When did you launch your food truck Brown Bag Lunch Truck?
May 31st, 2011. We just celebrated our first birthday!
Happy birthday to you! What do you serve?
We serve our unique interpretation of barbecue. Barbecue is considered by many to be a uniquely American culinary tradition. So, we decided to switch it up a little bit and apply Asian and Latin flavors to items like brisket and pulled pork. We also put a spin on our sides, such as using coconut milk in lieu of cream in mashed potatoes, or Japanese style spicy mayonnaise for elotes, a traditional Mexican street food.
Tell us a little about your culinary background.
I’ve been cooking since I was about 4 years old. After culinary school, I was a line cook, sous chef, and chef de cuisine in finer dining restaurants. I have also done stints in catering and event planning and management.
You do special events featuring chicken, waffles, and specialty donuts at your kitchen in Albany Park. Do you have any events coming up?
Currently, no. We will, however, be opening up for limited dine-in and carry out at our space in Albany Park. Look for weekly chicken and waffle Sunday brunches and Monday night dinners in the next 30 days.
Are you involved in the politics of Chicago food trucks?
We tend to focus most of our attention on our food and growing our business.
What challenges does your food truck face?
For the most part, the challenges are similar to what a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants face. We also need to navigate the additional laws that are in place regarding mobile food vending in Chicago. We are not allowed to prepare food on board the truck, so all items must be labeled and prepackaged in our licensed and inspected commercial kitchen and held at the appropriate temperature on our truck. As such, all leftovers at the end of the day must be discarded, making waste management somewhat more challenging than in a restaurant.
The single biggest challenge to negotiate is parking. The mobile food vending laws also dictate that we park at least 200 feet away from the principal entrance to a brick and mortar food vending establishment. This law limits the availability of spaces from which we can sell during the lunch rush downtown. It also promises to become more difficult as more food trucks hit the road.
I think your tweets (@brownbagtruck) are pretty LOL and I know that Twitter was a huge part of your initial success. Was that a calculated plan or a happy accident?
Thank you! Often, we suspect we may think we’re funnier than we actually are. It was somewhat calculated. When we had a decent idea of when we were hitting the road, we posted our menu on Facebook and our website and then simply tweeted to local food publications that we had done so. We hoped that at least one of these publications would contact us regarding our opening.
We were counting on a couple of factors that were unique to the spring of 2011: the fact that food trucks were brand new (we were among the first 10 savory food trucks to hit the road) and the growing popularity of technique-driven barbecue restaurants on the North Side of Chicago. It paid off, as we were contacted by 3 online food editors and reporters by the end of day.
Over the next several weeks, several stories and features were posted/published about Brown Bag Lunch Truck’s opening. Needless to say, the truck took significantly longer to hit the road than expected, so we decided to just keep tweeting about our food, links to press, and the occasional corny reference to an old school hip hop or R&B jam. Somehow it got people interested and we had 1,000 followers on Twitter by the time we hit the road.