The New Food on the Block: Food Trucks of the Triad
The culinary scene here in the Triad is burgeoning and blooming, and this is true for brick and mortar establishments as well. But there’s also something about a food truck. It’s still a bit novel in our area and often romanticized by professional and amateur cooks and especially fans of food. But it takes a substantial investment and a strong constitution to open a food truck with weather, sourcing and operational costs as constant stressors. Not to mention, food trucks need a place to be stationary.
Don’t even get us started on inspections and prep areas. All food trucks must have a commissary, and a most excellent one at that, which is a good bit of the battle. The health departments around here are known to be, shall we say, sticklers.
I love food trucks; I love the variety and how the owners think outside the box, pardon the pun. Unfortunately, I don’t get to enjoy food trucks often, and I know it may seem shocking, but I don’t attend food truck festivals or rodeos for the most part due to the large crowds and a long wait (more on that later). Hitting them at lunch or dinner isn’t always possible either because my children complain about not having a place to sit (odd, seeing as how the little one can’t stay seated for lunch or dinner. Go figure). However, food trucks like to be at a place where their customers can take a seat anyway, so you’ll find them at parks or social areas where sitting is possible.
Other drawbacks to a food truck? It’s not like we live in southern California where the weather is perfect 95 percent of the time or the Pacific Northwest where sure, it’s rainy, but it doesn’t get frigid. Food truck owners and operators are at the mercy of the Mother Nature.
Rain? Our recent 95-degree temperatures (it’s 120 degrees inside a food truck)? Frigid temps? That means it’s cold in the truck, which means the food gets cold more quickly. Sometimes these factors result in a lighter turnout.
Food trucks have small menus, aren’t that much more expensive, and the choices are creative and adventurous. Tempura-fried sweet potatoes? Burgers with peanut butter, pepper jelly and bacon? Burritos with ferments, mushrooms and local meat? You’re now more likely finding those items at our restaurants on wheels than anywhere.
We talked to the locals and found out their favorite new food trucks, owned by chefs and professionals who left their restaurant gig for life on the streets.
The older of our newbies, StrEAT Provision is owned and operated by the talented chef, Jeremy Clayman, most recently of Small Batch Brewing Company, where he dished out some innovative, farm-sourced small plates for beer lovers. Clayman, who’s worked in fine dining for the past 25 years and has collaborated with the renowned Chef and restaurateur, Sean Brock, said while he enjoyed helping others fulfill their dreams, he knew that it was time he focused on his own. “I figured a mobile food business was a good way to start,” Clayman said. “And one day I probably would like to go back to a brick and mortar business.”
The food truck business has its pros and cons; after all, if you’re not on the streets, you’re not making money.
“If I’m here, I can’t watch my kids’ games,” Clayman said. “At the same time, it can still be flexible. The main thing is I really like to be able to be outside or look out the window, rather than being in a dungeon from sun up to sundown.”
StrEAT Provision has been getting rave reviews for its farm-focused small plates and snacks. Burgers, a grilled mac and cheese with grilled onions and the aforementioned tempura sweet potatoes drizzled with honey. Find StrEAT Provision’s schedule on Facebook and is available for private events as well.
Whisk And Tin Food Truck
The son of a chef who went to culinary school and spent his career in the restaurant industry as a consultant, Darren Hunt had an epiphany, all thanks to his toddler son. “All he would eat was mac and cheese and chicken fingers so I thought ‘I could do something with this,’” he said.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that. Hunt decided to learn more about the booming mobile industry and said, “I bought a 1982 Grunman Olsen step van, which immediately broke down. On the way home.”
It took nine months from purchase to being licensed, to build the truck themselves. Hunt brought on his brother Charlie, who’s also a chef, and adds, “We’re now a fully-functioning commercial kitchen on wheels.”
The Whisk and Tin Food Truck offers scratch-made “topped” mac and cheese. Usually topped with their homemade buttermilk brined fried chicken tenders. Choices like the signature mac and cheese topped with honey drizzled chicken or the very popular Buffalo topped mac. There’s also a chicken and ranch topped, and a jalapeño popper topped mac. Expect to get full.
“Our curbside menu mac and cheese focused, but we have the capacity to cater most anything per private request or event,” Hunt said.
You’ll find Whisk and Tin Food Truck’s schedule on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
One of the newest trucks that have been on the road after only getting its permit in mid-July. The Bahtmobile is owned and operated by Chef Matt Pleasants. When Pleasants left The Honey Pot, he packed his bags and moved to Portland, Maine.
“The beauty of that job that I took was that it closes for a time in January,” he said. “So we spent three weeks in Thailand and a week in Singapore. After a few drinks on this balcony of a bungalow on the side of the mountain, on the beach, I had a revelation, ‘Why am I not making Thai food in Winston-Salem?’”
Pleasants said he started writing a business plan, moved back here last April, found an investor, a truck and the final month getting squared away with the health department.
The menu on the Bahtmobile is Thai and Vietnamese with local ingredients that change with the seasons. In the winter, expect to see soups and ramen. Pleasants says his inspiration comes from his travels.
“Seven years ago, while traveling, I started to pay attention to Thai and Vietnamese cooking and this whole world of possibilities,” Pleasants said. “It’s all the food I eat in my spare time. I love shrimp and grits, but other than that, I’m eating curry.”
The Bahtmobile was highly anticipated, though the wait wasn’t an incredibly long one. Pleasant said support has been massive.
“I’ve been getting great feedback, especially on spice so I’ve toned that down a bit,” he said. “The menu is different, so customers first order something conservative and they love it. They’ve come back and ask questions and order something adventurous. I like that I gain their trust and they’re willing to try something they’ve never had before.”
Bahtmobile’s schedule around Winston-Salem can be found on social media as well.
This food wagon is about to be on the road again.
Chef Stuart Ford, who parked his hot dog cart to work at Pintxos Pour House for a time, is about to hit the streets again as well, with a full-fledged mobile food business on track for early August.
Ford said he’d still be known as Wild Willie’s Wiener Wagon with an emphasis on “and more.” “There will be a rotating menu of sliders, hot dogs, tacos and barbecue along with some specific menu items,” Ford said.
Oh and here’s a tip on how to handle a food truck rodeo. Bring your friends, a minimum of four but preferably six or eight. Each friend selects a truck. Disperse and order a dish. Reconvene. Sit on your blanket or in chairs, share and nosh your goods. Listen to music. Repeat with a whole different set of trucks.
Kristi Maier is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.