By STAFF | SMDailyJournal.com
Matias Bordaverri moved around the about three-foot opening in his mobile restaurant prepping for lunch.
Cutting strawberries and making sure bread is stocked and ready were just part of the dance to be completed 30 minutes before those working in one of many nearby Brisbane office buildings descended on the parking lot. Whisk on Wheels, Bordaverri’s Burlingame-based food truck is one of a handful of options. Within an hour, a mobile food court emerged and by 11:30 a.m. hungry patrons were lining up for food.
This Tuesday morning was quite different from local reaction to food trucks just a couple years earlier. Now these businesses are becoming commonplace outside of San Francisco and finding a home in San Mateo County. From paninis to Indian food and desserts, there are mobile restaurants throughout the county working to gain a following. As of July 1, San Mateo County had issued 107 permits to food trucks planning to prepare food within the mobile business, said Director of Environmental Health Dean Peterson. Trucks that sell food produced elsewhere — like ice cream or cupcakes — need a different permit.
Bordaverri, who opened in May, is one of the most recent to join the ever-growing fleet. For many, growing a following is the first step to having a brick and mortar location. But it all starts with limited space on four wheels and working feverishly during lunch and dinner shifts.
Although Bordaverri has years of experience in restaurants, there was still a learning curve when it came to getting started. The truck requires a variety of insurance, multiple business permits due to its mobile nature, and it’s difficult to find employees willing to work three hours a day at ever-changing locations.
Only a few months into the process, a healthy line formed for lunch with people eager to try salads made with seasonal ingredients, tasty panna cotta with fruit toppings or one of the handmade empanadas — a recipe Bordaverri brought here from Argentina, where he grew up.
“People think eating healthy is expensive. But it can be affordable if you take the time to interact,” he said.
For Bordaverri, it’s all about offering fresh, healthy products at a reasonable price. He works with local farmers to include what’s tasty today into the same day’s menu. Menus also change based on location as one city may be a fan of soups while another event calls for something like pizza. He’s passionate about eating healthy and notes his prices make those choices available.
“I’m passionate about food. It’s not about what people think. It’s about what I do when given the responsibility,” he said.
Selling a salad with baby greens, roasted beets, vine-ripe tomatoes, shaved fennel, Medina Farm strawberries, Manchego and citrus vinaigrette for $6.50 does have its drawbacks though. Lowering the price means not making as much profit per salad.
But Bordaverri sees it as his responsibility as a chef to offer truly healthy dishes at affordable prices. Ultimately that’s a conscious decision for Bordaverri who loves the food world he’s created for himself which allows him total control over expression.
And where that one truck on wheels will take Bordaverri is unknown. For Curry Up Now, one of the first trucks on the San Mateo County scene, one truck was the start of what is now a multi-truck business and a restaurant in downtown San Mateo. Owner Akash Kapoor sees it as the start of a larger growth plan.
“There’s no standard Indian food,” explained Akash Kapoor, who added many options are also unhealthy and/or not very good.
They set out to change that with a smaller menu with a few staples and other rotating items.
Though an established, accepted and loved local business now, Curry Up Now initially created concerns.
Rana and Akash Kapoor of Hillsborough opened the Indian food-based business in September 2009. It was a change in profession for the couple who previously worked in the mortgage business for 10 years. Noting the Southern California trend of mobile food trucks, they decided to bring tasty Indian comfort food to local patrons.
At its start, the truck ruffled feathers in Burlingame with some lauding its cuisine and prices while others thought it stole business from established locations. The city even conducted a 306-person online survey on the topic. Such chatter has since subsided and the business has grown to three trucks. At one time it was four, but that was pulled back. On tax day this year, Curry Up Now opened doors at 129 S. B St. in San Mateo. All the dates are something easily remembered, like tax day, a father’s birthday, something significant, Kapoor explained.
“We’re not trendsetters. We’re following Southern California,” he said, noting others have gone from a truck-based business to a physical location.
The trick is the two run differently. Patrons at a truck want food quickly while those going to a restaurant often want to linger and chat. The restaurant could soon serve alcohol and offer live music on the weekend, another new challenge. But the successful transition hasn’t gone unnoticed as others ask Kapoor questions about his business many times per week hoping to gain insight.
Whether new or established and still growing, the one thing these businesses have in common is demanding hours for those in charge.
Eighteen- to 20 hour-days are worthwhile for one reason — to see something grow, said Kapoor.
And, of course, the love of food.
Getting a quick bite doesn’t mean you need to drive around aimlessly. This movement has a tech-savvy element by using Twitter and Facebook as the means to reach hungry patrons. Making requests online can help determine new locations. Downtown San Mateo features a Monday night dinner and San Carlos has Wednesday lunch gatherings at the Hiller Aviation Museum offering of a rotating collection of these mobile restaurants. And, of course, online reviews are helping patrons decide where to spend the $5 to $10.