Reinventing the Wheel: From Food Truck to Paleo Wagon
This is a guest post by Julie Arnan, who is a freelance writer and journalist who lives in Seattle, Washington. Julie also loves photography and food.
Donuts, waffles, fries, and sliders.
Sugar, grains…and more sugar and grains. These are the common staples of food trucks all over the US.
In the trenches, though, a few food-truck cooks and owners are starting to push back.
The Paleo Food Truck Renaissance
In Indianapolis, Shelby Malaterre worked in the food industry for almost 10 years before going Paleo himself and then starting the Caveman Truck.
In Portland, Heather and Joe’s Cultured Caveman food truck got so popular that they opened a second one.
And that’s just the beginning.
From the Paleo Wagon in Colorado to the brick and mortar Corner Table in Houston, chefs are beginning to successfully incorporate quality and health into menus that traditionally lacked both.
Inside the Box with Marizel and Charles
Like many cities across the US, Seattle has seen a huge increase in the popularity of CrossFit gyms over the past decade.
Chefs Marizel Yuen and Charles Aguiling actually met at King CrossFit gym in Renton, a working-class suburb south of Seattle. They soon discovered that Charles was an old friend of Marizel’s husband. That connection – plus a shared interest in cooking – made for instant common ground.
After taking the Paleo principles preached at the gym to heart, Charles dropped close to 40 pounds.
Marizel’s second child suffered from extreme food allergies, causing Marizel to miss a lot of days from her job as executive chef at Whole Foods in Bellevue. A Paleo diet alleviated many of her child’s allergies, while allowing Marizel herself to shed pounds and have a much better sense of overall wellbeing.
Still, Marizel notes that the sticker shock was a big hurdle at first. Grass-fed beef seemed exorbitant, for instance.
And for both Marizel and Charles, eating Paleo was a matter of swimming upstream against both popular American cuisine as well as their Filipino food traditions heavy on rice, noodles, and sweet baked goods.
It wasn’t long, however, until the health benefits outweighed the costs for both Marizel and Charles.
Taking it Outside the Box
Given the benefits both Marizel and Charles experienced (and with an eye on CrossFit’s popularity in the Seattle area), they decided first to join forces and launch a Paleo-focused meal delivery business. In Charles’s experience, the hardest part of going Paleo is preparing the meals, since failure waits around the corner for those caught hungry and unprepared.
“The meal deliveries aren’t actually that expensive when you factor in the cost of ingredients and the time involved in shopping and preparing the food,” says Charles.
With a little success under their belts, they decided, in 2012, to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to purchase a truck. The campaign was a success, and with funds in hand, they found themselves the owners of a metal box on wheels, which they retrofitted into a mobile kitchen, waiting patiently for all the necessary permits.
Finally, in July 2013, Marizel and Charles secured the parking break and rolled open the window of their new food truck, Outside the Box.
Into the Fire
At first, the chefs were serving items like grass-fed beef sliders on Paleo-friendly buns, but they discovered that made-to-order items meant mega-long wait times for customers.
They quickly revamped the menu to include things like carnitas, chili, pork belly, and other braised meats that can be made in larger portions ahead of time.
“Owning a Paleo food truck is challenging because you can’t use regular items like buns, wraps, fries and sugar. But, it is also fun because you have to get creative,” says Charles.
“When my friends first started Paleo, they would only eat plain chicken breasts with plain salad. I knew I could do better – add more flavor,” says Marizel.
Grilled lamb with harissa is served with cauliflower couscous. Pulled pork carnitas are accompanied by roasted sweet potatoes and grilled onions enfolded by lettuce wraps. Coconut aminos are substituted for soy sauce in Asian dishes. Charles makes an addictive Paleo version of sriracha hot sauce, and Marizel has developed several varieties of muffins using coconut flour for customers needing a chocolate fix.
“We wanted to make food that people can eat all the time – something good for people to put into their body,” says Marizel. “It hasn’t been easy, but we believe in what we are doing.”
Paleo Surprises and the Future
Somewhat surprisingly, most customers are not CrossFit members.
To the contrary, most customers are corporate workers who are already familiar with a Paleo diet and seek out the truck.
“Honestly, the CrossFit support hasn’t really been there. We’ve noticed the gyms are selling a lot of protein shakes and ready-to-eat products,” says Charles, who also notes that he doesn’t understand why many CrossFitters would choose a shake over real food.
However, Outside The Box is a success nonetheless, and much of that success comes from its regulars, says Marizel, who appreciates it when she notices new faces accompanying the familiars. The truck also serves as mobile marketing for their meal delivery service, still the company’s bread and butter (er, jerky and coconut oil?).
Marizel and Charles are also committed to partnering with local farms for as much produce as possible. Through their relationship with local farmers at 21 Acres, they have discovered many new growers, some who will plant crops specifically requested by Outside The Box.
As for the future, Outside The Box is planning to reach out to the gluten-free community and will likely be looking for a brick and mortar location before long.