For my first interview on Food About Town, I sat down with Chef/Owner Paul Vroman from the Brick N Motor food truck the day before the first Food Truck Rodeo of 2013 to learn more about his background and the regulation battles in the area.
This is new to me so please feel free to comment and help me get better at this. Transcribing this from a recording was a bit of a hassle so in the future I might just offer interviews as podcasts. I have some more planned and this will be a regular feature going forward on the site so strap in and we’ll figure this out together!
Update: I have posted the full audio now as a podcast and it will be available on iTunes soon!
Chris Lindstrom: How’re the preparations going for the Food Truck Rodeo tomorrow (May 29)?
Paul Vroman: It’s been a long day today. We got here around 6:30 am and started prepping; we’re doing a pretty heavy menu. Last year was our first time there and we did 3 items. It was our first day on the truck and we weren’t comfortable with the truck itself and putting food out of it. This year on the other hand we’re going pretty heavy with about 6 items so we’re prepping everything the day before and nothing is older than a day. It’s going to be a long day today and could be a long night but we’re going to be ready for it tomorrow. It’s going to be a lot of food though! Hopefully a lot of people will show and the weather will be good for it.
CL: I certainly hope so. It’s a lot of great exposure for the food trucks in Rochester.
PV: I agree. It’s definitely going to be a big turnout. To my knowledge, we’re up to 15 trucks that are actually going to be there. Theres going to be about 5 carts and 6 trailers as well so it’ll be good exposure. With a lot of the trucks in the press lately, we’re hoping that it’s going to bring more people to the rodeos than last year because there was not a lot of people knew about knew about trucks in Rochester compared to today
CL: And now with almost 30 vendors it is getting more popular and obviously brings a lot more news reporting on the truck issue both in the city and the suburbs. How would you describe the current situation licensing wise?
PV: Licensing in the city is becoming a little bit easier. I think the departments are finally talking with each other and it was easier for us to finally get a license than it was prior to getting inspected. There have been a lot of unanswered questions on the city’s end, but now they have those answers so it’s going to be easier. It is going to be more streamlined for new truck owners coming into the situation. It’s still kind of a mess in the city and it’s not what we wanted with what is going on but we gotta start somewhere. Baby steps, but hopefully at the end of this pilot progam they’ll open up more of the city and lessen the fee. Give us more time downtown because that’s what we want. The suburbs are still a mess……yeah, I don’t want to say a mess but they don’t know how to regulate the trucks. They don’t know how to control what’s going on in their town because they are larger and have more open space than in the city of Rochester. So to keep keep a watchful, careful eye on them is going to be a little difficult. We just filed another permit with the Town of Henrietta. We’ll have a meeting again on June 19th I believe. Same thing….we’ll have to go in front of the board. We had to go through the same steps before and hopefully it’ll be a little bit easier for Nate and I this time just because we’ve been through that process but it doesn’t mean we’re going to get it because we already have one.
CL: And that was for one location right?
PV: Correct, and it’s going to be for site specific, time specific, date specific. Doesn’t mean we can roll into Henrietta at any point and time and park at these locations. Not to say that we wouldn’t if we had to but it is something that needs to change. They need to come up with all around process. The suburbs….I liked them up until this point because it was office parks and secluded businesses that needed a place to go. With the city opening up, it could be a little different. The city is going to have more people than the suburbs will, but we’re not going to leave certain areas in the suburbs because those people helped us get to where we are today and we have strong ties with them and we’re going to keep supporting them because they supported us.
CL: Not only that but it is a great captive audience too.
PV: Very captive audience which is a good thing. You’re going to want a truck there. The three (city) locations with 2 trucks each…..you are competing not only with the other trucks but also other food carts and the quick stop and shop places unlike the suburbs where you’re in a business park and you’d have to drive somewhere and we make sure they don’t by giving them good food.
CL: This is going to be a close are with two food trucks in the same spot. Do you guys all get along relatively well? You’re going to work together in these spots?
PV: You know, we’re going to try to get along. Hopefully we can all get along. We all work together as it is……we all talk to each other and know what we’re doing tomorrow and we stay in touch and stay on top of things. I think it’s going to become difficult as the situation grows downtown with the quantity of trucks. At the end of the day, everyone has got to eat and we may have to work together to get things changed in the city, but I need to make sure I’m making money on the street. It is competition. It is business and I can see some trucks not getting along with other truck owners. One of the guys from city was concerned originally that we’d be out there throwing tomatoes at each other (laughing). I don’t think it’s going to get to that point but there’s going to be some backlash from truck to truck. And I do think that specific trucks will work together because they know they’re truck will pair well another. You’ll bring your followers and we’ll bring our followers and we’ll have a good day.
CL: Not only that but there’s people that get along different than other people.
PV: Correct. We have no hard feelings towards any trucks and we want to work with every truck in Rochester but I’m not saying that’s the same feeling back towards us. It is going to be difficult because of how small of an area it is and we don’t know how many trucks have signed up for this pilot program. I do know there’s a couple other trucks that have signed up but I’m not positive that every truck that is in the city of Rochester is going to sign up for it.
CL: Yeah, it’s not a small fee and it is a lot of steps to go through.
PV: It is a lot of steps to go through. It is not a small fee. I’m ok with the fee that we pay because we did one day of illegal vending downtown and I can say that because everyone knows that and the city knows about that and we’ve been talked to about that. We know how much money we can gross sale in one day so I’m not scared about paying that fee back. Do I think it is ridiculous that they’re charging us what they charge for a year for the 6 months we have? Yes. And it is technically a pilot program on a trial basis and they should charge us trial prices.
CL: What’s the next realistic step to move the cause forward?
PV: We had a meeting I think last Monday with the Roc Mobile Food organization. After that we and Christina Walsh from the Institute of Justice….she’s pretty much spearheading the legal vending rights for the United States….and she came in to town and sat down and talked with us. After the fact, the truck owners specifically went to to dinner with her and spoke on the current issues in the city of Rochester and what we were frustrated with and how the rules aren’t right and aren’t good enough for what we want. She is currently working on her end drawing up some paperwork to take to the city and questions to ask and some press releases to be sent out so the general public truly knows that it is a good thing that they passed these laws but we’re not entirely happy with what they gave us. And I think that the general consensus of the public is that we, as truck owners, are extremely excited with what has passed and that’s not correct.
A lot of people congratulated on the “victory” but it is a small step and there’s a lot that needs to be changed still. Time restraints need to be changed and we need more locations. The whole fee needs to be readdressed. Outside the city needs to be addressed. There’s the big issue of private property parking. We see no issue and, in fact, we see less city involvement if it is private property since they don’t have to involve the Dept of Traffic. They don’t have to involve Public Safety. At the end of the day, that’s all it should come down to is public safety, fire safety and environmental safety. But the city seems to have to put their own hands in the situation. It is government and they have to protect themeselves, the city and the people of the city but I think they’re going a bit too far with that.
CL: Getting off regulations since those are kind of boring…..
PV: Yes and I could talk about them all day (laughing)
CL: I’m sure you could! Where were you working prior to owning and being the head chef on a food truck?
PV: Prior to this, I was the executive chef for Max at Eastman Place and was there for about 5 years. I oversaw pretty much all the banquets and the restaurant’s day to day life. It was fun…..I mean it’s similar work and different work. I was in one place all the time and now I move around but we try to do the same kind of food I was doing there on our truck here because that’s the whole concept behind our truck is to bring gourmet restaurant quality food at lower prices minus the tablecloth and the “annoying server”. I apologize to all the servers out there, but it’s different and we enjoy it. Before that I lived in North Carolina and ran 2 different restaurants over the course of 8 years and I wouldn’t go back to a brick and mortar establishment until I own my own.
CL: So why did you leave to man your own mobile restaurant?
PV: There’s many different reasons. One…..I decided that it was time to do my own thing. I set goals prior to going to college about 10 years ago about where I wanted to be in life at a certain point and 30 was kind of the benchmark for that I needed to be doing my own thing. Obviously at that time it was not food trucks because food trucks weren’t really that big or, at least in my eyes, I didn’t know that much about them. But I told myself that I wanted to own my own establishment of some sort whether it be a catering company or a small diner or a specialty store but I had to be doing my own thing. I turned 30 and got married and the inevitable next thing to do to completely change my life around was to leave the confines of someone else’s establishment and do my own thing. Plus my wife took over as the event coordinator of the Max corporation and we probably still wouldn’t be married today if we were working side by side like that (laughing).
CL: Just what you need is to be working with your wife full time, hahaha. What is your favorite part about being in the mobile vending world?
PV: The fact that we can we can go….well I shoudn’t say we can go anywhere…..anywhere within restrictions. We can take our food to people that have never experienced it that would maybe not know we are out there because they aren’t big on the food trucks yet. Obviously in the last couple months all the press we as an individual and food trucks as a whole have gotten, I think there’s a lot more information out there. The thought behind the small establishment pushed me towards a truck because it’s about as small as you can get. There’s no tables and no chairs and I really like to be able to have fun with our food. The small kitchen that we have gives us that ability and I know it doesn’t make any sense, but we only have room for so much food so we have to change our menu as frequently as we do. I love being able to watch people eat it for the first time or the 10th time and it be different and be in a different location.
CL: Flexibility is a great thing since it allows you to use different ingredients. We’re coming towards late spring and summer time which is prime time for Rochester finally getting fresh ingredients. What are you looking forward to using most in the coming weeks?
PV: Asparagus…..I mean we’re using it right now and I love it this time of year. Asparagus is starting come in small quantities now but soon it’ll be big. The local lettuces….hopefully they’re going to start coming in full steam. I mean, anything I can get from my farmers I’ll buy and we’ll write a menu around it. I don’t really call them and ask them what they have or ask them for specific things. It’s more what can I use and how much do you have. I do have some friends who are starting a farm just outside of Canandaigua and they do have specific items they’re going to be growing for us that are hard to get at other places.
CL: You have a constantly evolving menu but what’s the favorite thing you’ve been making?
PV: I can say that today the least favorite thing is gnocchi just because we’ve rolled over 30 lbs of it. I can’t really say that I’ve had a favorite thing because my kind changes every day about what I think about what we’re doing. Constantly having to evolve what you’re doing to make it better every day. I think everyone’s favorite is the burger. It’s a very simple burger; there’s not much to it. We use very few ingredients. I do really enjoy the Korean BBQ sauce we make and use on pretty much anything and everything. That’s a hard question to answer.
CL: I know…..I’m trying to find something interesting and different to talk about because I see you getting interviewed about the regulations all the time and nobody is going into the background of the food and where you guys came from. I mean, who else is using (I’m assuming) fermented chile paste?
PV: I can’t say about that (laughing). There are people out there using it but not on trucks. They’re welcome to try but we just like to have fun and play around and try new things. I think that what my favorite food that we’ve done is what we’re doing next because it’s new and we’re challenging ourselves to figure out new things. We’ll run things for a couple days and bring it back if it works. If it doesn’t, you’ll never see it again because we don’t want to put out a product that people aren’t happy with or that we’re not happy with. There are times that things change on the truck from the morning to the afternoon because we decided it asn’t what we wanted it to be or its not coming out the way we envisioned it to be. That’s something Nate and I really enjoy is the fact that it’s just the two of us and that we can do that. There’s no one else to tell us to do it differently.
CL: So moving away from your truck…..how long have you been in Rochester?
PV: I was born and raised here and moved away for about 10 years including college and have been back for about 7 years now. When I left Rochester…..the day after I graduated college I said I’d never come back.
CL: (Laughing) It seems like a common thing that a lot of people say that grew up here.
PV: It is and, from when I left here, it’s completely different now when I came back. Different now than even 7 years ago. I think Rochester is evolving as it always will be. It evolves at a slower rate but we get it right hopefully.
CL: It also allows creative people to offer something new to the community unlike the big cities where it’s hard to be the new thing because everything is there.
PV: Correct, and that’s what we enjoy with our truck is that we’re doing things a truck in Rochester hasn’t done before. We watch other evolving cities 5-6 years ahead of us and how they do things and try to take, even if it’s just business model or technique, and apply it onto our truck to benefit us and the city of Rochester.
CL: I guess I’m not sure if Buffalo is ahead of Rochester or behind in some ways……
PV: To be honest with you, I think that Buffalo, in the food scene, is ahead of Rochester. There’s a lot of great restaurants out there…..not that there’s not a lot of great restaurants here but there’s more of a food scene in Buffalo. At least a stronger food scene. There’s a lot of foodies here in Rochester…..you as one of them but I think that there’s a larger group in Buffalo that is looking for that cutting edge and that next new thing. I know there’s a lot of cool underground things that are happening in Buffalo in the food world that just aren’t happening here. I don’t know if it’s because no one has tried it or if just hasn’t worked. Nate and I just experienced (for the second month) a midnight dinner in Buffalo this past weekend with Donnie (Burtless) and Allie from Buffalo Eats. It was cooked by Chef Ed Forester from the Hotel Lafayette and I’m not sure if I can say where it was at….
CL: Probably not….
PV: Yeah, I don’t wan’t to get anyone in trouble but it was an experience I wish was happening here in Rochester. We are currently looking into the rules and regulations of those kind of things because we don’t want to do anything that’s illegal. We want to do something along those lines….
CL: Midnight dinners and pop up restaurants are established in bigger cities but we get nothing cool and interesting like that as almost like a reward to those that follow the food scene.
PV: We tried in the past to do a couple things with some other trucks that would involve more of a foodie scene coming off of food trucks and not the day to day food. Those unfortunately have fell through, but we’re still looking for that next spot to go to try something like that.
CL: It’s inspiring for me as someone who loves food to hear about the Buffalo food scene. I grew up in Boston (southtowns of Buffalo) and don’t really know anything about it even after living there for 20 years. Those kind of things make me want to go explore and find cool stuff there and here.
PV: I think my wife is happy there’s a food scene in Buffalo because she is from there and now I go and find places to eat. Not to say I don’t go out to eat here because I do as much as I can but those things we were talking about are new to me out there.
CL: But you live here and where do you go out to eat in Rochester?
PV: We kind of have a standing reservation at Rocco on Monday night and go for date night pretty much every week. I pretty much eat the same thing because I know how good it is going to be. Always consistently good. Obviously I do eat other things other than my normal but I’m guaranteed a good meal. It’s hard because we only have Sunday and Monday nights off and the limited scene in Rochester on those days is kinda hard…..
CL: Sunday is brutal…..not much is open on Sundays.
PV: Unless you want to drive a long distance and, to be honest, I kinda want to drink on those nights because I don’t drink during the week and obviously don’t drink and drive. I do hit up Good Luck occasionally and go to Cure. Sunday mornings, if I’m awake enough, I’ll go to Max at the Gallery. Jason Motte (sp?) is the chef there and puts out a fabulous brunch and I guarantee I’ll be full and want to go to bed afterward since it’s so much food! I tend to eat mainly on the truck or at other trucks since we have kinda that same lifestyle with each other and understand each other. We’re always on the run, always on the go.
CL: Between eating on the truck and eating out, do you get to cook at home at all?
PV: God no. My wife wishes…..I think she married me because she knew I was a chef and I’d cook but that never happens anymore. I don’t really ever cook at home…..in fact she cooks at home more than I do and I love it. If I’m at home and we’re hungry we’ll get takeout. My favorite guilty pleasure is Dogtown….
CL: It hard to even say it’s a guilty pleasure because there’s really nowhere doing it better than them. You feel less bad about feeling that food…..
PV: Sometimes you do feel bad after eating because you eat too much of it (laughing). We’ll go to Dogtown and that’s our go to if we’re not going out if not heading to another truck.
CL: So I think that will be enough for the first time doing this. We went about 20 mins which is probably going to be a lot written down and my fingers are probably going to hurt a lot after transcribing it all, haha. It was a pleasure talking to you!
PV: It was very nice talking to you Chris.
CL: I love what you guys are doing off the truck and it’s inspiring as a home cook because I love trying new things…..
PV: That’s why we do this. We want other people to try what we’re doing…..imitation is the best form of flattery and we want more foodies to come out in Rochester and help grow this scene.
CL: I appreciate the time and maybe we’ll talk again some time and not just have questions.
PV: Sounds good.