Truckin ‘through the pandemic
This story was written for Very Local by Kate Taylor. You can see other stories she wrote here.
New Orleans means a lot to a lot of people. For some it is the perfect vacation spot, a place where you can dance and drink your worries without worrying about putting on a few pounds. For others, it’s a tough mistress, a city that takes it with both hands and gives little in return. Still for many of us who call her home, she’s a stormy lover, ready to torture you to make sure you’re worthy of her. When she’s finally convinced you’ve passed the test, she never leaves you.
Often, people’s perception of the city comes down to their resilience (or stubbornness). After all, it takes a lot of nerve to take on New Orleans. But a lot of people did just that, and some of them even won, becoming part of the ephemeral tapestry that makes up the city.
Rose Nicaud was one of them. The slave woman served coffee from a portable cart that she woven in and out of the French market to become New Orleans’ premier coffee vendor. Another mobile food vendor was Pearl the Pie Lady. You could see and hear her rolling her pie cart around the French Quarter singing “Pie Laaaady”. Although she unfortunately did not continue selling pies after Hurricane Katrina, many still remember her and yearn for her return.
Today’s mobile vendors are food trucks. These modern day carts have the same entrepreneurial spirit as Rose Nicaud and the Pie Lady. Because what could be more NOLA than to combine the southern need to feed everyone while having the ingenuity to get paid for it?
I had the chance to speak with owners Rachel Angulo about La Cocinita food truck and Stephen Maher from Bonafried last week to see how their individual journeys started, progressing through the pandemic, and how the rest of us can find them.
KT: What made you want to create a food truck?
Rachel: “Benoit Angulo [and I] they met while working together at Commander’s Palace, a New Orleans fine-dining restaurant. While having a drink in a neighborhood bar late one evening after a long shift, [we] has been hungry, not having eaten since the 5 p.m. outpost meal. Disappointed with the lack of late-night dining options nearby, Benoit came up with the idea of starting a food truck together.
Benoit envisioned taking inspiration from the feel and flavors of the late-night street carts lining a street in Caracas called “Calle del Hambre” (“Hunger Street”). Benoit presented [me] to his arepas, and soon after, I fell in love with both Benoit and his cooking. The New Orleans truck opened on November 19, 2011, in the same bar where it all began… and the rest is history!
Stephane: “We wanted to work for ourselves. I didn’t want to wait and learn a new trade, and the only things I had really done were food service and HVAC repairs and maintenance. Naturally, I thought I could turn a 30 year old bread truck into a kitchen. It was also all we could afford to do.
KT: How did the process go?
Rachel: “When we first opened our foodtruck in 2011, we learned that the laws governing street food vendors (dating back to the Roman candy cart!) Had not been updated since 1956. We have been working with the town hall and the town hall to change the legislation. A year and a half after writing my initial proposal, we were able to accomplish the following changes:
- Removed the 600-foot proximity restriction from restaurants, making it nearly impossible to operate legally in New Orleans
- Increased delay from 45 minutes to 4 hours
- Increase in the number of food truck permits by 100
- Open access to part of the CBD (including the biomedical district) that was previously off-limits to food trucks
It has greatly helped our operations. Before that, there were a lot of unnecessary obstacles and challenges involved in starting and operating a food truck in New Orleans.
Stephane: “The process started off in a fun and exciting way with brainstorming, test kitchen parties, and pop-ups. Then it got scary to cash in my 401k, drive a shaking wonder-bread van at 55 mph from Houston to New Orleans, and secretly work on my project after hours in my old employer’s mechanics shops. . Not to mention the licensing process and the big differences in how parish governments would treat us. The seas were rough before it became something that worked.
KT: How has COVID-19 affected your business?
Stephane: “COVID has brought everything to its knees. Our entire business was in the service of crowded offices, hospitals and large gatherings. We entered the first lockdown hoping our budget and the savings from the Mardi Gras distributors would wear us out, but it just never ended. We survived thanks to a combination of PPP, EIDL and RRF programs. We waited until we could get vaccinated, then we pre-ordered online, private catering, everything to stay afloat. But the reality is that two-thirds of our income comes from big festivals like Voodoo or The National Fried Chicken Fest. These peaks and waves of COVID are essentially holding my entire industry hostage. ”
Rachel: “People were working from home for the first year or so of the pandemic, so typical lunch spots in shopping districts no longer made sense to us. This is why we have chosen to operate the food truck only for catering events. But for a long time people weren’t organizing events during the pandemic, so the food truck was not active at all and brought in very little income in the year after the pandemic started. Over the past few months, people have been thrilled to organize events and celebrate milestone events with their loved ones again, so our catering services are back. ”
KT: How can customers find / track your truck?
Rachel: “Follow us on social networks: @lacocinita on Instagram and La Cocinita Food Truck on Facebook. With a few exceptions, our primary focus is on catering at the moment. But we’re open six days a week at the Pythian Market, 234 Loyola Ave, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday (until 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday).
KT: Is there anything else you would like people to know?
Rachel: “We have both food truck catering and catering deliveries (think taco bars etc)! Our catering menus are on our website, www.lacocinita.com. “
Stephane: “We’re currently doing some mechanical repairs to the truck side of the Food Truck, and we’re not sure what the fall festival scene will have in store, but the baby blue Chicken Van will be back in action ASAP. . And as always, thanks for eating at Bonafried! “
This was written with the deepest gratitude to Rachel Billow and Stephen Maher for being so generous with their time.