Mobile Munchies

Local eateries take to the streets

 

Lunch on the run has a whole new meaning, thanks to the food truck frenzy hitting the streets of St. Louis. During lunch, it’s now common to see the roads dotted with these colorful, rolling eateries—serving up everything from tacos and pizza to cupcakes and crepes.

With its debut last October, Cha Cha Chow is among the longest running and most successful food trucks in the area. It’s been so successful, in fact, that the operation—the brainchild of Kandace Davis and Linda Jones—is in the running to appear on Season 3 of “The Great Food Truck Race” on Food Network. With news like this, we wasted no time getting a behind-thescenes glimpse of what it takes to be a true food truck road warrior.

The Concept Cha Cha Chow was one of the first independent food trucks in town not associated with a restaurant, so everything was created from scratch. The owners wanted to offer something portable and delicious. The solution: the taco, since just about anything can be wrapped in a tortilla (Cha Cha tacos are filled with everything from beef short ribs to lentils) and it can be easily enjoyed on-the-go.

After getting the menu in order, the owners spent months doing recon, stalking the city’s lunchtime crowds to scout the best parking spots. After a lot of trial and error, they came up with their core group of stops: the area around Broadway and Pine; the BJC campus in the CWE; and the area around Beaumont and Pine near Wells Fargo Advisors.

Cha Cha uses Twitter and Facebook to announce the location and menu each day—and they notify fans if they have to change spots or are close to selling out. The owners attribute much of their success to the word-of-mouth they get from their more than 2,500 Tweeps and 1,000+ Facebook friends.

The Operation There’s a lot more to a food truck operation than just throwing a grill onto a truck. The Cha Cha-mobile was custom made, and the owners designed the interior themselves. The truck mimics a professional kitchen—with a flat top grill, oven, prep area, refrigerator, etc.—all shoehorned into a space roughly the size of a walkin closet. With four people working at a time, things get crowded—and hot. Even with fans and the A/C, temps can reach 120+ degrees.

A normal lunch run is about two hours, and the crew fills an average of 100 orders a day. Each week, this translates to: 65+ pounds of pork; 50+ pounds each of beef short ribs and chicken; and 20+ pounds of ground beef. Prep is so crucial that the crew doesn’t go out on Mondays and instead spends the day preparing for the rest of the week.

The Road Blocks Like any restaurant, there are a lot of details to manage, though some are specific to Cha Cha’s mobile nature—like keeping the onboard generator supplied with propane. Another biggie: nothing can be left unsecured in the back of the truck when it’s moving. The crew learned this the hard way one morning when the entire day’s worth of salsa ended up on the floor and they had to cancel service. Add the usual restaurant problems that crop up, like stoves that won’t light and refrigerators that won’t stay cold, and life on the road is anything but traditional

 

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Cha Cha Chow Food Truck

Cha Cha Chow Food Truck

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Cha Cha Chow Food Truck

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Cha Cha Chow Food Truck

Cha Cha Chow Food Truck

 

Photo credit: Photos by Ben Rieder

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