Meals on Wheels
Story and photos by Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer / Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
Anchored trucks are the working-class heroes of the hospitality industry – grassroots cookery at a set location with a predictable menu and a chef behind the window who everybody knows.
On a recent afternoon as rain began to fall, a conga line of customers bellied up to the counter at B’s Tacos in Londonderry for burritos, tacos and rice bowls.
“Opening the food truck was a dream,” said Kenny Spilman, owner-chef, who was in the lumber business for more than 30 years before opening the moveable eatery. “But be careful what you wish for. I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”
It’s true. In the last decade, the food truck industry across the country has burgeoned due to social media and pop culture references like The Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” reality show and the 2014 feature film, “Chef.” It’s now a $2.7 billion industry.
Spilman sources much of his ingredients locally.
“I grow a good part of our produce at my home,” he said. “I have a greenhouse, and what I can’t grow I source locally. I get my meat from Mr. Steer in Londonderry. Most of my ingredients don’t travel more than a mile.”
And neither does he. B’s Tacos has been parked at the BP Gas Station on Route 102 for five years.
While everyone loves a food truck at a fair or farmers’ market, stationary food trucks – those which stay in one location all the time – allow chefs to establish a regular clientele and a more complex menu. Spilman’s recipes have been tweaked from those of his father, who lived in El Paso, Texas. He makes pico de gallo fresh every day and goes through as many as five gallons a day.
Adam Brizuela and his young son Braeden were there for a rice bowl. “The food is so good. I wish they had more food trucks around here,” said Adam.
Another customer approaching the truck was a first-timer. “I was driving to Maine and I was starving. Then I saw the taco sign and I couldn’t believe it,” she told Spilman.
She ordered a burrito served in a cardboard tray, “So I can eat it along the way.” When Spilman handed her the tray she looked down. “Awesome,” she said, then drove away.
Spilman also sells potted and hanging plants displayed under a red-and-white-striped canopy in front of his trailer. Several patrons were seated at a couple of wooden picnic tables, others sat on boulders lined along the road between the BP station and a Dunkin’ Donuts. A large blue Rubbermaid cooler was filled with ice and soft drinks for customers.
“Business is so good I was thinking of opening a restaurant,” said Spilman. “But I decided to buy another truck instead. It’s larger. I’ll use it for private parties and special events.”
The food truck was born of the working class. In 1872, Walter Scott cut windows in a small covered wagon, parked it in front of a newspaper office in Providence, R.I., and sold sandwiches, pies and coffee to pressmen and journalists.
The Lunch Lady food truck is parked in front of Everett Arena in Concord Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is where, after spending years in the information technology industry, owner-chef J.J. Hall serves up barbecue, quinoa, Reuben egg rolls, spinach mozzarella sticks and other items you’re not apt to find in the cafetorium.
Made With Love 603 food truck sells Puerto Rican street food on Maple Street in Manchester and Hickory Stix BBQ, with its custom-built smoker, is often found behind the Market Basket in Londonderry.
Tim Ganos is the owner-operator of the Grazing Gourmet food truck in Amherst.
“I plan every menu, cut every veggie and a make every dish to order. I’m basically your private chef every time you come here,” he said recently.
Ganos’ white panel truck is parked under a couple of maple trees in the far corner of the parking lot of the J. August Jewelry Consignment at 25 Route 101A. Nothing fussy, just a picnic table and a couple of chairs for customers, as well as several tables on a patio connected to the jewelry store, which was once a coffee shop. The congested parking lot at lunchtime is a testament to the truck’s popularity.
The menu is extensive. There are Greek, garden, Caprese and chicken bacon and avocado salads, a half-dozen wraps including chicken and basil – available spicy or not – or grilled chicken, mushroom and tabbouleh. There are quesadillas and tacos with shredded pork or steak, and several sandwiches including Caprese, and a braised pork shoulder with grilled onions, barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese he calls the “Slow ‘n’ Low.” His best seller is the Cubano sandwich described on the menu as “mojo infused roast pork, ham, swiss, pickles, mustard.”
On a recent afternoon, Dr. Amanda Smith, a Milford dentist, stepped up to the window to order. Smith is a regular.
“I come about once every other week,” she said.
Ganos, looking piratical in a blue do-rag and black uniform, smiles readily. He loves to chat with his customers and knows the names of many regulars. He sometimes can be heard singing along with the staccato rhythm of a chopping knife inside the white panel truck, emblazoned with his windmill logo and the motto “hearty – healthy – local.”
“I use as many local ingredients as I can and even visit the farms myself,” said Ganos.
“Most food trucks don’t cook to order, they prep the night before, and put it in the warming bin so customers don’t have to wait in line,” he said. “The price you pay for food made to order is that sometimes you have to wait. If you can’t wait, phone ahead, but don’t expect a long conversation. I’m the only one here. I don’t have a lot of time to talk on the phone.”
He says he’s reluctant to prepare special orders. “Some ask for the Cubano without the pickles, but that’s not a Cubano. I’ve put a lot of thought into what to feed people.
“I guess you either love me or hate me, but that’s who I am.”
The Grazing Gourmet has been at its present location for three years. He previously was at the Amherst Garden Center but “there wasn’t enough traffic, people just didn’t want to turn off the highway.”
Ganos’ mother owned a catering business and his father owned several businesses where he previously worked.
“Most chefs know how to cook, but not how to run a business,” he said. “I know how to do both.”
He said he learned to cook at the elbows of his mother and his grandmothers. His grandparents emigrated from Greece and Germany.
“They only smiled when they cooked,” he recalled. “I think that’s because food was hard to come by during World War II. And when they could feed their families it made them happy.”