The country’s biggest culinary trend, food trucks, has rolled into Columbia. Three trucks, with trained staffs, commissary kitchens and business licenses, are redefining the on-the-go lunch in parking lots across Columbia. Line up for a taste.
Pepe’s Food Truck
Pepe Perez felt something was missing in Columbia. Although he liked his work as a manager at El Maguey, he was hungry for a job where he could develop his own menu and feature the authentic Mexican meals he loved. Inspired by his childhood in Mexico City and subsequent move to Sacramento, Calif., he decided his new home in mid-Missouri needed a food truck.
Armed with his previous experience at El Maguey and a knack for developing his own recipes, Perez and his wife, Katy, set out to make the wheels turn. And turn they did.
“It took off a lot faster than we anticipated,” Katy says.
Pepe’s Food Truck suffered a few minor setbacks before Columbians caught on to the treasure. On opening day last May, Perez parked on Fourth Street and put change in the meter; he did not anticipate a call from the city the next morning informing him street-side parking of the food truck was illegal.
After learning the mobile food guidelines set by the city and overcoming a noisy generator problem, the food truck Perez had only imagined a few months earlier was now real, gathering loyal crowds in increasing numbers.
“Pepe’s does what every restaurant in town should do: use fresh ingredients, prepare dishes from scratch and serve them with a smile,” says loyal customer Jessi Whitney Hall. “A great price doesn’t hurt, either.”
Nothing on the menu costs more than $10, including the popular shredded beef burrito and adobada (marinated pork) quesadillas. For a snack, try a $2 tamale, which comes with red or green sauce or poblano peppers.
Pepe’s operates a weekday lunch shift, as well as a dinner shift on Thursday evenings, and an occasional lunch shift on Saturdays. The Perezes also have plans for additional late-night openings as students return to Columbia.
Down the road, Pepe’s could become a small restaurant, Katy Perez says. For now, though, the couple is enjoying the success of their new business venture and the chance to bring a piece of Pepe’s home to Columbia.
Owners: Pepe and Katy Perez
On the road since May 2012
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday
Most often found at: Tropical Liqueurs on South Providence Road
Most popular menu item: Shredded beef burrito
Credit Cards: Yes
“Yum Yum Yum! Just polished off two chicken tacos and some delicious salsa and chips! Thanks, Pepe and Katy, for a deliciously wonderful lunch!!” — Amy Rebecca Messner
Sunflower Waffle Co.
Daniel Rosenthal was a Los Angeles businessman looking to invest in a food truck anywhere but LA. Conveniently, 1,700 miles away, his brother Chuck owned the Sunflower Waffle Co., a hole-in-the-wall fast-food joint housed in Mojo’s at 1013 Park Ave. The eatery’s eccentric waffle dishes were beyond popular with late-night concertgoers. Why not take the menu on the road?
So they did. The Sunflower Waffle food truck debuted last month and has been serving lunch five days a week. “We’ll start with lunch, then breakfast and then dinner,” Daniel Rosenthal says. “Hopefully, we’ll hit the bar crowd eventually.” The “bar crowd” would be a good demographic for the brothers to target — apparently, Sunflower’s signature dish is a miracle hangover cure.
“I don’t drink, but if I did, I would want a layer of chicken, gravy, waffles and syrup to protect the onslaught,” says Sunflower fan Phillip Overeem, noting that the menu is refreshingly different than anywhere else in town.
Sunflower also offers Waffle Dogs (bratwurst smothered in waffle batter), Suntella (Nutella-smothered slices of banana and a Sunflower waffle) and bacon waffles, among other creations.
“Waffles can serve as snack, main course or dessert,” Overeem explains. “My first time, I had the chicken and waffles for dinner, enjoyed a show, then had Reese’s waffles for dessert. I do not have a dietician, but I do have a lot of culinary fun!”
Chuck Rosenthal is responsible for the menu while Daniel works remotely from Los Angeles. “I do the accounting, the business side of it all, social networking,” Daniel explains. “Chuck is the captain of the ship.”
And that’s a ship that’s moving full-steam ahead: “By the time we get all of this going,” Daniel says, “we are going all out.”
Get ready, waffle lovers.
Owners: Charles and Daniel Rosenthal
On the road since August 2012
Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; at Mojo’s 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday
Most often found at: Business parks, MU campus, Mojo’s
Most popular menu item: Chicken and waffles with a side of gravy or syrup
Credit cards: Yes
“OMG. This waffle/chicken contraption is the BOMB!! Seriously, it belongs on the Discovery Channel.” — Josh Steinkoetter
Fat Chicks Chow Wagon
Those curious about the veracity of the Fat Chicks Chow Wagon’s title need look no further than the Thumper Stopper burger. Consumers of this delicacy get a taste of fried egg, sausage, bacon, cheese and jalepeños sandwiched between two full Krispy Kreme glazed donuts — if they can get their mouths around it, that is.
The calorie-conscious need not run away, though, as healthy options such as salads and smoothies are also on the Fat Chicks menu.
“You can get some great home-cooked-style food with healthy options like fruit salad — and fun, friendly service,” says customer Ana Lopez. This diversity of options reflects owner Lisa Nichols’ commitment to providing food that satisfies each and every customer. The truck’s menu encourages suggestions, bragging that “Fat Chicks takes all suggestions to heart and will do everything they can to get your business. We go the extra mile to make sure you are getting a quality product that is hot and delicious.”
Fat Chicks was the first food truck to hit CoMo. And it all started by watching television.
“While watching The Great Food Truck Race, I decided that Columbia, Mo., needs to get with the program and get urbanized,” Nichols recounts on the Fat Chicks’ Yelp page. “I brought a box truck and made my husband design and build a kitchen for me.”
Dubbed “The Beast,” the white, orange and yellow truck can be found all around town, and Nichols encourages patrons to check the Fat Chicks’ social media pages for updates on locations and daily specials.
In addition to a popular breakfast menu, Fat Chicks also serves homemade sandwiches, soups, casseroles and desserts. The 50-cent brownies are the “best in town,” according to the menu.
The Beast went into hibernation on July 9 due to mechanical issues. A month later, the truck was not yet fixed, but hungry Facebook fans were reassured with the following post: “Still working on truck. I appreciate everyone’s concern. Sometimes it’s just nice to know you are wanted. Love all my customers and working hard to get back on the road.”
Owner: Lisa Nichols
On the road since 2010
Hours: 8:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Most often found at: [info TK]
Most popular item: [info TK]
Credit Cards: Yes
“Girl, that salad last week was the best salad I have ever eaten. Ever.” — Deb Fleenor Sielert
Mizzou Hot Dogs
Four years ago, Tim Mallory couldn’t sell a hot dog cart.
“I would buy and sell little items to make a profit, and I couldn’t sell this hot dog cart,” he recalls. “My niece and daughter, who both went to MU, suggested that I sell hot dogs outside of bars.”
Gradually, one hot dog cart became two, and Mizzou Hot Dogs became a Wednesday-night staple at Fieldhouse and a must-have for MU students heading out of Middlebush Hall on the corner of University Avenue and Ninth Street.
More than 80 percent of Mizzou Hot Dog’s business comes from college students, but Mallory says that daytime loyal local customers kept his business alive during the summer. Mizzou Hot Dogs’ 500-plus Twitter followers keep tabs on where the Columbia native is going to be and when.
“Believe it or not, the daytime is much more successful than the night,” Mallory says. “I can get lines 20 to 30 people at Middlebush sometimes during the day.”
Kosher hot dogs combined with low prices keep college students and the bar crowd coming back. During the day, Mallory has a special meal for cost-conscious college students: a hot dog, bag of chips and bottle of soda for a total cost of $3. For the cashless, Mallory made credit card payment an option two years ago.
To serve the bar crowd, Mallory arrives at 9 p.m. and fires up the grill. He serves $4 bratwursts, $4 nachos and his signature $3 dogs, but skips the beverage sales outside of Quinton’s. His nights don’t usually end until 2 a.m.
“I can have a night when I sell 25; I can have a night when I sell 100,” says Mallory. “But there’s so much to this business; it’s not as easy as it sounds.”
Owner: Tim Mallory
Rolling since September 2008
Hours: Check social media
Most often found at: Fieldhouse, Middlebush Hall
Credit cards: Yes
When Bill Ramm was in high school, good hot dogs were only a nine-minute train ride away — to New York City, that is, with friends during lunch hour. Little did Ramm know, he would later open a hot dog cart of his own when those Jersey-style hot dogs were nowhere to be found.
Despite his childhood in New Jersey and five-year Marine Corps stint in California, Ramm chose to open his cart between the coasts in Columbia. Originally coming to the city because his father-in-law is the director of landscaping for the University of Missouri, Ramm decided New Jersey-style hot dogs would bring something new to the Midwestern town.
“Selling hot dogs is not the most profitable thing I suppose, but it’s something I grew up liking and I love what I sell,” Ramm says.
Ramm differentiates his hot dogs from the others sold in Columbia by the hickory-smoked taste, characteristic of those sold on the East Coast. Ramm also offers an abundance of toppings — more than 10, including bright red onion sauce and a homemade Italian pepper mixture, as well as pico de gallo when in season.
Patrons can spot the blue and yellow umbrella of Jersey Dogs on the northeast corner of Broadway and Ninth Street; Ramm likes the consistency of staying at the same downtown spot so customers can count on him.
Jersey Dogs offers two meal options: two hot dogs, one drink and one bag of chips for $5, or one hot dog, one drink and one bag of chips for $3.
Owner: Bill Ramm
On the road since October 2011
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Friday
Most often found at: Broadway and Ninth Street
Credit Cards: Yes
Buck’s Ice Cream Place
Buck’s Ice Cream trucks are making Mizzou fans scream for ice cream. In the sweltering heat, Buck’s famous ice cream flavors are a welcome treat for students, faculty and visitors.
Gelsey Minnick, a student worker at Buck’s, says the trucks are a great way to increase Buck’s visibility on the University of Missouri campus. She says many people don’t want to make the trek to east campus to visit the actual ice cream store, and some don’t even know Buck’s is there.
“The trucks bring Buck’s to the rest of campus,” she says.
The trucks are relatively small, but they carry 10 delicious flavors, from the popular Tiger Stripe ice cream, and cookies and cream, to lesser-known black walnut and Frozen Indulgence. This year’s sweltering temperatures have made tangerine sherbet a popular flavor, Minnick says, because it’s light and refreshing.
Customers can purchase a scoop of any flavor for $1.75; Tiger Stripe lovers can purchase a quart of the school-spirited ice cream for $3.75 and a half-gallon for $6.25. Bottled drinks are also available for purchase.
Minnick says Buck’s is eager to branch out from its usual campus spots around Jesse Hall and Lowry Mall, although the trucks aren’t allowed off campus. Get location updates via Twitter, and keep an eye out on home football game days.
“It’ll be a great to get the Tigers fans all rowdied up at tailgate,” Minnick says.
Owner: MU College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources
On the road since June 2012
On the Web: bucks.missouri.edu
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Most often found at: Lowry Mall, Jesse Hall
Credit cards: No
You can’t just hook up your George Foreman Grill to a generator and start selling brats out of your mom’s minivan. The city’s Public Health and Human Services Department requires “mobile vendors” to adhere to specific rules. Here’s a quick look at 10 of the (many) rules that apply to food trucks*:
- Vendors must have a current Columbia/Boone County Health Department permit and a temporary business license.
- All food must be from an approved source and must be clean, free from spoilage, free from adulteration, and safe for human consumption.
- All potentially hazardous food (meats, cheeses, dairy products, fish, etc.) must be prepared on-site by a permitted operator or be prepared at another permitted facility (not in a private home).
- Accurate, metal-stemmed thermometers must be provided to monitor food temperatures
- Ice must be from an approved source and not kept in Styrofoam coolers
- All mobile vendors preparing potentially hazardous foods must be equipped with an approved three-compartment sink with hot and cold running water, in which utensils and cookware can be submerged. An approved hand-wash sink must also be installed.
- Bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food is prohibited. The use of utensils such as tongs, forks and spatulas is required to minimize hand contact with food.
- All food wastes, soiled paper, etc., must be stored in a leak-proof plastic or galvanized refuse container with a tight-fitting lid.
- All food contact surfaces must be smooth, easily cleanable, nonabsorbent, and nontoxic. They must be durable and kept in good repair.
- Wastewater must be retained in a spill-proof, leak-proof container with a larger capacity than the water supply available on the vehicle. Wastewater must be disposed of into an approved sanitary sewer.
Visit www.GoColumbiaMo.com for the complete list of mobile-vendor regulations.