The food truck has redefined our concept of fast food. It's convenient, it's local, and all the food is made fresh, which makes catered buffet lines look like last week's leftovers. Going mobile has many advantages, but Jonathan and Brian Colarusso came across a problem downtown drivers have always struggled with: where to park.
The Colarussos cranked up Strada Cucina, their Italian food truck, in June. When the summer ended, they wanted a parking space in downtown Charleston to attract business from pedestrians, mostly students. Parking spaces are hard enough to find downtown, but the Colarussos were presented with another obstacle — a city law requires food trucks to park only on private property.
They set their eyes on the YWCA parking lot on Coming Street and approached Executive Director Kathleen Rodgers for permission to use the space. Knowing how valuable a parking space can be, she decided to make a deal. She was in the midst of creating a new pilot program that would teach women how to be entrepreneurs. To make it work, she needed a business that was willing to give the women hands-on training. "So we said, 'You need to park at the Y? We need a training program.' And we agreed to work together," she says.
The Colarussos had everything to train the women in the truck, like their bookkeeping software, their inventory, and all the equipment to make the food. And they could bring it all to the YWCA's front yard. It was a perfect match. "I think a lot of women going through the program have worked at low-wage jobs like fast food, where you show up, you serve the food, and then you leave," Jonathan says. "We're trying to show that it's a whole 24-hour cycle of planning, prepping, and making it all happen. And the food truck works really well for that."
Vermell Meaders is the first to go through the training program. She went to the YWCA about a year ago, hoping for a way out of her cycle of low-wage, dead-end jobs. She was helping the organization with their after-school program and food preparation when the idea for a pilot program came up. Rodgers knew what a great opportunity this could be for Meaders, so she asked her to be the program's guinea pig.
Meaders has been working at Strada Cucina for about three weeks now. She helps the Colarussos every day with ordering food, prepping, working the window, and, her favorite part, cooking. She's even been doing some marketing, handing out flyers and encouraging students to stop by on their way to class. "For college students, this is it," she says. "You want something quick that you can handle on the go? This is good for that."
Strada Cucina has plenty of on-the-go options, like their meat and vegetable flat breads, or one of Jonathan's favorites, the Chicago-style beef sandwich. "You couldn't really get one in Charleston, so I thought we could just make it," he says. They start by rubbing a 10-pound sirloin temp roast with an herbal blend of basil, garlic, oregano, parsley, and red pepper. It's slow roasted for about five hours and thinly sliced onto a seeded hoagie roll. They top it with provolone cheese and a spicy pepper relish and serve it hot with au jus sauce. Most items on Strada Cucina's menu are influenced by the Colarussos' half-Italian upbringing. One crowd favorite is the chicken cutlet sandwich. "It's straight out of our grandmother's kitchen," Jonathan says. "We took her concept and put it on a sandwich, and now that's our biggest seller."
Food preparation is a little bit easier with Meaders' help, Brian says. "She's worked in restaurants before, so she knows what she's doing." But unlike previous restaurant jobs, Strada Cucina offers Meaders the chance to make it on her own. In another week or so, Rodgers will evaluate the success of the trial run to see if the program is worth implementing. The Colarussos hope it will be, and not just because of convenient parking. "We're really happy to be involved with this project," Jonathan says. "It's definitely important to us. The community is supporting us, so we want to give back to them as much as we can."