By Hairee Lee
Mobile Highlights from the Boston Local Food Festival 2011
Ron Sarni and his business partner, Todd Saunders, went all over the country and researched the foodtrucks industry. They came back to Boston and found out that it wasn’t approved here.
“So we lobbied the city council and we were instrumental in changing the regulations. We helped forge the way for food trucks to come into the city.”
He’s a bit funny, Ron. Travelling across the country to research food trucks is funny, for instance. The orange color of his food truck, Grilled Cheese Nation is a bit funny. His title on his business card, “Il Formaggio Grande” is funny.
His business model, however, isn’t. It’s serious business.
Ron and Todd launched 2 Grilled Cheese Nation trucks. And their sandwiches are filling bellies as fast as their grills can get them out the windows. At the BLFF, people are waiting at one end for their orders, while others are already placing theirs. The crowd of waiting people doesn’t seem to discourage any of them. Todd has also started a food truck leasing business for aspiring chefs and resturaunteurs.
Ron is also the founder and president of the Boston Area Food Truck Association. Unfortunately the acronym BAFTA is taken by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the UK version of the Golden Globes, so BAFTA can’t call themselves BAFTA. This is pretty funny, too.
Boston is a fledgling, if not a fetus, in the food truck industry. With cities like New York City, Chicago, LA, LA, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Washington DC, Milwaukee (!), Cleveland, Portalnd, Orange County, Pheonix, San Diego, Atlanta, just to name a few, winning Best Food Truck awards and gaining national recognition, it seems like it’ll be a while, if ever, before Boston becomes the top dog in the dog-eat-dog world of the food truck industry.
“We’re all very unique here in Boston,” says Ron, “because we’re all getting along. We created a very democratic process for food trucks so that no one food truck can get all the best spots. We have a revolving schedule that we share.”
There are 15 locations—-that’s it!—-around the city that food trucks can apply and be approved for and then they’re all “divvied up.”
“So Boston Public Library, we’re there two days a week, we’re at BU, we’re at Clarendon Street, we’re at the MFA, we have all these different sites that we go to on different days.”
The city schedules everybody in, not Boston Area Food Truck Association. Nice to know since Ron is the president of Boston Area Food Truck Associationand there would be a perception of conflict of interest that could make the democratic, commune atmosphere a hard sell.
“We all provide each other with support and help. We’re all trying to work together. As opposed to other cities where food truck guys are slashing each other’s tires and it’s very competitive and cliques get formed and people don’t get along. Boston’s very unique in that and we’re really striving for Boston to be the best food truck city in America.”
This is a tall order given that Boston is a fledgling, if not a fetus, in the food truck industry. With cities like New York City, Chicago, LA, LA, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Washington DC, Milwaukee (!), Cleveland, Portalnd, Orange County, Pheonix, San Diego, Atlanta, just to name a few, winning Best food truck awards and gaining national recognition, it seems like it’ll be a while, if ever, before Boston becomes the top dog in the dog-eat-dog world of food trucks.
And the infant status of Boston Food Truck industry could be why everyone is so supportive and helpful to their competitors. Because let’s be honest: they are competitors at the end of the day. If you’ve got three food trucks at location, two out of three time, on average, you won’t make a sale.
It sounds to me like that innocent, prepubescent time when you didn’t really understand sex or racism or money or religion or the right brand of running shoes to wear or what cool and hot is in figurative speak. Everyone in the sandbox gets along. But once you outgrow the small play area and started junior high and high school, things became a helluva lot for complicated and not everyone wants to play by the rules of fair play and good of the many. It’s hard for me, a deeply pessimistic food truck lover, to think this sort of commeraderie will last.
In any case, I wish Ron, et. al., the best.
Here are the trucks I saw and liked. For locations and dates and times of the trucks featured here, go to the Boston Area Food Truck Associationwebsite and click on location. or you can go directly to the makers of the food truck schedules, the city of Boston’s website.
Want a food truck of your own? Talk to Todd via Ron. He just started the program and he’s in talks with people now.
With playful names like “In Gouda We Trust” and “Blue Man Goo” Ron’s food truck focuses on grilled cheese sandwich. And he’s got a tight menu, which to me is always a good sign. Specialize and be really good at a few things rather than spread yourself out too thin and be mediocre at everything.
You can’t miss it. It’s the big orange truck with a lot of people milling around it.
Near and dear to my ribs, these guy also catered our Didirks & Friends event, Dinner 14. Fabulous BBQ’d ribs, pulled pork, roasted chicken, and all the fixings.
Marty, the food truck manager, tell me they started the food truck arm of their business 10 weeks ago. But why? I figured with their loyal and hefty (eh hem) following with both locations across the greater Boston Area, they would be the last business I would have thought needed to go into the food truck industry.
“More exposure and in addition to that we don’t have a huge representation in the Copley and Back Bay area (where you can find them) and there’s a lot of people who don’t get a chance ot make it all the way up to the Somerville area we wanted to pursue.”
Clearly, the owners of Redbones isn’t about to lean on their great food laurels. They’re about being great business people too and trucking forward.
“You gotta meet someone,” says Ron as I pass by The Dining Car. “This guy has a best food in the city.”
David Harnik, owner of The Dining Car, used to be the catering manager of L’Espelier. That magic word is all I need to hear to understand that this guy is a big player. Ron is really living up to the BAFTA philosophy of being neighborly and I’m glad because I’m intrigued
With his pedigree, I imagine David could have easily (relatively speaking of course) open and grow a suscessful restaurant. Why a truck?
“There’s something wonderful about the atmosphere of a food truck,” he says. “If you think about it, if you go to a restaurant, the relationship is between you and your server. But on a food truck, the people who cook the food are in a direct relationship with the people who eat the food. And there’s seomthing very wonderful when we cook on the truck and I get to meet my customers and talk to them and see what they like and see what they don’t like.”
As for the menu, they have a few staples that keep the customers coming back for more.
If you think about it, if you go to a restaurant, the relationship is between you and your server. But on a food truck, the people who cook the food are in a direct relationship with the people who eat the food. – David Harnik, owner of The Dining Car
“At first we thought we’d change it up very often but then when people like something, I don’t know about you, but when people find something they like for lunch and they wake up every day thinking about that and they think ‘Oh I want to get that!’ So we decided to have some consistency and then every few weeks we’ll change it seasonally as produce changes because we do try to have a lot of local purveyors represented.”
And it must be paying off because David plans on having more trucks. He’s counting on the excitement surrounding the movement of the food trucks industry in the culinary world to recruit some choice talents to be at the helm.
We’re looking forward to it.
Equal Exchange Café coffee carts
Owner: Meghan Hubbs. She’s got a brown one and a red one. And unlike the truckers, hers is man powered. That’s right, a coffee truck on a bike.
Meghan’s employee, Elvis, (great name) is a “tric(ycle)-rider.”
I’m wondering how fast he can peddle the cart to either of their two locations around Boston: Dewey Square, across from South Station, and Charles/MGH Station.
He tells me that the company is based in South Boston, 1.5 miles to Dewey Square and 2.5 miles to Charles MGH.
“If you’re Lance Armstrong and you go 20-25mph, uh, I do about 2.5 mph.”
Meghan is looking to hire 2 more tric-riders for spring, meaning that her coffee carts business is gaining popularity, making money, and expanding.
She started the carts to get the coffee to the masses in places that you can’t open a coffee shop. Why didn’t I think of this?
“If you’re Lance Armstrong and you go 20-25mph, uh, I do about 2.5 mph.” – Elvis, Tric-rider
All the coffee is from Equal Exchange, beans mainly from Central South America and roasted in West Bridgewater. “We buy form 43 different coffee offering but only 3 on the trics.”
Meghan’s business is already coining new words. And if it takes off you might be seeing them in places across the country and “tric-rider” and “trics” might become as common as “facebooker” or “tweeting”.