By Jim Workman | The State Journal
We found a wide variety of food trucks and vendors in our search for unique meals on the go. Here are profiles on just a few:
Island Teriyaki — Putnam Co.
Island Teriyaki is new to West Virginia, but not new to the world of food.
“We’ve been in business (in W.Va.) for three weeks, but I had a business in Las Vegas,” said owner Shawn Whittington. “I’ve actually been doing this for 17 years.”
His business partner Eric Beaver has 13 years of experience.
They are based now in Putnam County.
Island Teriyaki has set up at Gritt’s Farm in Putnam County during its Corn Maze, Pumpkin Patch and Fun Farm events for the fall season.
“Being in West Virginia now, I wanted to bring something different than just BBQ everything,” Whittington said. “We’ll do some different things, try to switch it up. We plan on doing a lot of caterings and events.
“We just want to get out there. Everybody we’ve talked to has been really cool about it and very welcoming with the whole idea.”
And Whittington said being self-sufficient will help the business grow.
“We have our own water and power. We cook everything inside (the truck). It works pretty good,” he said. “We found our truck on Craig’s List. We got a good deal on it. We had a few issues mechanically, but we just gutted it and built a new kitchen inside of it.”
West Virginia food connoisseurs will likely be thrilled with the menu.
“Our base for our teriyaki comes from Hawaii,” Whittington shared. “We do a spicy Hawaiian Spam burger. We’ll do some Asian fish tacos. We do teriyaki chicken and beef. We make all of our own sauces. We even make our own lemonade. We keep it all fresh.
“Some say the food truck craze is over already,” Whittington added. “But it’s just hitting West Virginia now. Opening a restaurant costs about $100,000. But doing something like this is feasible. Our hope is to move into a brick and mortar business eventually.”
All-American — Kanawha Co.
Mark Gomez has worked many sides of the food vending business.
“I started All-American in 2003 and (it) ran a little bit, and then I started building (food vending stands),” he said. “I built 30 of these — they’re all over the southeast. I’ve never kept more than three.”
Gomez could be found recently on Lee Street triangle in downtown Charleston.
“Now I’m focusing on the street operations, giving people jobs,” he said. “I pay them well, about $9 an hour rather than $7.25. I want to keep them.”
Gomez said setting up the truck goes quickly.
“It’s a three-man operation,” he said. “It takes one to tow us here, somebody to cook and someone to cashier. “
Clearly a food service fan, Gomez takes a look around the country at trends in food vending.
“In Austin, Tex., it’s huge,” he said. “Columbus, Ohio is huge, Charlotte is big, and they’re embracing it. And Charleston (W.Va.) is now too.”
Whether it’s an actual truck or a small set-up near a sidewalk, selling food on the streets requires much planning.
“Parking is not conducive to food trucks,” Gomez said. “They’re trying to open it up (in Charleston.) There’s probably six trucks here in town.
“People think that this is a new idea, but this is probably the second oldest business in the world, selling food on the streets,” he added with a laugh.
“With a small investment, you can get into your own business. And if you’re the one working it, you have a built-in job. You’re your own boss. But it is a lot of work. The setup is the worst part of the job, but the selling is the best.”
Heavenly Hoagies — Marion Co.
The demand for the fare served at Heavenly Hoagies restaurant has caused the establishment to stretch out to other areas throughout Marion County.
“This will be our third winter,” said owner/operator Brian Coleman. “We’re in Fairmont two days and we’ll spend a day in Fairview, Mannington and Monongah, typically from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We have three girls that work in our restaurant and we prepare the steak, seasonings and peppers before going out in the mornings,” Coleman said.
Reaching the working class was the first strategy for the mobile food business.
“We started by going to the coal mines and (gas) well sites,” he said. “Our permit allows us to go anywhere in the county, as long as we have permission.
“We’re not a food truck per se. I want to be out there amongst the people and make food right there in front of them. I think looking through a square (window) is impersonal.
“A lot of the restaurant workers eat with us,” Coleman said. “We’re Christians and give a lot back to the community, fire departments, libraries and schools. People know that. This is all we do.”
Hungry? Bad weather? No worries.
“We’re out there in all kinds of weather,” Coleman said. “We’re out there unless the snow is too deep or the wind is over 30 mph. We actually do a little better when it’s colder. We sold about 500 hoagies one day when it was minus-2 degrees.”
Rollin’ Smoke Roadside BBQ — N. Panhandle
Having a niche product seems to be the key to food truck success.
“We specialize in southern comfort food,” Rollin’ Smoke Roadside BBQ owner/operator/chef Cory Coulter explained. “Our biggest selling item is the pulled pork BBQ. We also do wings, brisket, baked beans and cole slaw. It’s all fresh food. We also make our own sauces and rubs.”
As with any business, high on the importance scale, perhaps even critical, is “location, location, location.”
It’s all about where you set up.
Or at least, letting potential customers know where you are.
“We sit on a parking lot owned by a friend of mine who owns a software company, along one of the busiest roads,” said Coulter. “We do lunch and dinner, but our days vary, because we also do catering, weddings and events.
“Just look for the Rollin’ Smoke Roadside BBQ, 1973 Chevrolet Coachman with a grill, fryer and refrigerator inside the truck.”
Bridge Road Bistro — Kanawha Co.
Having the right employees to run your business in the tough world of food vending is vital.
Sandy Call, Bridge Road Bistro general manager, says she is grateful to have found Lisa Coche.
Or rather, that Lisa found Bridge Road Bistro.
“Lisa came to us in April,” Call recalled. “She heard about our food truck on Facebook and called the restaurant and said ‘I’d love to work on your food truck. I want to help you.’ She was eager to help.
“She has really taken the bull by the horns,” Call said. “She’s amazing. I love Lisa’s enthusiasm. She’s exactly who we needed on the food truck.”
It was a dream job, and a great match, according to Coche.
“I’ve had a million careers, but I’ve always thought that I would like to have a food truck,” she said enthusiastically. “I’ve done it all. I found out that Bridge Road Bistro was getting a food truck and I thought ‘This is for me.’ So I called them and told them they needed to hire me.”
Serving up food to happy customers is a thrill, she said.
“It’s a great way to reach out to the community with different kinds of food,” said Coche. “I think that we’re seeing more foods trucks now because we kind of pushed it out there. It’s going to be a big boom once it gets going.
“When I hear about other food trucks that may be coming, I get excited. It’s going to be big.”
There are many healthy options available on the Bridge Road Bistro food truck menu, including a vegetable wrap that has roasted zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and portabella mushrooms.
“We use as much local produce as possible,” Call said. “We’re a farm to table business.
“We’re blessed to have our food truck.”
Spork Truck — Kanawha Co.
Sam Canterbury is taking a responsible approach to his food business.
So don’t look for his actual Spork Truck vehicle just yet.
“I didn’t see going into debt as an option, because I wanted as little overhead as possible,” he explained. “I chose to go straight forward with it.”
So while he is building his food truck, he is serving up his popular Spork Truck fare right on the streets of Charleston, rolling out his grill, tables and coolers on the Lee Street Triangle Tuesdays through Fridays and serving the late night crowd downtown on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Having a truck will make it easier to pick up and go and get set up,” he conceded. “It will make it more efficient. I’m constantly loading and packing.
“But with the setup that I currently have, I’m just trying to crank it out as quickly as possible.”
For the past three months, Canterbury has used social media to drum up a loyal crowd that devours his pork tacos, chicken tacos and, on weekends — kebobs, burgers and sandwiches.
He doubled his “likes” on Facebook in a few months.
“It’s the only marketing I’ve done,” he explained. “And I’ve got some private events and parties from it.”
“I’m test marketing the food as I go,” Canterbury added. “We’re expanding our menu, little by little.”