It’s just before lunchtime on a weekday, and Wolf Antoni is getting ready for his workday.
He’s got bratwurst on a griddle, a side of onions, canned soda on ice and a smoothie maker and fresh fruit ready to go.
Antoni is “The Bratwurst King,” and he is testing the waters to see if Reston is ready for food trucks.
Food trucks are a red-hot trend in big cities, including Washington, D.C., where proprietors like Red Hook Lobster Pound, DC Slices, Eat Wonky and Sabor’a Street have capitalized on foot traffic, foodies and social media.
Can it work in the suburbs, where, despite Reston’s 55 miles of bike and pedestrian trails, the lunchtime crowd still usually gets where it wants to go by car? Also, trucks depend on free-market city streets on which to park and sell. Tysons Corner has a burgeoning food truck economy, so it can be done.
In Reston, there is critical mass in office parks and the Reston Town Center, but those places are private property and won’t let The Bratwurst King park there (and compete with the standing restuarants) without permission from the property owners.
So for now, Antoni sets up shop on the grounds of The Reston Zoo. He is there most days (especially Thursday through Sunday from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On the menu: old-world European food. There is bratwurst, of course, but also hot dogs, hamburgers, Wiener Schnitzel, potato pancakes and, on weekends, crepes.
Antoni, who lives in Reston, has had a variety of jobs, including distribution manager for local newspapers and soccer league administrator. He says he purchased the 24-foot truck in late 2009, and poured about $40,000 into outfitting and rehabbing it, as well as getting necessary licenses from Fairfax County.
“What qualifies me to do this? I have been eating for 50 years,” he says. Actually, Antoni also worked in a number of bars and restaurants back in is native Austria and helps the owners of Herndon’s Euro Bistro with catering.
“I have been here 20 years,” he says. “The American way is never-ending optimism.”
Antoni is optimistic his food will catch on at the zoo, and that he will find other local spots to set up shop. He originally eyed a spot on Route 7, but it was deemed unsafe to be parked alongside of a such a busy road.
Antoni points out that taco trucks have been popular around here for years. He is just taking an old idea and bringing it to a more discerning crowd. He has already tweaked his menu to make it more kid- and American-friendly – out is the Austrian garlic soup; in is the chicken sandwich.
“You’ve got to be flexible,” he says. “Ethnic food helps – you need something that sets you apart. The key to it all is uniqueness.”
Antoni says he has to catch on here. He is not going to DC every day, where competition is brutal and his truck does not meet the 18-foot rule anyway.
Besides that, “I hate driving in DC,” he says.