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One woman’s story of starting a food truck

Lisa Whelan of Eastham dreamed of running a food truck before it happened for years.

"Even way back, I thought about an ice cream truck, and my dad was a Good Humor driver in New York City so it was kinda fun, but anyway I was working out on Martha’s Vineyard and I saw this truck and I said if you ever want to get rid of this small truck, let me know, and then in 2018 he called me up and he said, yeah, I think I want to get rid of it, so I went over, picked it up, and brought it home!"

Lisa spent most of her career running restaurants, and she was excited to try something new. So she spent a little over a year fixing up the truck, putting together a menu, and getting ready to open. And then, the pandemic hit.

"I was supposed to start in March. We all know what happened. And then, I started in April, and my first job, I was up in Orleans. But my first job was they were building the Tech school in Harwich. So I would go there in the morning and serve until ten. So all the guys could come out and, you know, get break food. And then I would go to Orleans and serve lunch and then be done at three."

In a lot of ways the start of the pandemic was actually a great time to open a food truck.

"I was slammed, because nobody was open."

And nobody wanted to go inside.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t still plenty of challenges. One of the hardest things to get used to was just driving the thing. Food trucks are big and can be unwieldy.

"My first week open. I was at the Tech school and one of the guys came over and he said, you know, if you move like 20 feet the guys can see you and you know, you'll be busier. I was like, oh, good. And, I was backing up, going really slowly, and all of a sudden, I heard the most bloodcurdling sound I've ever heard in my life."

Don’t worry it wasn’t a person, but Lisa did hit a 40-foot container and tore the stainless steel cover that protected her window right off the truck. It was a bit of a tough start. But once she got the truck fixed up and back on the road, there were more mundane things to deal with like permitting.

"In the old days you used to be able to drive up to let’s say, let’s just say Staples. You know, drive up to Staples and throw out your flag and tell people that you’re there! You can’t do that anymore, you have to have a permit for every place that you go, unless it’s private property."

Lisa says getting permitted is a process—you have to work through the town you want to do business in and get a license, health inspections, and letters from the owners of any properties where you want to park. But compared to getting permitted for a restaurant, she told me, it’s a piece of cake.

"You know people get really freaked out by inspections and things like that the permits process and everything they think it’s really daunting. It’s not, you just have to realize that there’s a process, and once you realize there’s a process, you just do it and you’re done."

And then you can focus on the fun stuff. Like what’s gonna be on the menu.

"Like Cobb salads, the pimento grilled cheese, my killer b salad."

Killer b salad is greens, bacon, balsamic vinegar, blueberries, sauteed Brussels sprouts and blue cheese.

The killer b and the other items Lisa listed are things she only makes in the off season —the truck is open year-round and Lisa loves experimenting but when summer comes it's time to simplify.

Because they’re like a six-step food object in the summertime you just wanna wham, bam, you know quality, but fast.

And this adaptability is her favorite part of running a food truck.

"I was in the restaurant business for gosh a very long time. And this food truck is so refreshing. You know if I wake up on a Tuesday and I don’t wanna work, I don’t work. So it’s kinda nice. And plus it’s just a more flexible and fun business you don’t have a lot of grouchy people—everybody’s just so happy. It’s really nice."

I mean who wouldn’t like that? Well that’s a perfect balance!

Here's a link to learn more about opening a mobile food establishment in MA: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/mobile-food-establishment-questions-and-answers

And here's a link to Lisa's website: https://dancingspoonsagogo.com/

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.