WASHINGTON – For those who are tired of the same deli sandwich or leftovers for lunch,the city's best options may be waiting curbside.
Brightly painted food trucks have begun popping up around the city,reminiscent of Los Angeles' taco trucks or New York's ethnic street vendors. They zip down the street,but fans don't chase them – they follow them on Twitter.
Linked to social networking sites and constantly updating their statuses,these mobile meals on wheels visit different locations daily,providing tasty lunchtime options to neighborhoods that lack them.
New trucks are hitting the streets almost weekly.
A tricked-out truck with international flair
Greg Volkar was hungry. After an hour of searching around the Logan Circle neighborhood,he finally found what he was looking for.
“I saw this giant yellow truck and thought,‘This has to be it,'” said the 38-year-old public relations specialist who had been tracking the truck with Twitter.
The 2½ ton truck emblazoned with bright bamboo and colorful logos pulled up to the curb. The Sâuçá truck had arrived for its grand debut.
After a half-hour prepping food inside,the window opened and chefs starting slinging saucas – flatbread wraps with gourmet fillings,to be topped with any of 22 sauces.
Among the choices are Mumbai butter chicken,Vietnamese pork banh mi and Mexicali fish taco,at $6.50 to $7.50 each,that can be topped with sauces including lobster bisque,Thai coconut or roasted garlic eggplant mayo.
The brainchild of Farhad Assari,a well-traveled former investment banker,Sâuçá is a food truck with international flair.
“The best food I've had is the street food,” he said. “I'm bringing street food from around the world to D.C. in a clean,safe environment.”
He divided the world into six “gastronomic regions” and plans to offer a wrap from each every day,in addition to other dining delicacies.
The menu offers options from breakfast through late night snacks. Breakfast wraps and toffles – waffles with toppings – segue into soups,salads and saucas.
Assari wants to keep the truck rolling morning,noon and night. He has had requests to provide food outside late-night parties and as bars close,he said.
He also plans to expand his fleet to seven Sâuçá trucks.
The truck is a technological piece of art. Equipped with eight speakers,a 37-inch LCD TV screen and four microphones for karaoke,the truck can be heard before it's seen. It also boasts free Wi-Fi within 100 yards,a GPS positioning system and two Web-cameras to help people track its movements and keep tabs on the line length.
The process of taking the Sâuçámobile from an idea to a street-ready truck took just over a year.
“It's no different than a restaurant – we have all the same regulations,” he said.
Sâuçá had to pass inspections by the health department and the fire marshal and obtain business certificates. All workers had to pass a food safety exam.
The cost “was in the thousands,” just for licenses and exams,Assari said.
For the love of cupcakes
More than a dozen women stood shivering near McPherson Square in central downtown on a recent Tuesday.
“What are you waiting for?” asked a man passing by.
“Cupcakes!” came the unanimous reply.
When a florescent pink truck pulled up to the curb,the ladies went wild. They jumped,yelled,waved and pumped their fists.
A TV screen on the side of the truck flickered on to display the flavors of the day,then a window popped open and a smiling Sam Whitfield stuck his head out.
“Cupcakes are here,” he announced,and the sugar rush began.
Curbside Cupcakes has been delivering sweet street treats since November. Whitfield,a 31-year-old lawyer,got the idea about a year ago. He co-owns the business with Kristi Cunningham,a 40-year-old business consultant. They had been dating a few months when they got serious about the idea of starting a confectionary cruiser.
“He asked me,‘Are we going to do this?'” Cunningham said.
She said yes.
They found a used truck online and began the process of souping it up,which included a candy-colored paint job,the LCD TV,vending window,solar panels and hand-washing sink.
By the time the truck was on the street,the couple was engaged.
“It's funny because we both look back on that conversation and acknowledge we were kind of talking about more than one thing,because if you're going to go into business with somebody,you're kind of saying something there,” she said.
Curbside Cupcakes sells about 500 cupcakes a day for $3 each,or six for $15.
The planning of stops and flavors is rotated each week so different parts of Washington can experience the multitude of varieties offered. There are always the classics – chocolate,vanilla and red velvet – but also exotic flavors such as key lime,coconut and cookies & cream. New flavors are in development,and a raspberry red velvet cupcake debuted this week. Like the other vendors,Curbside Cupcakes does its food preparation in a non-traveling industrial kitchen.
Cupcakes are reminiscent of youth and home,Whitfield said,which is why they are the perfect treat for the transient people of Washington.
“It's something fun to do in the course of your day. When you're having a bad day,good day,just say,‘Hey,the cupcake truck is outside,let's take an office field trip or go get one yourself,'” he said. “Cupcakes are social,but an individual treat as well.”
Of course,there will be cupcakes at their wedding.
Merlindia: “In between India and Little Rock,Ark.”
Although the men who work the Fojol Bros. of Merlindia food truck are not related,they're pretty close.
Peter Korbel,28,and Justin Vitarello,30,grew up as friends in D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood after their mothers met in Lamaze class.
Both were raised in families headed by good cooks where food was used to bring people together,Korbel said. They wanted to create a fun experience providing interesting food to the streets of Washington.
Thus,the Fojol Bros. – from made-up Merlindia – was born. Their first day serving preservative-free Indian food was Jan. 20,2008,”the day the world changed,” according to the company's Web site.
They travel the city in their gaily painted truck and zany costumes,donning fake handlebar mustaches,sombreros and sequined jumpsuits.
“I like the whole gimmick,” said Donald Taylor,34,who works at Lionbridge Technologies Inc. “I like the music,I like the color,I like the characters.”
Food and fun is what the Fojol Bros. strive to provide.
“Business is theater – it's about staging your experience,” Korbel said. “The consumer wants an experience,something that's memorable in some capacity,and that's what we're trying to do.”
The Fojol Bros. serve different styles of chicken and many vegetarian options such as lentils,eggplant and pumpkin. Portions range from a $2 “taste” to a $9 three-entrée plate.
Their “Fojol Folospohy” is the basis of their business ethics. Korbel said he believes in helping at-risk youth and doing all he can for the environment.
All of the packaging is bio-degradable,they recycle plastic water bottles and the truck runs on bio-diesel.
Korbel and Vitarello donate some money from their business to Mentoring Works2 Inc.,a non-profit that supports local youth. The duo also coaches an inner-city boys basketball team.
Korbel,who worked in real estate development and finance,said he is glad he took the leap of faith to found the Fojol Bros.
“I'm the happiest I've ever been,” he said.