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Archive for the ‘Mobile Food’ Category

Big Daddy’s BBQ Truck at Campus Pitt Stop

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 10, 2018

Let me begin by sharing three words lead to intense disappointment when used in the same sentence: New, BBQ and Columbus. When I amd told about a new BBQ joint in Columbus, I get a bit giddy but just like Charlie Brown running to kick the football, new BBQ spots are most often like Lucy, pulling the ball / my enthusiasm away at the last possible moment. Columbus, as a metropolitan area has a very low bar for what I consider good BBQ. Many people still seem to view this as some type of exotic food that must be nurtured and supported until it can stand on its our merits without massive support. I still chase any new BBQ joint like I did any new girlfriend in the first decade of the 21st Century, with hope but somehow knowing I would be disappointed or burned in the end.

(Let me take a moment for a brief tangent. It is highly likely there will be some odd typo somewhere in the post. For the last couple years, this has been a consistent quirk of this web log. Let me assure you three or six months later or maybe one of two years from now, I will reread this post and correct it while I am rewriting at least two or three sentences of this. I do this with almost everything I write. For some reason, I need to read it fresh a few days or weeks later to spot the typos and fine tune my message. The whole reengineering process to posts makes them at least 3% better in the end (so reread the last 700 posts to see what I am talking about). So let me assure you, this will eventually be a perfect post, but probably not in the first month of online life).

When I heard about Big Daddy’s it was from an unlikely source – the Grumpy Old Man (known to some readers) aka The Chicken Whore (known to a very small subset of the CMH Gourmand readership). When he mentioned he had eaten Big Daddy’s three times already and was miffed that I have not told him about it first I was shocked. But the big shocker was that these meals had been obtained by his lovely but very status conscious wife. I could not imagine her going to a food truck or taking a risk on such a meal. However, she did and apparently was very enthused about it. This was disturbing to my world view but it provided great hope. I have well over a dozen BBQ places profiled in the annals of CMH Gourmand and almost all of them are in parts of town the bravest of my readers would fear to tread. Big Daddy’s is at Campus Pitt Stop located at the northeast corner of Lane Avenue and Kenny Road. This may be among the least intimidating areas in Central Ohio.

(Another brief note): Campus Pitt stop is an odd type of business, the Columbus equivalent of Mos Eisley on Tatooine from Star Wars. At one time this was a gas station. In theory this should be a thriving retail outpost with easy proximity to Ohio State, Upper Arlington and other thriving areas. This lot is packed with cars that need a parking spot for OSU Football home games but otherwise it is often desolate. This is a carry out of sorts that also houses an odd assortment of what looks to be a rotating selection of flea market items. The only thing notable about the Pitt Stop is that they have the largest selection of Ballreich’s snack products I have seen anywhere outside of the Ballreich’s factory in Tiffin Ohio. The Pitt stop also offers a wide assortment of rental trucks and always seems to have a random number of cars on the lot with no owners or someone working on one of them. I also observed that is has been the home of many food trucks that probably never should have entered into the food truck trade.

Moving on to Big Daddy’s. The back story begins near Detroit. Big Daddy – who is not small but certainly not a large man, is very friendly and hard-working soul. He works as an electrical contractor during the week and runs the smoker connected to the Big Daddy’s Friday and Saturday (only open on these days) and on the seventh day, he rests. This is a family affair with his daughter and often a niece working the truck window while he tends the smoker. His BBQ origins begin with his father near Detroit. By report Big Daddy’s father was not an all-star at BBQ but he was a “foodie” before there was a name for such an affliction. Big Daddy’s Dad was always passionate about the journey to find the best of any food. While on this pilgrimage his son (Big Daddy today) discovered BBQ and decided to study it in-depth. This led to his own trips all over the country sampling all styles of BBQ from South Carolina to Texas. It took Big Daddy a long time to perfect and fine-tune his craft. He has now taken his hobby out on the streets in food truck format. He says the food truck business has not been easy (it never is) but he has learned from mistakes and is feeling good about the current location at the Campus Pitt Stop.

As an aside here, before I forget, let me say that there are a couple of elements to having a great food truck. Any good food truck needs to have good food, that is the baseline. But a great truck as a personality to it. Usually in the form of the owner or sometimes the team that works it together. Often owners become detached from their food trucks over time and let others operate them – these trucks are doomed to be average or they may start to suck. The food and the truck are a reflection of the owner and if the owner is not there – or if the owner is not interesting and/or passionate about their food you experience will not be the same. In a brick and mortar example, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants are consistently good but they were better when he was working his own kitchen and the place resonated that energy. In the same vein, Jeni’s ice cream was much better when Jeni was scooping her own ice cream. When you remove the creator from the creation something is lost.

On my initial trip to Big Daddy’s I played it safe, I selected a four meat sampler and a side of Mac & Cheese. I knew I was going to be pleased the moment I lifted the styrofoam lid.

I was intrigued by the giant piece of bread topping the mountain of meat. Big Daddy’s steers clear of the typical slice(s) of generic store loaf white bread with a slightly toasted, buttered and seasoned piece of Italian style bread. This holds up well to the rigors of large amounts of BBQ sauce and can be used as a napkin in a pinch. I moved on to the small cubed pieces of brisket. These were full of flavor and not fatty. The smoked sausage was well cooked and true to the roots of the Texas style favored by Big Daddy. Next, because it was my favorite, the grilled, BBQ chicken wings were absolutely fantastic by any rating scale.

The wings are served in their entirety – not just the drum but the entire wing. It was grilled properly and significantly sauced. The meat hiding behind the skin was moist, succulent and resonated with chicken flavor. As a Kansas City BBQ Society Certified BBQ judge I can say with some authority that these wings are competition quality. I also tried the ribs. By tried I really mean devoured with an intensity that would terrify a lion or tiger or bear with rabies. These ribs were perfectly cooked – plenty of meat and very flavorful with just a bit of char. Often when I try ribs in Columbus, they have been cooked to the point of mummification or are dry or the meat clings to the bone like a drowning man to the bow of a sinking ship. Not the case here these were also competition quality.

Based on this one visit, I was very hopeful. I had an obligation to go back. I had to make sure I was not dealing with a BBQ fluke or the possibility I had lowered my standards subconsciously after so much mediocrity in the past. Also, I had promised I would be back. While chatting it up with Big Daddy’s daughter and asking too many questions about the sauces (sweet and tangy are the two choices) and inquiring if the Daddy’s Boy sandwich was similar to the Cleveland cult classic Polish Boy, I was told I had to have that sandwich. There was a clear call to action.

On my second visit I ordered the Daddy’s Boy sandwich and more wings. The wings were great the second time around. The Daddy’s Boy is similar to a Cleveland Polish Boy. The sandwich features a foot long BBQ Sausage (I did measure it), pulled pork, cole slaw, french fries and a lot of sauce (I opted for sweet on the second visit).

This is a good sandwich. It has many similarities to the Polish Boy of Cleveland. The Big Daddy’s tangy sauce does have the unique flavor and a slight purple or pink hue to it like the Polish Boy sauce but it is a different sandwich. I could not eat this in one sitting and I could not consume it with my hands. The use of the Italian style bread here is a plus because it holds up to the weight of the sausage, pork and fries and does not disintegrate due to the saturation of sauce. The sandwich is a good introduction to Big Daddy’s because it lets one sample about one half of the menu in one box.

I tried the mac and cheese. The Big Daddy’s version is true to the tradition of most BBQ and/or soul food joints, it leans toward a reduced ratio of cheese (creamy) to macaroni. I liked that Big Daddy’s was not reluctant to limit peppering their version. I prefer my Mac and Cheese to be cheesier but that did not limit me from enjoying this and finishing the container.

The greens were good. This is saying a lot. The best greens I have ever had came from Woody & Jo’s which as been closed for years. I rarely find greens that I enjoy. Typically they lack flavor or seasoning or both. Often they are overcooked or undercooked. And sometimes the greens are not sufficiently diced before serving. The only place I have ever ordered greens more than once is Ray Ray’s therefore those serve as my current standard. Big Daddy’s runs a close second in my hierarchy of greens. These are properly cooked, seasoned well and have a large amount of tasty meat integrated into the mix.

In conclusion, Big Daddy’s is likely to please your palate. Tips go to the college fund to send Big Daddy’s daughter to college and my guess is so will much of the profits. Enjoy good food while supporting a small family business at the same time.

Big Daddy’s BBQ on Facebook

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Posted in BBQ, Mobile Food | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Baba’s Porch – Dan Kraus

Posted by cmh gourmand on November 2, 2016

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You may not know it but you have met Baba’s Porch before – in the form of That Food Truck and in particular, Dan Kraus.

I had an opportunity to have a sideline seat to the first generation of food trucks and the privilege to work with an All-Star Team of these early mobile food mavericks such as Ajumama, OH! Burgers, Pitabilities and That Food Truck.

All of these wheeled purveyors are my friends, but the one that has pulled the string of my stealth heart has been Dan Kraus from That Food Truck. I have seen the highs (being on Nightline) and lows (the break-up of the first team for the truck) and the ups (being named a tastemaker) and downs (the engine of the truck dying). I’ve had countless conversations with Dan over the last five years and have felt he was a bit of a Charlie Brown, having the ball pulled away from him at the last-minute for one project or another.

When the engine of That Food Truck died, Dan had to find another path to your stomachs. A bit tight on cash while building out his restaurant Baba’s Kitchen, Dan found a trailer and started working on a concept to compliment his brick and mortar project. He also took what he learned from a few years of smoking meats on the fly and built a new smoker to add to Baba’s Porch. Baba’s has been serving Friday nights at Seventh Son Brewing and occasional Saturday afternoons to fill in for other mobile vendors. As Baba’s Kitchen slowly….but surely, comes close to completion Dan says he will continue to keep to Porch out for Friday night service and catering.

When Baba’s Kitchen opens you will find the Restaurant at 2515 Summit Street near the intersection of Hudson Street and 3rd Ave. You can expect to see the Baba’s trailer at Seventh Son and special events.

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I checked in with Dan between courses and construction to find out more about Baba’s Porch.

1) Let’s start with the smoker you built for Baba’s, any design enhancements or special features on this smoker from the previous one you built. What makes this smoker extra special to you?

This was the first smoker I fabricated and welded from beginning to end. It was an education during the whole process and being so intimate with the whole thing gave me a chance to really understand the dynamics of space and draft. Making sure its airtight between the firebox and cooking chamber is what kicked this up to another level and maintain consistent temps regardless of barometric pressure.

2) What was the transition like from Truck to Trailer? You are accustomed to tight spaces but its looks like you have to get creative with the space. What do you like best about trailer life?

In many ways it’s a lot easier. Building the trailer out after having That Food Truck for so many years, we knew exactly what was needed and shed the rest. Simplifying the line and having only what is absolutely necessary makes it a breeze to have everything within reach – trim the fat to save the meat. The best thing about trailer life is no rusty ass engine to break down. I can rest knowing as long as I have access to a truck, I can make the gig, no problem.

3) Baba’s Porch will continue after you open Baba’s Kitchen, how do you think the Porch may change as the kitchen grows and you start the grocery aspect to the business?

The Porch will be our place to shine a spotlight on the smoked meats. Simple, smoked sandwiches will always be flying out the window. Having access to more produce and homemade items from Baba’s Kitchen will allow us to play with specials and sides.

4) You have a secret weapon at Baba’s now – Tim. Can you share your history with him and why he is such a great addition to the team?

I met Tim in Culinary school in Portland OR ten years ago and we clicked right away. We have parallel ways of thinking about food and how it should be prepared. We started this conversation about our own place way back then with intent to open a truck in Portland. Literally life happened as my wife and I found out we were pregnant and decided to move back to Ohio. Tim went on to Hawaii and Minnesota and really honed in on some tight culinary skills. His high end expertise and managing a huge line at Lafayette Club has really matured his kitchen nature and often reels my more wild eyed approach. We can challenge each other in respectful ways to find the most delicious and efficient ways to build a plate.

5) Your other secret weapon is your wife Caroline. What are some of the ways she has helped with both projects over the last year?

Can I just say everything, lol? Caroline has supported every crazy idea and move I wanted to make. She gives me the foundation and real support anyone trying to do this would need. She gives words to my ideas and helps organize the chaos. Outside of the actual cooking she is involved in every aspect of the business. Concepts, construction, finance, design, and and networking, Caroline is all over it. Its so cliche, but she is my rock.

She is itching to get Baba’s blog populated with stories of the line and gorgeous food photos.

6) What one (or two) things do you want people to know about Baba’s Porch?

First that we have felt the support for the change of business. We lost TFT and were worried about re-branding and loosing some of the steam we had with the old truck. But Columbus people are awesome and have showed up hungry and left with smiles.

Its an elementary introduction to the food Tim and I can cook. Simple and quick as truck food needs to be. But what flies out of Baba’s Kitchen is elevated with the luxury of time and space. Basically, if you like the Porch food you will love what Baba’s is serving up!

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Facebook
Website
Phone: 614-262-2227

Posted in BBQ, FooderHero, Mobile Food | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Don Pedro (Taco Truck) now in Clintonville

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 2, 2016

Don Pedro Truck

(Update – June 13th – Sorry to say these guys have vanished already).

Long time fans of Taco Trucks Columbus know we/I would include Don Pedro’s as one of our Top Ten Taco Trucks over the years. Their hours, locations and operation have been hit or miss during the last couple years to the point I was fairly sure they were closed. That is a shame because we came to know the owners, actually the whole family, as we enjoyed their food and showcased them in some events. For some history take a look at -> this, -> this and -> that.

So while running some errands this week, I was surprised to see a new food truck at the Super Food Mart on Clintonville ( 3166 N High St, Columbus, OH 43202). This location has a long history as a food truck destination starting with Ray Ray’s, then Mya’s Fried Chicken and El Manantial Latino. From a distance, I was not sure I wanted to block out time to check out this new mobile food vendor. Approaching the blue and yellow truck (always popular in OSU obsessed Columbus) the owners recognized me at the same time I recognized them. After a mini reunion and catching up, it was time to order food. I opted to get something safe for Mrs. Gourmand by ordering a quesadilla. It was just as good as I recalled it and Mrs. Gourmand using her litmus test (of how does this compare to Taco Nazo) found this to be very good too. One warning. I forgot how hot their green salsa is but fortunately there was about 1/2 pound of sour cream with the quesadilla to quench my burning taste buds. I opted for chicken but I could have had ham, pork, beef or even hot dogs as my protein of choice.

Don Pedro Food

The menu is deep and diverse including the standards – tacos, quesadillas, burritos, (some of the best on the city) Tortas, agua frescas and coming soon some daily and weekend only specials. They just opened this week and could use some foot traffic for an infusion of capital to stay in the area and add to the menu. So if you are in or near Clintonville, I’d love for you to drop in for a meal and welcome them to my/our barrio. There are two picnic tables nearby for eating on site if you choose.

Don pedro Menu

You can find Don Pedro at:
Super Food Mart
3166 N High St, Clintonville 43202
(corner of East Pacemont and High Street)
614 584 7149
Hours (being established)

Don Pedro Taco Truck  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Clintonville, Mobile Food | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Columbus Food Truck Cookbook

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 1, 2016

Adobe Photoshop PDF

If you are interested in a copy of the Columbus Food Truck Cookbook you can order online at thecolumbusfoodtruckcookbook.com or find it locally at places like The Book Loft and Lucky’s Market.

The book is the work of Tiffany Harelik who started into the world of food trucks in Austin years ago and has been compiling books like this since then. Renee Casteel Cook is a writer that intentionally found her way to Columbus a few years ago. Inside the book you will find a mix of recipes as well as content about the food truck culture and interviews with many of the better known (and a few lesser known and/or o retired food truck operators). If you are interested in the world and culture of food trucks, this is a good introduction.

So below, I’ll give you a sneak peek – there are my answers to the questions posed to me in the book.


Tell us about your involvement in the food community in Columbus.

Freelance writer with focus on food and beverage since 1998. Created CMH Gourmand 2006 (Blog). Co-Creator Taco Trucks Columbus 2009, Street Eats Columbus 2010, Columbus Foodcast (Radio show) 2011 to 2014, Coordinator at Food Fort 2011 to 2013, Co-owner and Lead Guide Columbus Brew Adventures. Board member Columbus Mobile Food Advisory Board 2014 to present. Social Media and Marketing advisor for businesses and still work with Food Trucks.

How long have you been in Columbus and when did you start following the food cart scene here?
Lifelong resident. Started following seriously in 2009.

How are food trucks part of the Columbus culture?
Columbus is the most progressive city in the country for mobile food and a long history (with food carts) dating back to the 1980’s. They showcase the entrepreneurial spirit of the city and the diversity of what we have to offer culturally and in food.

If it’s someone’s first time visiting Columbus, how would you describe the food trailer scene and where would you tell them to begin? 
Columbus has over 150 active mobile food vendors so it is the largest and most diverse mobile food community in the Midwest and probably east of the Mississippi. Start at a brewery that features food trucks, then go on a Taco Truck Tour or Food Truck Tour with Columbus Food Adventures.

Do you have some pro-tips for people visiting the food trucks for the first time?
You can learn a lot from Taco Trucks Columbus and Street Eats Columbus about the vendors but also the culture, what to expect and etc., so read up then eat up.

Which trucks are most reflective of the Columbus culture?

The diversity of the trucks is most reflective of our city. This is not street meat we offer a mobile food court of choices.

What are the main differences in the food trucks in Columbus versus other cities?
The main differences are the number or mobile vendors and that our city government works with the vendors proactively. We also have a lot of proactive fans that support the industry. And there is a fella we call MikeGuyver that is like the Batman of mobile food filling in for labor emergencies on many trucks

What are the trends in cuisine within the food truck world? 
Trends represent what we see in Columbus and the major cities, a focus on local ingredients, regional cuisines and ethnic cuisine.

What is the future of food trailers in Columbus?
The future looks so bright, you need to wear shades. The first year of our the mobile food program which allows trucks to sell from designated parking spots is growing great and drawing in more new customers everyday. Established vendors are adding more trucks to their operators and moving into brick and mortar operations (Late Night Slice, Paddy Wagon, Mojo Togo, etc.

What’s the feeling of Columbus restaurants towards food trucks?
Many restaurants are working on adding their own food trucks and have been supportive to this type of business for the most part.

What are some local food trucks that have turned into brick and mortar restaurants?
See above.

Is there a high turn over in entrepreneurs who start food trucks or do they have longevity? 
It is a mix. If a vendor can survive the first year, they have a good chance for longevity. Many think a passion for food will get them customers. There is so much more than that, you must have a keen business sense, watch food costs, recruit and retain excellent staff and nail customer service. You can’t just tweet a couple of times per day. You have to understand and actively engage in marketing your business and developing your brand.

How many food carts are there in Columbus?
About 150.

Who are the founding fathers of the food truck revolution in Columbus?

Mikey Sorboro – Late Night Slice, Paul Humphries – Leslie’s Creperie, Brian Reed – Mojo Togo, Dan McCarthy Tatoheads, Jamie “Ray Ray” Anderson. And we have to tip a hat to the Taco Truck Community which started in 2002. Quicho from Taco Nazo and the owners of Los Guachos are the best known.

Are the Columbus trucks mobile or stationary?

Both. Taco Trucks and Ray Rays stay in one place. Most others are mobile.

What are the ‘food trailer parks’, how many are there, and can you share a little about each of the main pods in Columbus?

This did not really sustain here. The main connection is food trucks and breweries. Both have grown up together in the last two years.

Do you want to open your own cart? Why or why not?

I went to Hot Dog University in Chicago to learn about the business and I have worked shifts on a few trucks to understand the operations of the business and I have worked hand in hand with over 40 vendors to help them launch. It is incredibly hard work. When I “retire” I will probably open a Hot Dog Truck called Jimbos

What are some of the laws that food carts must adhere to in Columbus?
Too much to bullet point.

Is it safe/healthy to eat from a food cart in Columbus?

Yes. You can see your food being prepared, that is better odds than a restaurant and we have our green tag inspection program with the Department of Health.

What food truck festivals are happening in the Columbus area? 

Plenty – large and small.


Anything else you’d like to add about your involvement in the food truck scene?
 

One of my greatest honors was receiving the Vendy Community Award at the 2013 Food Truck Festival. There are so many people that have helped grow this community so to be chosen and showcased was a true honor. I was getting ready to leave my job at Food Fort and the boss I had then was incredibly unsupportive in the work I did with vendors so to get that award was a great validation that I knew what I was doing and had done it well.

Posted in Mobile Food | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Two New(er) Food Trucks to fight the Winter Blahs

Posted by cmh gourmand on January 20, 2016

Are you starting to feel a little cabin fever? Or in need a change of pace, space or flavor but can’t afford the airfare? Well these two newer food trucks my fix what is ailing you.

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Facebook:alohastreatery
Twitter:alohastreatery
Phone: (614) 943-3523

Aloha Streatery hit the streets of Columbus in the fall of 2015 bringing some welcome menu diversity to the mobile food scene. What many do not know is Hawaii was a mecca for food trucks before most of the mainland showcasing diverse menus in the islands of Aloha for decades. Aloha Streatery brings authentic flavors via a menu that hits the spot that is refreshingly simple and with price points that are refreshing.

Owner Sara Siv leads with a menu that is slider based and features the full on flavors of Hawaiian Street Food. The clam like home-made lotus buns (light, fluffy but a very firm base to pile on toppings) have just a trace of sweetness to them. Typical toppings include Hawaiian mainstays such as BBQ Chicken, grilled pineapple, Spam(!), pork belly or homemade tofu. (FYI: Hawaii is the largest per capita consumer of Spam in the world). Depending on the sandwich pour or pile on house made peanut sauce, sriracha mayo, house make pickled veggies, and add in an optional fried egg and you might you feel yourself transported to Maui.

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Other menu items include a spin on a Hawaiian icon Loco (No) Moco – sweet chicken with steamed jasmine rice, grilled pineapple, cilantro mayo and a dash of freshly chopped cilantro. Tater Tots and Fries with an island twist round out the main menu. Specials are well worth your time and attention as well examples include wraps and Banh Mi.

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Two things I really like about Aloha which shows this newcomer is savvy enough to go the distance. First price points – many menu items are under $4 which is appealing to first time visitors and regulars who want to explore the menu in-depth. The second inspired decision is having a menu ordering system that allows customers to text in their order without having to lose their seat or brave the elements.

Aloha.

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Facebook:HornOKPlsFood
Twitter:hornokplsfood
(614) 446 4613

I have been waiting for mobile Indian food for a long time. Horn OK Please made a debut in the fall of 2015 and five visits to date they have never disappointed me. The menu focuses mostly on traditional Indian dishes but with a very practical twist. Most items offer a small (on a stick or in a boat) or large portion so those new to Indian food or mobile food or both can dip their ties in ethnic food waters with small monetary risk or create their own mini buffet by ordering several small portions. My favorite dish to date is Reshmi Chicken in wrap form: chicken marinated in almonds, ginger, garlic and cilantro chutney with some pickled onions on the side and of course the optional fried eggs
added.

Food

One fusion food that is a crowd pleaser is the Horn OK spin on Tater Tots:topped with chickpeas, tamarind, yogurt sauce and cilantro chutney!

You might be wondering about the name – well and explanation is included in the truck decor – see below.

Horn Ok Please

And the owners always have a book out for display which showcases many of the classic and colorful rigs of the Indian Highway (so you know what is up with the Horn and the color scheme).

Book

The menu is small but has enough depth not to get bored and you can usually count of a special of the day. Another interesting connection, the owners received some help in their build out from Johnny Oak – a long time Columbus BBQ purveyor and occasional mobile fooder.

Keep an eye out for Horn OK Please at local breweries and the usual lunch spots.

menu

Posted in Mobile Food | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Food Truck Basics: How to Make a Good Start on Wheels

Posted by cmh gourmand on August 9, 2015

I was recently casing out a new food truck and found myself going through a mental check list of what they were doing right. Using the criteria I established, I determined that this truck, which just launched a month ago has what it takes to (probably) survive the first critical year of business.

This litmus test was developed from several different sources and experiences:

1) A life time of eating
2) Eating from almost every food truck in the city and writing about many of them
3) Graduating from the Art of The Cart course at Hot Dog University in Chicago
4) Working customer service (in emergency situations) on several trucks
5) Two years of service at Knights Ice Cream as a worker, supervisor and working the mobile ice cream truck
6) Two years as coordinator at the Food Fort, an incubator for food based businesses
7) Hours and hours of conversations with Jim Pashovich, the owner of Pitabilities
8) Hours of “philosophy” sessions with the owners of OH!Burgers, Ajumama and Flattop Pizza

So here is what I and looking for in a new mobile food business:

1) Distance Presentation: Customers decide to eat from fifty feet away, so your truck “wrap” or graphics need to convey what type of food you serve. It you can’t do that, it should at least be clear that your mobile operation serves food and is not a delivery truck or backdrop for graffiti. Smart operators will all make sure they have something aromatic on the grill (onions, cinnamon, etc,) that will lure in customers by smell.

2) Your Name gets customers in the Game: Just like the look of the truck, the name of the operations should very quickly let customers figure out what type of food is served. If the name does not spell that out clearly, then you need to have a very short tag line underneath that sums it up in a few words. And example of a bad name choice, Stacy’s 5 Dollar Hollar. The name has scared more customers away that the promise of a bargain priced meal.

3) Uniform(ity)((s)) does not equal conformity: While the goal of most mobile food operators is to showcase their individuality and uniqueness and to shed the images and stigma of mass-produced food. While many may not like it, it is still critical to stay on brand and have some type of uniform or uniformity to what staff wear. While, this does not have to look like a bad fast food parody, it still is worthwhile to make sure people can tell any member of your team from a customer. It can be a hat, T-shirt and/or apron to stay on brand with a uniform and show subconsciously that you are a team.

4) Come early and stay til the end: As a past food truck event planner and frequent customer, there are / were certain trucks I knew would be late and not ready to serve at game time. That not only sets a bad tone for developing a relationship with a site or event, it also costs customers. If your hours are posted as 5 pm and you are not ready to serve, you lose those customers that showed up on time to beat the crowd. And those customers are your most important customers to nurture because their enthusiasm could be channeled into repeat business and free brand ambassadorship, instead they feel their extra effort was dismissed. The same applies to leaving early. Yes, sometimes a place is a dud or the weather sucks or whatever, but when you pack up early without a very good reason then the image of your business is that you don’t keep commitments.

5) Price point is the point: I’ve known some great mobile operators that made incredible food, but they lost customers because they charged $15 for a sandwich. While quality is important even more so is price and at a deeper level, value. While food quality for a truck is typically as good or better than an average restaurant, customers do not expect as much or more for a mobile meal than a sit down meal. As a general rule, the average person will pay up to $6 or $7 for a lunch and $8 to $12 for a dinner. And if they like the food and you can meet that price, the customer will come back. And if you struggle to meet that price point then add perceived value. Make the entrée look like a meal by adding a small 3-4 bite garnish to the main entrée to make it appear to be more (than what it is).

6) Be Clean in All Things at All Times: Cleanliness is beyond Godliness in mobile food. There is still some of the street meat stigma to food on wheels. Your truck needs to look clean from the outside and inside. Your team needs to have clean(ish) clothes and you should go out of your way to show off your dedication to food safety with people changing latex gloves, cleaning inside when not serving and keeping the profanity to a minimum too. In the early days of fast food (White Castle) projecting cleanliness was the most important thing to do to get customers to your door and today, you need to do the same to get them to your window.

7) Customer Service starts before the order and continues after:: Greet customers, answer stupid questions, occasionally offer samples but also make sure you have printed menus people can look at or take with them, have plenty of trash cans and keep them from overflowing, make sure to go orders are packaged to survive the journey and offer to correct any real or perceived failing with a smile on your face. Returning all phone calls, answering all e-mails and listening to feedback comes into play here as well. And the 1000 other things related to customer service have to be executed with excellence every time.

As a small business owner as well, I have seen businesses do the above and bomb, but their odds of success are pretty high if they can execute these “surface” elements of mobile food. Behind the scenes the biggest challenge for most mobile operators is maintaining true food costs to under 30% of operating expenses and paying attention to the business part of the business with the same intensity as the passion for the food.

While the above are important, in any small business there are 100 things you need to do everyday to do well and stay profitable, but in mobile food, if you can knock these seven things out of the park at the beginning your chances of seeing your second year are strong.

Posted in Behind the Counter, Mobile Food | 1 Comment »

El Conquistador

Posted by cmh gourmand on June 16, 2015

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El Conquistador
5225 N High St, Columbus OH 43214
-parking lot of the Blue Pickle (bar)
west side of High Street, north of Graceland Shopping Center
614 804 0330
Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 9 pm

Greater Clintonville now has not one (El Mantinal Latino), not two (El Mantinal Latino 2), not three La Poblanita), not four (La Moreliana) but now five Taco Trucks. When I first spotted El Conquistador I had hoped this was the original – which served Dominican dishes. Well, this trailer now has a new owner whose menu is traditional taco truck fare but it is well worth checking out. The trailer is based as the newly renamed Blue Pickle (formerly Porter’s Pub). As I approached the trailer, several Blue Pickle patrons without being solicited shouted out to me that the food was great and I should try it. That was a good sign. I sampled the Flautas (rolled, crispy taco) sometimes called a Taquito. Flautas are served in groups of four with plenty of toppings on top. These were great. This is definitely a spot I look forward to trying out more this summer.

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Posted in CLOSED, Mobile Food | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Por’Ketta: Mobile Food Trailer with Pork and Chicken

Posted by cmh gourmand on April 13, 2015

trailer

Por’ketta

Facebook: Porketta
Twitter: PorkettaCbus
Instagram: Porkettacbus
Web:porkettacbus.com
614 570 1107

I’ve known Tony Layne for a few years and I have known his wife for a few more, meeting her for the first time when she started working for Pitabilities. They have a good thing going. In case you did not read this (exact) post on Street Eats Columbus I am posting here so you do.

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Por’ketta launched in March of 2015, serving to the last sandwich, ahead of schedule time and time again. The simple menu of pork and rotisserie chicken with a few sides may mean limited choices but it is heavy on quality and flavor. The trailer may be a bit harder to maneuver than a food truck but you will see it most places that mobile food can be found. And on a historical note, the trailer has some back story, it used to be a Ray Ray’s Hog Pit Trailer. We spoke to owner Tony Layne to find out about this business of getting pork to the people.

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1) In a few sentences, what do you want people to know about Por’ketta.

I would want them to know that we are a family run business. We love Columbus and promote it shamelessly. Also that our family’s love of food, gathering and community translate into our food. It is also important to note that we searched far and wide within Ohio’s borders to source the best local ingredients that we could find simply prepared with passion

2) What is Porketta (Porchetta)? How do you make yours?
Porchetta is the pig’s skin, belly wrapped around meat and layers of fat, usually with herbs and spices thrown in…all tied up around a spit. Usually roasted over an open fire..this is the traditional Italian method. My version is the belly piece with the loin attached, then we butterfly the loin, rub with salt, pepper, fennel, parsley, garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, roll it up, tie it up and let air dry under refrigeration for at least 24 hours, then roast for four and a half hours in a high low temperature combination, let rest for thirty minutes and then ready to slice. Very labor intensive, but yields very moist pork…there are no shortcuts to the method.

3) What inspired your menu?
This is an easy one I love cooking with fire..whether it be a grill, smoker, camp fire, Meat and fire are primal and treated correctly yield incredible results. So that is the method I choose..we have a Rotisserie on the truck, The items I chose also easy..I am a pork fanatic…such a versatile animal…so many different cuts, tastes and textures…I chose Porchetta because it’s the belly and the loin and nobody is doing it, enough said. A great roasted chicken, was my other choice it brings back such comforting memories of cooking with my grandmother. For our salads and sides, we wanted to make sure they were tasty and let the ingredients speak for themselves. Our dishes are not hidden in mayonnaise or heavy dressings. We offer both the pork and chicken as sandwiches, meals, and bulk to go items.

4) What inspired you to get into mobile food?

Thirty years in commercial kitchens, always wanting to do something on my own, but with five kids I chose security and stability for my family over the opportunity of starting my own venture. Finally the planets started lining up …my youngest was a senior in high school in Hilliard. My job with Marriott was starting to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day”…every day felt just like ever other. I was losing passion for the craft, finding joy only cooking for our weekly family dinners. One day I snapped , quit my job cashed in my 401k and decided to go into business with my wife and children…Mobile food is hot in Columbus…a lot of great food coming off trucks. With a lower cost to entry than a traditional brick and mortar restaurant my decision and direction was made.

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5) What did you do before Porketta?
Before this spent the last thirty years doing the Chef thing around Columbus….Umberto’s, the Clock, Crowne Plaza, the 55 group, R.J. Snappers and Marriott hotels…from mom and pop shops to corporate and everything in between

6) How did you get ready to launch?
I left Marriott shortly before Thanksgiving, and basically took the winter, while the trailer was being built out, to come up with the menu, work on branding, build the social media presence, obtain all the proper permits and documentation, purchase equipment, test recipes, try and find spots to park and sell our food at…and the list goes on. They say the devil is in the details…everyday we worked task lists to shoot for a mid March opening. And here we are!

7) Porketta is a family affair – tell us about team Layne and what each person does in the trailer.

Team Layne consists of my son Conner…who is learning the craft and picking so much up. I so proud of him, my wife Michelle who is our backbone, she runs the window and is great with our guests. My other daughters float in and out as time allows. Basically we all do what needs done. I couldn’t be working with a better bunch of people. (Writers note: Michelle worked for Pitabilities for several years so she is no stranger to mobile food customers).

8) You source from Matt Swint (Matija Breads) – where else do you source from?

Yes Matt Swint and his incredible breads…the best in Columbus. Pork was a tough one…to find an Ohio producer of the exact piece I needed was a daunting task so I turned to THE MAN..Albert Thurn…if anybody could find it he could. And he did, sourcing a farm in Sandusky, Ohio. He is my pork connect. Chicken had to be all Ohio…so we turned to Vitale Poultry. Produce comes from Midwest for the time being as spring rolls into summer much more Ohio produce will be used. we like to park at local breweries and tap rooms, because these high quality local beers compliment our food. Even our T-shirts were printed by Traxler. Local was key to our business model, sometimes more expensive, but always the right thing to do.

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Posted in Locally Sourced, Mobile Food, sandwiches | Leave a Comment »

La Poblanita: A Winter’s Tale (or a Mobile Food Moral on Morale and Marketing)

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 3, 2015

Oh, there was great joy last fall when La Poblanita opened in a used car lot across from Weiland’s Market. Then it moved to the parking lot of the dry cleaners 100 feet away. Then it got a professional looking wrap. Then it changed its orientation to face another part of the parking lot. All seemed like good, positive changes. The food was great, service was good and a community was rooting for the new chica in town. Then winter came and hours became erratic. Not that hours were perfectly consistent before, but even factoring in weather, one never knew when the trailer might be open. A competitor just down Indianola Ave, La Morelina, left its spot as winter progressed, then La Poblanita disappeared for a while. I found it a few weeks later in the parking lot of a barber ship near Boston Bert’s Seafood Trailer, four or five streets north of the original spot. On the plus side, the parking lot was bigger and nicer and for the vendor, it looked like they had plug-in electric hook up which makes a big difference in the winter time. (This barber shop used to host a coffee trailer in the past). And in theory, the proximity to Boston Bert’s could be good for both by creating a de facto Mobile food court. But then hours were erratic again. In mid February I dropped by to find the sign below.

Poblanito

On March 1st, I went looking to Poblanita at the new site….and nothing. I found Poblanita back at the old spot (minus the sign)….and there was no sign of life. I hope Poblanita comes back, I like the food and Clintonville needs that type of culinary diversity. Granted, this winter was sucky for any mobile food vendor but Poblanita made some avoidable errors that could have improved the odds for more customers on the good days.

OK, now for mobile food 101. The first rule of mobile food club is: Be Consistent. The second rule of mobile food club is: Be Consistent. The third rule: communicate to your potential and regular customers in as many ways as you can as often as you can. If you follow these rules, you could have average food and still have better than average chances of being successful.

These are some things Poblanita could have done:

Write your hours on a laminated sign and post to the trailer.

When you can’t keep those hours, have another sign that indicates when you will be back during normal business hours.

Make sure you have a sign that says open that can be easily seen from the road (100 or more feet away).

When allowed (sometime you can’t use stand alone signs on some properties in some parts of town ) buy or make a sign (use two by fours if you need to, paint it orange if you need to), so that when people drive by they know you are open for business.

If you can’t maintain your hours, change them and communicate to your customers what is going on, they will be more likely to visit you if they know that you can’t maintain the hours they might prefer.

Don’t just rely on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram to communicate to customers. If you picked one of more of those tools – keep with each and use them every day. If you did not, pick one and learn to use it. And no matter how many of those that you use, assume that few if any of your customers are paying attention to your social media at any given moment. And if you have a sign with your business hours, that sign or another one should list the social media you are using. Not just that you use it but the exact handle or address that you are using.

There are hundreds of other things that small businesses need to do to make it, but the first business that ever opened, and each one since then, has used signs to let customers know that they are open for business…..and when they are closed for business.

Post Script (March 2015)

Poblanita did not move, it can be found in the parking lot of Beechwold Barbershop at 3825 Indianola Ave (Intersection of Northridge and Indianola.). Open Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 am to 9 pm. Cash only.

Posted in Clintonville, culinary knowledge, Food For Thought, Mobile Food | 4 Comments »

La Poblanita New to Clintonville

Posted by cmh gourmand on October 2, 2014

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La Poblanita
3825 Indianola Ave (Intersection of Northridge and Indianola)
614.598.9539
Open Monday to Sunday 10 am to 10 pm (closes at 6:00 pm on Sunday if business is slow)

It seems fitting that a Taco Truck is now serving food on a lot that served home to a soft serve ice cream stand that was a local favorite for years. La Poblanita opened at this spot in late September in the very heart of Clintonville. It is a one woman operation. Marcelita (Marci) the owner is happy to be running her first business and reports great feedback from the community so far. She is originally from Puebla Mexico but she has lived in Columbus for a long time and speaks English well.

Her trailer is small which limits the menu she is able to serve but what she does have is excellent. The standard menus includes: tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas and chuletas (pork chops). La Poblanita also offers the following specials when possble: Carne Asada Platter, Grilled Shrimp Platter and (some weekends) Tamales. The Taco Truck Tasting team has sampled the following on two visits: burritos, quesadillas, pork chops, Carne Asada, and grilled shrimp. Based on two trips and in spite of the fact that this business has been open less than 1 month, I declare this is one of the ten best taco trucks in town. Portion sizes and prices are very good. The vegetables in the side salads and inside the burritos are fresh and served in generous portions. Meat choices are steak, chicken and pork.

For platters in addition to the main dish you receive a side of seasoned rice, a side of pinto beans with queso blanco mixed in, a small salad with lettuce, cucumber and radish and when available a piece of candy. Platters are typically served with 4 fresh tortillas which are served steaming hot and fresh. Do use caution with the two house salsas – both the green and the red are very, very hot.

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The burritos are densely packed with meat and any other items you would like included. The pork chops were a surprise to see on the menu (not a typical taco truck standard). They were well cooked and lightly seasoned. They are not available every day and do not last long due to popularity. Although a one person operation, service has been very good and friendly. It is a one minute walk to Weiland’s Market across the street which is a nice way to spend some time if you are waiting for a large order. Check out La Poblanita muy pronto.

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La Poblanita  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in Clintonville, Mobile Food | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »