A Day in the Life of a Food Truck: El Floridano

It started out like every other work day, with me running late. I was supposed to meet Stephan Boillon of the El Floridano food truck, promptly at 10:00am to help prep and load. As I realized my transportation plan was an epic fail, I tweeted "I hope he doesn't go all Marco Pierre White on me." When I arrived, he dryly said, "I won't go all Marco Pierre White on you... he would have fired you." Touche.

That was the start of a great day. I thought the most interesting part would be the cooking and chatting with customers, but I really enjoyed talking with Stephan and his partner Tia Crawley about the challenges and business side of the food truck trend.

For instance, did you know that the Metropolitan Police Department has hired trained nine officers to dog the food trucks and enforce the regulations.  Things like, if there's no line for five minutes, you have to move. Sigh. C'mon DC, you've got bigger criminal fish to fry...

El Floridano has a steady stream of Floridians as customers. Stephan hails from Lauderdale and on the day I was with them, folks from Tampa, Miami and even a Key West native lined up for Cuban sandwiches. We all lament the lack of real Cuban bread in the DC area and Stephan tells us the secret to Cuban bread is (gasp!) lard. 

They may be known for their Cubans, but the fastest seller was the banh mi sandwich which comes in meatloaf or vegan tempeh while it lasts. Not too long after the window opened, I was sent out with a marker to let folks know it was sold out.

The soups are also made from scratch - mushroom bisque and sunchoke on the day I was there - and are vegetarian (and healthy - no cream!)

I asked about the rivalry between food trucks and brick and mortar restos. Stephan said there are many chefs that are supportive and noted Chef Jose Andres of Jaleo, Oyamel (etc, etc) and Todd Gray of Equinox. Others aren't so supportive and try to drive them out of their neighborhoods. On the competition, he notes, "I wish they would just compete with better food instead of trying to put us out of business."

Following the District Taco model, El Floridano has plans to expand to a brick and mortar location, but they won't give up the trucks. In fact, Tia, who Stephan has made a business partner, wants to expand the hours and buy additional trucks. "I love being out here, talking to people. If it was up to me, I'd reload the truck and be out all day."

One other neat note, El Floridano is solar powered, so they have to find a parking spot that is sunny to fire up the grill! The workers in L'Enfant sure were happy to see them and poured out of their buildings for the warm soups and sandwiches. I'm happy to report, we were having as much fun inside making them as people were eating them.

To find El Floridano when it comes near you, follow them on Twitter and Facebook. And remember to introduce yourself to Stephan by your Twitter handle so he can put a face with your tweets! (I told him I was embarrassed to do that, but he thought I was being ridiculous.)

UPDATE 7/30/2012: Stephan's working on opening his first brick and mortar restaurant space, Mothership! You can help by funding his Kickstarter for as little as $10: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2099558090/stephan-is-almost-set-to-launch-mothership-restaur 


mary said...

Terrific post. Love this truck. It can stop in front of my offices (21st and M Street) any time.

Candace A. said...

1 - That Cuban is terrific. I had it on a particularly cold December day when I was the only person in DC at work and I swear it changed my outlook on life. 2 - Very true about the twitter thing! While we are all proud of our sometimes shameful twitter habits, we don't go around boasting that we're @blablabla ...but when I went to get that Cuban, Stephan said "Candace?" and I went "Why yes!" Like all businesses, it's the little things. Great write-up!

Lisa said...

Great photos! And I totally agree with Stephan about restaurants that want to get rid of food trucks - just make better (and um, less expensive) food!

jade said...

I asked about the rivalry between food trucks and brick and mortar restos. Food Truck Wedding In Los Angeles