Over the past five years, the food truck trend has taken off in foot-friendly cities from Los Angles to San Francisco and from Portland to New York City. The movement has attracted mainstream and gourmet eaters, chefs, and entrepreneurs alike, including advocates of fresh, locally grown, and organic produce.
By creating food truck businesses, small, independent business owners can combine resources and set up shop with a fraction of the overhead required to run a restaurant. By keeping their overhead down they can keep costs down, making their food more accessible to more people. Being mobile also allows them to go where the demand is.
Lunch at the Mobile Food Court
Thanks to the Phoenix Street Food Coalition, Phoenix has finally hopped on board with Food Truck Fridays at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market on Central & McKinley (at 14 E. Pierce Street) between 11 am and 1 pm where you can order from one of seven vendors and take a seat at one of the community tables under the market’s shaded parking area. During the summer misters and oversized fans will help keep you cool.
Buy fresh, buy local
Because members of the Phoenix Street Food Coalition also belong to Local First AZ, they follow the rule that requires that at least 30% of the ingredients they are locally produced. This is an easy sell to members, many of whom exceed the 30% quota.
Grassfed and organic goodness
One of the vendors, Tanya Chakravarty of Sunshine & Spice, takes Mexican-influenced street foods and fills them with Asian-inspired dishes from Teriyaki beef and barbecued pork to coconut curry chicken and sautéed mushrooms served as tacos, burritos, and won tons. Her company uses only organic chicken from Red Bird, grass fed beef, and local pork from The Meat Shop.
The majority of the vegetables she uses are both organic and locally grown. Her cooked vegetable side dishes and salads vary with the season and what’s available from her vendors: McClendon’s Select Citrus, Maya’s Farm At South Mountain, One Windmill Farm, and Horny Toad Farm.
Chakravarty’s company has been in operation since November 2010. The idea grew out of her love for fantastic foods and her desire to share it. She learned to cook at a very early age because her mother was a terrible cook and her father rarely cooked. When asked about the inspiration for her Asian Taco Fusion Cuisine, she says“I saw it as an opportunity to blend the memories of Asian flavors from the times that my father would cook with my travels to Thailand, China, and India with my brother and wrap them up in a handy carrying case, a tortilla.”
Going mobile
On a typical lunch day at Food Truck Friday, Sunshine & Spice will serve 100 to 150 people.
The business, a full time endeavor, comes with challenges. “Because there is no brick and mortar, there is an increased need for marketing to let people know where to find us and encourage them to come,” explains Chakravarty who does 90% of the cooking for her mobile food truck business. She currently does the prep in a 500 square foot kitchen. The food truck is merely a vehicle for assembly and delivery.
Until recently she has been the sole owner, running the business with one cook at Food Truck Fridays and one server. However, she just brought on a new business partner, Chef Matthew McGowen, to help her reach more people and bring new dishes into her venture. “Having a partner will help me find more great locations to take the truck and be open more days,” explains Chakravarty.
Allergy-friendly, gluten-free street food
Sunshine & Spice serves vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, and people with food allergies and intolerances, including those who must avoid wheat, gluten, dairy, and eggs. All of their entrees are wheat-free and gluten-free if you order them on a corn tortilla or in a rice and veggie bowl. (Those who eat wheat can have their breakfast or lunch wrapped burrito-style in a whole wheat tortilla.)
When asked if she has procedures in place to avoid cross contamination with wheat and products that contain them, Chakravarty explains that she does have procedures in place to make her truck and her food celiac safe. “Since we have only two items that contain gluten, they [the items that contain gluten] actually get the special treatment, using different knives and being made on different trays.” They use wheat-free, gluten-free tamari soy sauce and wheat-free corn tortillas. All of their marinades and spices are also gluten-free.
“Because I have celiac disease, I have been very careful to understand every bit of food and drink that I put into my body,” explains Chakravarty. “From reading labels and talking to companies about ingredients, I learned that it was much easier to compose my own food from scratch with the best produce, meats, and other ingredients. This led to a natural progression towards grass-fed meat and organic foods.”
Chakravarty attended holistic nutrition classes at SWIHA (Southwest Institute of Healing Arts) in Tempe, AZ, with former nutrition professor, Don Matesz of Barefoot Acupuncture, who is co-author of The Garden of Eating: A Produce-Dominated Diet & Cookbook. These classes and the ideas presented in The Garden of Eating confirmed her stance on organic foods and grass-fed meat. She liked knowing that by using local produce she could encourage sustainability, give back to her community, and work with the freshest, seasonal produce.
Here’s what I tried
I went down town last Friday to try Chakravarty’s food. I had two tacos: one Teriyaki Spice Beef Taco filled with shredded teriyaki grass fed beef and crispy coleslaw topped with wasabi cream and one Barbecued Pork Taco made from Asian barbecued pulled local pork with coleslaw and cilantro cream. I also ordered a side of stir-fried seasonal vegetables consisting of stir fried slices of eggplant, onions, summer squash, hot peppers, and cherry tomatoes. (See photos above.)
I loved the soft texture of the locally-made corn tortillas and the way they melded around the tender meat and crunchy vegetable fillings. I could have eaten three tacos, I was that hungry and they tasted so good. The vegetables were great too. I would definitely go back to try other offerings on the menu, such as Coconut Curry Chicken (Thai style coconut local chicken chunks with crispy seasoned vegetables and cucumber raita sauce) and Soy Shroooooms (Sesame soy glazed mushrooms with chunky guacamole and wasabi sauce) and their ever changing offering of side dishes.
Hours of operation
Right now Sunshine & Spice is open from 11 am to 1 pm on Fridays at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market and at Sleepy Dog Brewery in Tempe on Thursdays from 6 to 10 pm. They’ve been at the Gilbert Farmers Market, located just off Gilbert Road just South of Guadalupe.
On a typical lunch day at Food Truck Friday, Sunshine & Spice will serve 100 to 150 people.
They also do street fairs. They’ve done the Scottsdale Arts Festival. This fall they’ll be at the second annual Herberger Theater Center’s Festival of the Arts; at the Food Truck Festival with about 30 other trucks from the Phoenix Street Food Coalition; and at the Scottsdale Air Fair.
They’re still looking for more places to set up their truck and serve meals. What’s the ideal venue for setting up a mobile food truck and food court? “Think office complexes and businesses around town that don’t have restaurants with food close by” says Chakravarty.
If your office is in an area that doesn’t have many restaurants, Sunshine & Spice can meet at your office and you can sample her food. You can visit her website to learn more or call Tanya Chakravarty at 602-429-9899. Note that menu items and prices are subject to change without notice.