El Paso, Tx: The Drifter – Gourmet Mobile Eatery is Catching On

By Mía R. Cortez | WhatsUpPub.com

The Drifter, at first glance, looks like an ordinary food truck. And it is, in a way.

In late July when owners Ian Atkins and Reid Hanson hit the streets of El Paso with The Drifter, it was with the intention of introducing the type of mobile eatery that flourishes in large metro cities.

A good example, said Hanson, is Austin, Texas.

“There’s like five lots made especially for food trucks in Austin,” he said. “Food trucks are a growing trend nationwide in the restaurant industry, too, and are being used as a way to bring in extra revenue.”

Before taking the plunge, Hanson said, they had some big decisions to make.

“We both had jobs, and an idea,” Hanson said. “It came down to pulling the trigger, quitting the jobs, and going full time (with the) trailer.”

Built around food codes
Hanson and Atkins found the shell of a vintage steel trailer truck, stripped it and built their mobile kitchen from scratch. They studied the El Paso food codes before starting their construction and built their kitchen appropriately.

“We put in a new wall, wired it electrically, bought all the kitchen stuff,” Hanson said. “We’d seen the insides of food trucks and basically knew how we wanted it to be set up, but as we went, we changed our minds on different things.”

Inside, The Drifter is one big kitchen – four sinks, a griddle top, fryer, refrigerator – prep tables and a giant storage at the back. Food is served out of the windows on either side.

Y los tacos?
Some of the first reactions from El Pasoans, Hanson said, were “Where are the tacos?”

Indeed, The Drifter is no taco truck. They serve sandwiches, chips, drinks and a dessert of the day. They call it a “mobile gourmet sandwich diner,” with an international flair.

For example, there’s a pear-and-brie sandwich, a turkey pesto, a Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich with ham, cilantro, cabbage and jalapeño), and their special of the day. Last Friday it was the Cubano (sliced ham and pork on a roll).

They also do catering and private events. So far they’ve been booked at least once a week for a private catering event. They can deliver the food, or bring the trailer to your backyard, Hanson said.

Big biz on wheels
Quitting their day jobs and investing four months of construction and as much as the cost of a luxury vehicle into their business venture was a challenge, especially for two partners with no previous food or restaurant experience.

But they’re happier now, Atkins said.

“It’s exciting, we have fun now,” he said. “Plus I want to go back to school, so I needed some more flexibility.”

And, they say, the proof is in the pudding.

After experimenting with different menu options and trying them all out on their friends, they say they’ve reached a level of consistency that seems to be working well.

The biggest roadblocks, Hanson says, have been obtaining permits to sell food wherever they go.

“You really need the help of local businesses to do it legit,” Hanson said. “It’s a giant trailer, we can’t just sneak around.”

Catch a bite
The Drifter updates their schedule daily on Twitter, Facebook and their website, thedrifterelp.com. But for the most part, you can catch them for lunch 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. behind Mesa Street Bar & Grill or at Hope & Anchor on Saturdays from 5-8 p.m.

Sandwiches are $6 or $8, and that comes with a pasta salad or bag of Zapps Cajun Chips. They sell Hansen’s natural sodas and desserts like chocolate chip cookies or sea-salted Rice Krispies Treats.

They carry metal chairs and tables with them, so there’s usually a place to sit.

“The food is good, fast and different,” Eastsider Yanar Lizardo said. “I hope to see them on my side of town, too.”