have to get permission from the property owner. Otherwise, owners have the right to set up in public areas as long as it’s not in the right of way, according to borough documents. “Private groups, such as the Recreation Department and the Chamber of Commerce, have control of the vending during their events and can license them accordingly,” borough documents say. “For example, during the Halloween Parade, which is after 7 p.m., vending can take place in the area of the special event only with the approval of the Recreation Department.” If approved by borough officials, an application for a food truck is valid for one year. Food truck owners are not allowed to change the category of goods sold while the application is in effect, according to the borough’s ordinance.
The borough manager, Ernie McNeely, has the right to suspend a food truck license if an owner does not comply with standards of conduct and other responsibilities, according to the borough’s ordinance. Some of those responsibilities include carrying a seller’s license at all times; not entering private property without permission; and misrepresenting himself or herself to the public. Food truck owners, however, have the right to appeal a license suspension. The owners must request an appeal hearing with Borough Council, who can then reinstate the license; affirm the revocation of the license; or affirm or modify the suspension for up to five years. Some people are not required to get a seller’s license in the borough, including farmers selling their own produce. Exemptions also apply to people who are selling goods and merchandise donated by an owner with the end result being a charitable donation, according to the borough ordinance. People who are licensed by the state to engage in solicitation, such as real estate brokers, insurance brokers, and securities brokers, are also exempt from borough licenses. In addition, the ordinance and application does not apply to political campaign workers. And it does not apply to individuals under the age of 16 who may be taking orders for newspaper deliveries, candy or Girl Scout cookies. Lastly, food truck owners are responsible for trash removal and cleanup within 15 feet of their stand, according to the borough ordinance. If needed, the owners must also wash the sidewalk area near the stand.
What are Feature and photography by MAGGIE REYNOLDS Moveable Feasts caught up with hungry Philadelphians around the city to ask what kind of truck food they were eating.
At left: Lauren Powers on the University of Pennsylvania campus. “I always get the hot dogs. I can’t believe I’m letting you take this picture.”
you eating? Top right: Samantha James (right) and Amy Brookover (left) enjoy tepanyaki at Temple. “Asian food every time. It’s the only truck we go to.”
Bottom right: Dana Fischer (middle) and friends eating chicken from a cart outside the National Museum of American Jewish History. “Food tastes better from trucks. I’m pretty sure the truck adds something extra.”
Top left: Erin Arndt (left) and friends eating ice cream from a cart near Independence Hall. “We go for the sweet trucks. Anything with ice cream or cupcakes.”
Bottom left: Sheila Wright stops for lunch in University City. “It’s so easy to grab something for lunch. I almost always get the chicken buffalo wrap.”
Top right: Jennifer from Cincinati is a tourist with insider information. “I follow the cupcake trucks’ Twitter feeds so I can find them. These are amazing!”
Bottom right: Dennis stands outside of Gigi’s truck in University City. “If I were to pick something from a food truck, it would be something that I don’t see every day.”
A look from the
Photo courtesy catering-truck-rentals.com
By SHANNON McLAUGHLIN
inside ... out Even the biggest food trucks don’t exceed approximately 8 feet in width. That’s not a lot of space for food to serve your guests, let alone the vessels to cook it in or the countertops where you’re assembling it. The standard food truck, according to Catering Truck Rentals, is less than 19 feet long and shorter than 11 feet tall. The national company rents everything from hot dog carts to temporary kitchens (often used in disaster relief work). Typical customers rent trucks to serve food
at special events or trade shows, according to the company’s website. Most food trucks feature a gas or flat-top stove to prepare large quantities of food quickly, as well as a double sink to meet hygiene requirements. Lucky truck owners will have a few feet of space to keep prepared ingredients and another foot or two to assemble everything from sandwiches and salads to tacos and soups.
he of t e m , e so rucks d i s t od k in loo ful fo d e s anc ucces og: l h b n ’ s e m an ost easts t.co For on’s m eable F o p v i gs nat the Mo .blo g a t m visi uck r t od yfo l l i ph
Photo by Maggie Reynolds
Sexy Green Truck Replaces Burgers with Salads By SHANNON McLAUGHLIN In 2008, Selim Zeka’s food truck was on its last legs. Competing with other burger and cheesesteak carts on Temple University’s campus, business was slow, and there was nothing to make the truck stand out among a long line of others outside the Student Center. Enter Ben Schneible. Now a senior, Schneible was then a sophomore student at Temple’s Fox School of Business who had helped found the school’s Students for Responsible Business (SRB). He was struck by the number of trucks that all offered the same greasy fare – and he was looking for a project. Schneible approached Zeka and Rudi Gurra, the truck’s co-owner, with a plan. He and another SRB member would make some quick suggestions for change based on market research, anecdotal
observations around campus and insight as students themselves. Three weeks later – in time for the annual campus Spring Fling, the 2008 theme of which focused on sustainability – Zeka’s truck had been painted green, was serving an entirely fresh, new menu, and had a new name: The Sexy Green Truck. “We handed out coupons [at Spring Fling] and the line for the truck was down the street,” Schneible said. They estimate that business went up some 400 percent immediately following the grand re-opening. The truck was originally going to be called The Green Truck, but Schneible said the group was surprised to hear from another sustainability-minded truck in California named
the Go Green Truck. After receiving a cease and desist letter, Schneible and his partner decided to tack on the “Sexy,” which had already been painted under the truck’s countertop as an inside joke among staffers. Schneible, who has experience with catering and whose mother is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, suggested that the truck take its menu in a greener direction. “I’ve always paid attention to food,” he said. Soon the truck was as well known for its wraps, salads and vegetarian fare as for its bright green color. Sustainability was also a big part of Schneible’s and SRB’s mission in remaking the Sexy Green Truck. By buying local, organic ingredients, Zeka is able to contribute to lowering carbon emissions by reducing food transportation. The truck’s power source is tied into the grid right now, but Schneible has big plans for that too. “We are looking into PECO wind,” he said. Buying locally also allows him to support nearby farmers and retailers. “I try to bring in different produce,” Zeka said. The truck always offers organic coffee, spinach and
yogurt, he said, and is well known for using only cage-free eggs. “In the summer, the Amish bring [produce] by twice a week,” he said. That usually enables him to offer local lettuce, cucumbers and other vegetables. Three years later, Zeka says business is still booming. He estimates the truck serves nearly 300 people a day. He, his wife and two other chefs staff the 20-by-8 truck from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., 5 days a week. Between semester breaks and a summer vacation, the truck works all but about 8 weeks each year. Students are still snapping up the pesto chicken and hummus wraps, Zeka said, which were immediately popular on the new menu in 2008. Paninis, pitas and wraps are his other most-popular items. Schneible and SRB are still very much involved with the truck on a volunteer basis. “We’re not trying to profit,” Schneible said. He still talks with Zeka often, offering suggestions and networking opportunities. As of now, the Sexy Green Truck remains the only truck with a focus on organic foods and sustainability on campus – and Zeka wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s unique to Temple,” Zeka said.
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Above: Sexy Green Truck has more than 50 options on its menu. Right: The truckâ€™s green paint job stands out on Montgomery Street.
Creperie at Temple Feature and photography by DENISE CLAY “Number 13!” Upon hearing her number called, Chi Chi, a humanities student at Temple University, comes to the window at the Creperie At Temple to claim her favorite treat: a Nutella, banana and strawberry crepe. “I just started coming here a few days ago and I’m here all the time now,” she said. “I’ll probably be back later.” On any day, you’ll hear the numbers called as you walk by the truck located near the Tyler School of Art, and they don’t pertain to specific types of crepes. They refer to orders – something made necessary by the volume of sweet and savory dishes the Creperie cranks out. Behind a steaming grill, Billy Zacharatos, a 1995 Temple grad and owner of the popular food truck, puts crepe dough on a round grill, spreads it out thinly, and waits for it to cook before turning it over and filling it. “We do really well here,” he said. “Everyone seems to enjoy the crepes. I love being here with the kids.” While the crepes are tasty, students love the truck even more because it’s cheap. For $5.25, you can get a savory crepe with a soda. For $4.25, a sweet crepe and a drink can be your snack.
e câ€™est Magnifique
Above: Students wait as several crepes are prepared on the griddle.
Top right: A Nutella, banana and strawberry crepe is about to make someone very happy. Bottom right: Billy Zacharatos, a 1995 Temple grad and owner of the crepe truck.
Andy Carrara brings joy and cupcakes with his wife Kate. 46
All images courtesy Buttercream
Anyone? By DENISE CLAY
The Buttercream cupcake truck is comfort food in the middle of finals week. back in business and doing fine. From a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich to start your day to a plate of jerk chicken and rice and beans to end it, nearly every cuisine has its own food truck here in Philadelphia. To that list, you can also include dessert. Armed with a menu that includes cupcakes ranging from Red Velvet to Peanut Butter to Dulce de Leche, the Buttercream cupcake truck makes its way around the city, sharing cupcake goodness with everyone from radio disc jockeys to newspaper reporters to students needing a little
The truck is the brainchild of Kate Carrara, an attorney who decided that if the choice was taking (depositions) or baking (cupcakes), cupcakes had the edge. She bought a truck, modified it, and took her snacks on the road, according to her husband, Andy, who sometimes works in the truck. “This is the first cupcake truck in the city,” he said. “She had originally thought about starting a bakery, but she opted for a truck.” But while she opened a truck because
she figured it would be easier to negotiate than a bakery, easy turned out to be relative, Andy Carrara said. A trip on the Buttercream website takes you through the odyssey the couple went through to keep their cupcakes from going flat. That quest included battles with the City of Philadelphia’s Licensing and Inspections bureau, licensing issues, and problems getting one simple question answered: Where can we park the truck? “Just dealing with the city was difficult at first,” Andy Carrara said. “We didn’t get the help we needed. We would ask them if we could park the truck in a certain place, and instead of telling us where we could park, they would only tell us where we couldn’t.” One of the places where they couldn’t park the truck was University City, a lesson they learned the hard way when L&I confiscated the truck – and the goodies inside.
The outcry from Buttercream fans found its ways to media outlets including The Huffington Post, NBC-10 News and blogs around the country. Now, the city and the Cupcake Lady have made their peace. “After the confiscation, the city has been really helpful,” Andy Carrera said. “She’s been really happy with them.” Buttercream’s luscious snacks are baked at the Four Worlds Bakery in West Philadelphia and taken on the road from Tuesday to Sunday.
The truck makes stops all over the city, including Temple University, radio station WXPN, the Philadelphia Inquirer building and LOVE Park in Center City. But if you’re not there when Buttercream makes its weekly visit to your section of the city, you’re out of luck until the next week.
Carrara said. “Doing it that way makes it more special. If the truck were there every day, you would take it for granted. This way, you can’t.” Buttercream’s cupcakes are $2 each or six for $10. To find out when Buttercream is coming to your section of the city, you can call 267-5057486 or follow the truck on Twitter at http:// www.twitter.com/Buttercreamphl.
“We only go to each stop once a week,” Andy
Above: Among the Buttercream truck’s most popular cupcakes are the classic vanilla with sprinkles.
Staying healthy, even at a lunch truck Feature and photography by NATALIA CHIARELLI
It’s noon in West Philadelphia, and students and medical employees are hungry. For more than a few, that hunger will be quelled by a quick purchase from a local food cart.
calorie food with the limited budget and time many professionals and students have can lead to the dreaded “freshman 15,” for example, or a diet lacking in nutrition.
But with that speediness comes a tradeoff. Anyone who’s eaten from a food truck can attest that the food overwhelmingly leans toward the unhealthy and fattening variety.
“Access to very cheap, high calorie food is so easy. It’s just so abundant,” Patience said. “It can be hard for us to moderate what we eat when it’s all around us all the time.”
And despite the healthy food trucks that seem to be pervading the scene in Philadelphia, it can still be challenging to make nutritious choices.
It’s particularly hard for students, many of whom have become responsible for their diets for the first time in their lives.
“We’re conditioned through human history to prefer those sort of really palatable foods,” said Nicole Patience, a clinical dietician at Temple University’s Student Health Services.
“It’s so tempting, alluring to just ‘quick grab-andgo, and my belly is full,’” she said. “Just because the belly is full doesn’t mean that our nutrition needs are met.”
“The things that are more calorie-dense, in caveman days they were the things that were more highly prized.”
That’s why the Temple Student Health Services offers tips, information and support to those concerned about their nutrition.
Balancing this genetically driven urge for high
There are several useful ways to curb irrational,
Photo by Maggie Reynolds
impulsive food choices at your favorite truck. “A good way to stick to what you wanted is to pre-order so you’re not standing there smelling all that great food,” said Patience. “A lot of the trucks have healthy options, but when you smell the french fries wafting out, that impulse when we’re hungry.” The healthy options may not be as limited as some hungry customers may think, either. “There are some wonderful soups from the Asian or Vietnamese,” said Patience. “The Korean Truck has the teppanyaki, even a piece of pizza with vegetable toppings.”
“I probably would not eat nearly as much fruit if I didn’t have the habit of coming here,” said Noelle Palmira, 36. “I don’t have the time to cut and wash the fruit, and when I do buy it at home it ends up going bad.” For Palmira, eating healthy is easier with a strawberry and banana smoothie from Liem Nguyen. For the last 15 years, Nguyen has operated Liem’s Fruit Salad Truck on N. Broad Street and W. Allegheny Avenue. Unlike other truck owners who rely on greasy foods for sales, Nguyen takes pride in his decision to keep his fare nutritious.
For some, food trucks “I keep them healthy,” end up having a positive Nguyen said. influence in people’s lives. Look no further than the many fresh fruit and smoothie trucks in front of the Temple Hospital on Broad Street.
The updated USDA healthy pyramid, courtesy USDA.
Scheming of a food A successful truck layout starts with the decision as to whether you will be preparing food inside the truck itself or off-site at a commissary. Prepping in the truck means more space for cooking surfaces like broilers and deep fryers. Also consider that those cooking units will require hoods and ventilation in most municipalities, as well as a sprinkler system. Another thing to remember is that absolutely everything within the truck must be bolted down to avoid safety hazards when moving. Overhead cabinetry is a great way to store supplies and servingware, but remember that you must securely fasten doors shut before moving the vehicle. Finally, remember the customer outside your truck. An awning is an investment worth considering.
truck of your own?
Iron Chef Jose Garces talks Tacos By SHANNON McLAUGHLIN and NATALIA CHIARELLI
Photos courtesy Garces Restaurant Group 56
Philadelphia food trucks aren’t just cheesesteaks and gyros anymore. And they aren’t just limited to stationary cinder blocks during the Center City lunch rush, either. Need proof? None other than Iron Chef Jose Garces has taken the scene in a completely new direction. Garces’ beer-cap-bedazzled taco truck, Guapos Tacos, has been making nocturnal weekend trips around the city since it launched in March. Typical spots include 2nd and Poplar in Northern Liberties and between 20th and 21st streets across from Whole Foods in Fairmount. The truck is covered in 45,000 beer bottle caps
and usually hits the streets between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. Devotees have declared the tacos, traditionally thought of as street food, to be as sublime in the early evening as they are after a long night. Garces was already well known as a celebrity restaurateur and winner of the Food Network’s “Next Iron Chef” well before he put plans for Guapos Tacos into motion. He’s successfully launched more than a half dozen other restaurants throughout the city, with construction underway at an eighth property. Fans looking to catch up with the Guapos Tacos truck can follow along on Twitter @guapostacos.
Moveable Feasts caught up with Chef Garces to discuss his latest endeavor.
kitchens – sous-chefs, chefs-de-cuisine, and occasionally, even me.
Moveable Feasts: What led you to expand into the food truck realm?
MF: What has the scene been like at the truck? How consistent has business been?
Chef Jose Garces: When I travel, I always make a point of sampling as many different foods as I can, and that often includes street food from trucks or other vendors. In particular, I enjoyed terrific, satisfying street food snacks in Mexico City while I was there doing research to open Distrito. I wanted to bring those vibrant flavors to Philadelphia, and a food truck seemed like a fun way to make these snacks accessible.
JG: We’ve been very lucky to experience such a positive response. Whenever possible, we try to let our guests know where we’ll be in advance, and we use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to make sure that our whereabouts are available to anyone who wants to sample our food. We’ve also tried to visit many different neighborhoods, so people understand the spirit of the truck – that we’ll come to them, rather than the other way around.
MF: How is managing the truck’s business different from standard restaurant management? JG: There is a different permitting system associated with a mobile food business, so that has been a learning experience for us. Overall, though, the truck is wonderfully low maintenance – we load it up, prepare the food on the go, and share it with our friends. MF: Do you feel that an Iron Chef-backed food truck has elevated the culinary scene in terms of trucks in the city? JG: There is a real food truck renaissance sweeping the nation right now, which is especially cool because it echoes the lively street food cultures in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Guapos Tacos is just another piece of that puzzle.
MF: What kinds of special events have been booked for the truck so far? JG: The truck is already booked for a birthday party or two, a going-away party for a large company, and a wedding. We really want people to think of it for any occasion. MF: Are there any plans to expand the truck’s business or hours? JG: We’re very new, so we’re really playing it all by ear at this point. We love working private events, and we expect that to be our primary business, but it’s also been great fun to show up around the city and interact with people in that way. MF: Are there any plans to launch any other trucks reflecting other restaurants in GRG?
MF: Who is cooking at Guapos Tacos? JG: The Guapos Tacos team comes from our GRG
JG: We don’t have plans for any other food trucks at this time, but we never say never.
Filling up with Cornbread Scenes from a Carriage By MAGGIE REYNOLDS
Photo courtesy Hawk Crall
Jennifer Merkle said the hardest part about driving a carriage is not being able to leave the horse all day.
their horses over to order from the truck, orders can be placed via a loud shout across the street.
“It makes it impossible to get any lunch, unless you’ve packed it,” said Merkle, a driver for 76 Carriage Company.
“He wants us to yell what we want,” said Derr, adding that Brown also wants to know whether the carriage drivers are paying with $5, $10 or $20.
Merkle and her horse and co-worker, “BB,” have been a regular fixture on 5th and 6th streets in Philadelphia for two years now. The solution to this problem has come in the form of a food truck run by James “Cornbread” Brown. “Cornbread saw that we were a captive audience and parked right next to the carriage stands,” said Sherry Derr, a driver of 76 Carriage Company. “On days when there aren’t very many rides, I get bored and hungry.”
Brown then leaves the truck, brings drivers their food and the change, and usually gets a tip for the effort. Serving mainly carriage drivers, he has perhaps carved out the most unique niche market of any food vendor in Philadelphia. In recent months, construction on 5th Street has pushed out local street vendors, causing carriage drivers to rely on their wits for food. “Mostly we just pack lunch,” said Derr. “But we can’t wait for Cornbread to get back.”
And although the drivers cannot pull Photo courtesy Jen Merkle
Students head for cover to avoid the bad weather, but an inexpensive lunch trumps the wind and drizzle.
nor Rain . . . Feature and photography by DENISE CLAY
Rain might make the trek more challenging, but it doesn’t stop students from hitting their favorite food truck.
Because you’re being asked to eat outside, food truck owners are asking a lot of their student consumers.
The rain was falling in sheets outside of the Pizza Shop truck at 13th Street and Montgomery Ave., near the Student Activities Center (SAC) at Temple University.
But as one truck owner, The Prince, said, mutual interest comes into play.
But it didn’t stop Jamie from waiting under an umbrella for her lunch. Under normal circumstances, she would have been standing in front of the Sexy Green Truck nearby, but ... “The line was too long,” she said.
“They have to eat somewhere,” he says. “We give them good food here. Business may drop off a little when it rains, but we still do okay.”
But you’ll stand in the rain for your second favorite? “It costs less than the food at SAC,” Jamie said. “I can afford this.”
Above: According to â€œThe Prince,â€? (top) good food keeps students coming no matter what the weather brings. Top right: Students wait outside the Student Activity Center for lunch. Bottom right:The rainy scene along N. 13 Street.
Photo by Natalia Chiarelli
in Review The Prince’s Food Truck.................................................................................68 Unnamed Hot Dog Cart................................................................................70 Gigi & Big R........................................................................................................72 Bui’s Truck...........................................................................................................74 Insomnia Cookies Truck..................................................................................76 Steak Queen Truck...........................................................................................78 Hemo’s Truck.....................................................................................................80 Yue Kee Truck.....................................................................................................82 Dapper Dog......................................................................................................84 Ernie’s Truck......................................................................................................86 U Got Munchies...............................................................................................88 Tepanyaki Truck................................................................................................90 Brother’s Pizza Truck.......................................................................................92 Sexy Green TruckTommy’s Truck.................................................................94
The Princeâ€™s Food Truck
Photos by Denise Clay
Parked outside Paley Library, Temple U. Study snacks, if you’re smart, aren’t very heavy for reasons including the desire to stay awake long enough to study. Fortunately, the trucks outside of Paley Library understand this and give you fare light enough to fill your tummy without knocking you out. One of those trucks is owned and operated by The Prince. For $5, you can grab a quesedilla and a can of soda, something that made me happy because of my love of (a) Mexican food and (b) inexpensive Mexican food. The tortilla, cheese and chicken meld together to provide a packet of goodness that only gets better when sour cream and salsa are added (although adding some guacamole would turn something good into something spectacular). The quesedilla isn’t the only royal snack you can get from this Prince. Also try the cheeseburger and fries special, which features a burger with your choice of cheese that you can personalize for $5.50. Denise Clay
Unnamed Hot Dog Cart If youâ€™re looking for cheap hangover food in Rittenhouse Square, your only food truck option on the weekends is this nameless stop at 18th and Walnut streets. Open at an eye-squinting 6 a.m. every day, Hot Dog Truck (as the vendor called it) serves typical breakfast and lunch fare with a few healthy (unhealthy?) surprises. For the full experience of a cart that opens at the crack of dawn, snag the turkey sausage breakfast sandwich dripping with cheese and scrambled eggs. At nearly 12 inches, the behemoth sandwich certainly is guaranteed to fill you up â€“ and maybe put you back to sleep. Dan Wisniewski
Parked at 18th and Walnut
Photos by Dan Wisniewski
Gigi and Big R
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Parked at 38th and Spruce U. Penn. If fish served out of a food trucks sounds, well, fishy, you’re onto something. GiGi and Big R’s has anointed itself the “No. 1 Soul Food Kitchen,” with high prices to match. To be fair, many of the meals are platters with your choice of up to two sides, with options ranging from steak fries to candied yams to macaroni and cheese. But the fish with fries, which set me back $7, left me cold. Its uneven taste was only made better with a healthy dose of ketchup. It doesn’t seem to matter what I think, though – I counted six patrons waiting for food on a freezing cold Saturday afternoon at 5:15 p.m. Dan Wisniewski
Bui’s Truck As food trucks go, Bui’s on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus is an institution. In operation for nearly 20 years, this massive truck is staffed with four people on the weekends, enabling workers to churn orders out quicker than some of their nearby competitors. For lunch, the massive No. 2 chicken cheesesteak with special Bui sauce comes highly recommended. But to get the full Bui’s experience, hungry patrons should snag the famous (and aptly named) Hangover, a $5 breakfast sandwich that boasts egg, cheese, bacon, ham, sausage, salt, pepper and ketchup. If that doesn’t get you back on your feet after a night on the town, nothing will. Dan Wisniewski
Parked at 38th and Spruce U. Penn.
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Insomnia Cookies Truck
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Parked at U. Penn. and Temple U. Well known to many college students throughout the city, the people behind Insomnia Cookies have their particular market cornered. What other food truck would deliver hot cookies to your dorm late at night? But even if you’re not kicking back on your university-provided mattress for the evening, Insomnia Cookies – with its massive truck on Drexel University’s campus – likely has something for you and your sweet tooth, including flavors as varied as peanut butter chocolate, M&Ms and S’more Deluxe. So what if their coconut and pecan cookies border on too sweet? It’s hard to deny the appeal of warm cookies melting in your mouth.You can even get a glass of milk with your order. How cute is that? Dan Wisniewski
Steak Queen Truck Scientists have yet to prove that greasy food cures hangovers, but even if that’s not true, Steak Queen’s has you covered. The food served out of this truck on Penn’s campus comes literally dripping with the stuff, their mushroom chicken cheesesteak staining the bag it came in before I could even take a bite. But it’s that greasiness that separates this truck from the myriad cheesesteak Photos bythe Maggie Reynolds the bread from getting in the way establishments throughout city, preventing of the chicken and mushroom flavor. With quick service and a lengthy menu, this truck should keep you coming back for more. Dan Wisniewski
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Parked at 38th Street and Locust Walk, U.Penn
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Parked at 36th and Spruce U. Penn. Chicken cheesesteaks are the name of the game at Hemo’s in University City, and that’s not a bad thing at all. This low-key truck serves up surprisingly meaty fare for some very cheap prices. The large chicken cheesesteak weighs in at a worthwhile $4.25, though hungry souls should check out the Jonah’s Chicken special, complete with spinach, eggs and Hemo sauce (a homemade honey mustard sauce). The nondescript truck and its tenant don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but Hemo’s serves as a nice alternative to the Chinese trucks that line the streets around Penn’s campus. Dan Wisniewski
Yue Kee Truck I expected more from Yue Kee, voted Best Chinese Truck on Penn’s campus in 2010. This truck had everything working against it – slow cooking even during nonpeak hours, unfriendly staff, and a subpar meal. The moo goo gai pan could use significantly more chicken, and staffers could afford to tone down the stickiness on the rice by at least one power of 10. Points are begrudgingly awarded for the methodical packaging of the food and for using perhaps the cutest container I’ve seen yet. Dan Wisniewski
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Parked at 238 S. 38th Street
Photos courtesy Dapper Dogâ€™s Facebook page.
Parked in NoLibs and at Temple U. This is not your run-of-the mill hot dog truck. The dogs are fresh, the rolls are toasted, and the various topping combinations will leave you wanting to try everything on the menu. Sure, traditionalists will be happy with their plain hot dog, but eaters who are more adventurous will enjoy Dapper Dogâ€™s various signature hot dogs. Interested in a hot dog with a little zing? Try the Chicago Dog, topped with chopped onions, tomatoes, mustard, peppers, and a pickle spear. Want to bolster your carb count for the day? Look no further than the Jersey Special, brimming with grilled potatoes, peppers, onions, and American cheese. The Dapper Dog can be found on Templeâ€™s campus (13th and Norris streets) during mid week lunch hours and in Northern Liberties (2nd and Poplar streets) on Friday and Saturday nights. Patrick Gordon
Ernie’s Truck Ernie’s has been on Temple’s campus for nearly thirty years, so it’s no surprise Ernie knows everyone and always has a story to tell. If you pass his truck in the morning (13th Street and Montgomery Avenue) you’ll likely see a dozen or so patrons hanging around. But don’t let the line deter you – Ernie moves fast and offers quality food. The pork roll on a kaiser is a solid meal and comes in under $3. At lunch, steaks are chopped fine and the rolls are always fresh. The truck also offers hot sausages and hot dogs with toasted hoagie rolls, and has nearly a dozen different types of salads and omelets on the menu. Let Ernie’s reputation speak for itself and give his menu a whirl. You won’t be disappointed. Patrick Gordon
Parked at 13th Street and Montgomery Temple U.
Photo by Maggie Reynolds
U Got Munchies
Photos by Maggie Reynolds 88
Parked at 13th and Norris Temple U. This cart is home to arguably the best French fries from a truck in North Philadelphia. The cart (13th and Norris streets) deep-fries everything including Girl Scout Cookies, Oreos, chicken and wings. Though a bit expensive (an average lunch costs about $10), the food is cooked to order and tastes great. A side order of fries ($2) seems expensive, but when they give you a moderately heavy brown paper bag checkered with grease stains you will realize it may be the best $2 you will spend all day. The only drawback: Service is slow, but even that’s understandable considering U Got Munchies is a small cart and not a standard food truck. They offer a call-ahead service so I suggest you take advantage. If you’re looking for fries or a cheeseburger, you can’t go wrong. Patrick Gordon
Tepanyaki Truck The blue and white truck situated on North 12th Street between Pollet Walk and Norris Street may say “Japanese & Korean Food” on its side, but everyone knows its real name is the Tepanyaki Truck. Stop by any time between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the week and you’re bound to find a line of at least 10 hungry Temple students or staff. Most are waiting for the truck’s signature tepanyaki dish: a large portion of thick yakisoba noodles smothered in brown sauce and your choice of beef, chicken, tofu or shrimp. The dish, priced at $5.75, comes with a side of hot chili paste. If you like your Japanese food spicy, ask for extra chili and be prepared for the friendly staff’s approbation. Sweet and spicy fried chicken wings also pass muster with students all day long. Shannon McLaughlin
Parked outside Paley Library Temple U.
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Brotherâ€™s Pizza At $3.50 for a pizza roll, the truck at the corner of 12th Street and Pollet Walk might be the most economical on the block. The buffalo chicken roll is tasty, but be warned that youâ€™re buying $3.50 worth of grease that is sure to find the perfect splatter spot on your shirt as soon as you take a bite. This is not a library-friendly lunch. Find a table, pull out the plastic fork and knife, and try to enjoy without thinking of the calories. Also available are a variety of single slices and other grinder-style sandwiches, all reasonably priced. Shannon McLaughlin
Parked outside Paley Library Temple U.
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Sexy Green Truck If you’re on the Temple campus and in the mood for quick food that doesn’t involve a vending machine or a cheesesteak, head to the Sexy Green Truck on Montgomery Avenue between 12th and 13th streets. Wraps abound, filled with everything from marinated vegetables to chicken salad. With nothing on the menu more than $8, the portions are large. The Greek salad stands out for its use not just of locally grown ingredients, but for the delicious dolmades nestled inside. So what’s the best part about this sustainable fixture on campus? The truck stays open year-round until 7 p.m. Shannon McLaughlin
Parked on Montgomery, Temple U.
Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Tommy’s Truck Parked at 13th and Norris, Temple U. Prices are reasonable and the food isn’t bad at Tommy’s (13th and Norris streets), but better options exist just further up the block. Breakfast sandwiches may look like the highlight of a rather extensive menu, but the bagels are hit-or-miss and the eggs are often overcooked. Tommy’s does offer combo meals at lunch, but service is extremely slow, especially if you have patrons ahead of you. One bright spot: Tommy’s offers more beverage options than any other truck on Temple’s campus. For the longest time this truck was the only option on the northern side of campus. Now, with better options right up the block, you can pass right on by Tommy’s – that is, unless you want that can of Sunkist soda you can’t seem to find anywhere else. Patrick Gordon Photos by Maggie Reynolds
Philadelphia’s Food Truck Art
Some trucks are classic and demure and some are as bold and audacious as Philadelphia’s murals. In fact, much like the murals, truck art often borrows from graffiti art. Both are an homage to the streets. Nowadays how you look is as defining as what you serve. Here’s a look at some of Philly’s best.
304 Annenberg Hall 2020 N 13th St. Philadelphia, PA 19122 phillyfoodtruckmag.blogspot.com