Chicago: Homage Street Food Truck To Bring Global Eats To Chicago Streets

Erin Chan Ding | HuffPost Chicago

Chicago has a truck for mac and cheese, a truck for sausage and a truck for cupcakes. Next month, husband and wife entrepreneurs Mike Maloney and Elaine Toner plan on introducing Homage Street Food, a truck that pays tribute to cheap, delicious street food from all over the world.

Inspired by eating oven-fresh pizza out of a van in the South of France and buying arroz con leche, or rice pudding, on the streets of Lima, Peru; Maloney and Toner aim to take their love of global, everyman snacks, sandwiches and entrees to the Chicago streets in mid-July.

“Every place we’ve gone,” Maloney said, “We’ve always ended up eating at places on the street. All the families are out and everyone is enjoying themselves, and we wanted to kind of incorporate that in Chicago — that feeling you have when you’re traveling and kind of immersing yourself in the culture.”

Maloney and Toner in Peru.

Maloney’s wife, Elaine Toner, brings a global heritage to Chicago — she was born and raised just outside of Dublin — and draws from her culinary experience as both a home cook and a former pastry assistant at Blue Water Grill. She is in the process creating recipes for the Homage Street Food truck, like Asian noodle dishes and South African bunny chow, which actually has no rabbit in it but is an Indian-inspired vegetarian, chicken or lamb curry that’s eaten from a thick bread bowl.

Toner, who lives in the Ukrainian Village with Maloney, said that along with the inspiration they draw from street dishes they’ve tried while traversing the globe, they also see Homage as a way to reflect Chicago’s diverse ethnic neighborhoods.

“We’re always searching out locations,” Toner said, mentioning Devon Avenue’s extensive Indian options. “And we love to go to cute little places over there. The great thing about ethnic food and street food is that there are so many wonderful flavors, but it’s so affordable, too. We hope to pull from all these great neighborhoods in Chicago, and the wonderful Mom and Pop restaurants, and bring the flavor to a food truck.”

Maloney, 33, and Toner, 32, have raised enough money to buy an old utility truck for about $5,000 and are in the process of fitting it with new walls and the electricity needed to keep pre-cooked food warm (an ordinance to allow actual food preparation on Chicago food trucks is still pending), as well as sandblasting the truck’s white paint to expose its aluminum. The company logo — white cursive lettering reading “Homage” on a black background — will also be painted on the truck.

In a social experiment to help them generate the $7,500 they need to finish purchasing and installing the grills, hoods and refrigeration in the kitchen portion of the truck, Maloney and Toner have posted a request for funds on Kickstarter, a website that harnesses social networking to fund creative projects. The duo must raise their full $7,500 request amount by July 1 to receive the funds. With a little more than a week to go, they still need about three-quarters of the money.

For their Kickstarter backers, Maloney and Toner promise different incentives for varying amounts, from “a huge thanks from the bottom of our hearts” for pledges of $1 or more to a postcard, pin, two food items, a tote bag, hot sauce, flask, and a catered, two-hour party for 20 people for those donating $1,500 or more.

“It’s a really neat concept,” Maloney said of Kickstarter. Maloney also manages The Grafton Pub & Grill in Lincoln Square and will handle most of the business duties at Homage Street Food.

He said he admired what food trucks like the Gaztro-Wagon and Meatyballs Mobile have done for the city’s street-level culinary scene and sees a niche there for Homage Street Food, too.

“The fact is,” Maloney said, “we’re bringing these dishes that were meant for the street back to the street.”

To keep up to date on the launch of Homage Street Food and to find the truck’s location, check out their website. To help Homage get on the road, donate here.