by Ally Gallop, RD, CDE
“I swear the manager said that once the truck’s interior rose above 100°F we would close for the day. At 10 a.m. my watch read 104°F, yet I was still serving up eggplant sandwiches. What weather app was he using!?” Kate works in a food truck for Alfalfa, a meat-free restaurant serving the Boston-area with two food trucks. Through the heat and customer sass, Kate has seen it all.
6 a.m. Arriving at the restaurant’s loading dock, the trucks are loaded to the brim like a pantry gearing up for another Boston winter. The truck becomes a lone rider once it leaves the hub. There is no running to the back to grab extra food; when a food item runs out on the truck, that’s it for the day. Massive storage bins are filled with ice, kale Caesar salad, pickled items, homemade lemonade, and freshly-baked whole grain hoagies.
7 a.m. The four employees pile into the truck and head off to their Longwood Medical location. The manager clicks her seatbelt into the driver’s seat. The others lock up the knives, secure the food, and sit where they can atop food storage containers in the rear’s narrow alley. On Storrow Drive, they’re cut off by a BMW. The manager slams on the brakes, the ice bucket goes flying, and the oven door rips open, hanging on by a single hinge! No iced coffee may be made today, but the oven door must be fixed. Compared to its brick-and-mortar counterpart, the truck’s smaller menu only serves sandwiches—and each one must be heated for two minutes. Customers have high expectations. They like their cheese melted and gooey.
8 a.m. Doctors, nurses, and hospital visitors storm the truck as it cracks open its side for breakfast. Sheila, Kate’s favorite morning customer, arrives for her blueberry scone and pour-over coffee. At 205°F, the cup is blazing hot! But there are no cardboard sleeves. Inside the truck, space is of the essence. So Kate double-cups and hands breakfast over to Mary. The manager takes notice. “We don’t have enough to double-cup,” she whispers. So 205°F cups for everyone else it is. The breakfast menu only lists a few items, so items are prepared swiftly, even as the line grows long.
11 a.m. Lunch begins. Standing out front of the truck, the Kate corrals the hangry customers into a bulging line. The menu’s writing is small and there’s little room for descriptions. It’s Kate’s job to explain the items’ contents to questioning customers.
“The garlic fries are just so awesome! At the end of the frying cycle, we throw minced garlic into the basket and shake vigorously. The garlic adds such an awesome taste! And then we serve them with an awesome mayo dip,” Kate exclaims.
The manager nicely reminds her to drop the awesomes. When read aloud, Alfalfa’s ingredients are meant speak for themselves. Because who wouldn’t be swayed by a sriracha- and peanut-infused black bean burger atop fresh cabbage slaw, tempura onions, and a hoagie served with a basket of garlic fries and mayo?
11:39 p.m. “Do you have a B.L.T.? Or anything with bacon?” Unfortunately for the cardiologist, we don’t. “Nope, our menu is completely meat-free. Can I offer you the cashew and chickpea falafel burger instead?” Kate cautiously voices. Alfalfa trains employees not to use “vegetarian” as a menu descriptor. Actually, they’re never supposed to utter the word. Upon hearing it, not all are agreeable. Some expect a small plate of spinach, chia seeds, and bran. Some expect to be hungry within the hour. Meat-free it is!
12:12 p.m. “Umm… hmm. What about… no.” This lady does not know what to order and has held up the line for two-and-a-half minutes. After being coached through every item offered, she haphazardly decides on the bread-free platter. After being rung up she barks, “Where is my hoagie?” If she had been listening, she would have known that bread-free platters don’t come with hoagies. Kate charges her the additional $1.50 for bread. The lady begrudgingly walks away.
12:27 p.m. Barging to the front of the line, the give-me-my-hoagie lady returns. “All of this tastes old. I don’t want it.” Kate hides her frustration as she explains how every dish is made-to-order. The hoagie was baked earlier that morning. Everything is fresh. Regardless, the food is returned and money reimbursed. The truck’s interior temperature must be at least 106°F.
12:47 p.m. “I’m allergic to gluten,” says a physiotherapist. Great, the team thinks. Both the deep fryer and oven are contaminated with gluten, a main ingredient in the hoagies, crisp tempura onions, and vegetarian patties included in each dish. Allergies are easy to control back at the brick-and-mortar where they have more space! But on the food truck? Good luck. “How about our cabbage slaw and…a spoon?” It’s all the team can offer.
1:20 p.m. And then regulars like Steven appear. The staff knows he’s going to ask for a chickpea quesadilla, easy on the hot sauce with extra jalapenos. Simple.
2 p.m. Finally! The day is done. As a team member, Kate need not return to the hub to return and clean the truck. Her day in the heat has come to an end. Stepping off the truck into the cooler 90°F sunlight, she sips on an ice cube-free lemonade as she walks home.
Ally Gallop, RD, CDE is a second year nutrition communication and behavior change student focusing in U.S. food and nutrition policy. Her favorite Boston food truck is the Cookie Monstah.