Living the American dream, one plate at a time / By Tiffany Harelik / Photos by Sadie Barton
Behind the food-trailer scene in Austin are rich stories of entrepreneurship. What makes an attorney quit a successful litigation practice and move across country to open a food truck (the Peached Tortilla)? How does an African immigrant find his calling in street food in Austin and turn his trailer in to a restaurant single-handedly (the Flying Carpet)? It might take more than you think to get rolling in the mobile food-truck industry. We interviewed three successful food truckers to see how they started their version of the American dream.
First, let me introduce you to Lucky Sibilla of Lucky’s Puccias. You can hear Lucky calling Italian hellos out to his patrons from his flame-kissed trailer nestled in the enclave by the Tiniest Bar across the street from Whole Foods downtown. This Italian immigrant opened his food trailer concept based on Puccia bread in August 2010 after baking for most of his life.
“Aunt Maria was the only one who had a traditional wood-burning oven in my hometown in Italy. I loved the smell and the consistency of softness, so I learned how to make it by working for them in the summers,” Lucky shares.
Even in the triple-digit heat of summers in Austin, Lucky fires up the wood-burning stove using local live oak wood to bake each Puccia fresh to order. Literally, when you order, he puts a dough ball in the stone by the fire and watches the dough rise while he builds the rest of the sandwich. The full process only takes about four minutes and is definitely worth the short wait.
If you’re in to fresh, homemade Italian sandwiches you’ll want to try one of everything on his menu. But for starters, check out his bestseller, the “Lucky.” It has Boar’s Head prosciutto di Parma (from Italy), arugula, mozzarella, tomato and a really incredible aioli.
“I miss the flavors of Italy,” Lucky says when I ask him how often he visits home. “I need to go connect with the flavors. I miss the beach too. I used to go snorkeling every morning at 7 a.m. and I could recognize the schools of fishes. It’s been five years since I’ve been back.”
How about fried chicken? Perry Ray has been honing her frying skills for years. Born in Tahoka, TX, she got to Austin as fast as she could. After brining the chicken in what she calls a “Texas two-step” process, she uses an original blend of herbs and spices that has any chicken connoisseur wondering how she does it. Perry’s insistence on using local, organic, happy chickens is another part of what makes the flavor profile so delicious. One of her biggest fans put it well: “Ms. P. has figured out the art of Southern cooking is to take something good for you and make it bad for you.”
As unique as her personality, Perry’s trailer is set on iconic South Congress Avenue close to the Continental Club with a large neon sign stating the crown jewel of her menu board: “CHICKEN.” But it wasn’t always as easy as chicken and waffles for this food trucker. She helped gut the trailer and weld things into place with
her own blood, sweat and tears to get it open in time for South By Southwest 2011. After 30 years in the sales industry, she had had enough of putting her livelihood in someone else’s hands.
“[My husband] Kyle and I did not take out a loan to get going. We put our savings together and used all we had to get up and running,” she says.
If she didn’t have strength of character before, working in the trailer last summer certainly helped mold the woman she is today.
“It is back-breaking work to begin with, but try 96 days of over 100-degree heat working in a tin can. There was a time in August I put my head in my hands and said, ‘Give me the strength to keep on,’” she remembers.
Luckily for us, Perry made it through the first year of business and approaches this spring with a new bestseller. While chicken will always be her biggest hit, she can barely keep up with the new fried pickles.
“We use the same dredge and buttermilk bath, and people can’t get enough of them,” she tells me on her way to pick up more pickles.
And speaking of fried pickles, you might also want to try the Captain Crunch fried pickles at Brandon Pierce’s Boss Hogs Kitchen. Yes, they really have Captain Crunch in them mixed with panko to provide a flavor you won’t soon forget. Although the pickles are a hit, Brandon’s bestseller is the pressed hot Smokey Cuban, which has pulled pork, smoked ham, house-cured pickles and Gouda, along with homemade honey mustard. An entrepreneur in love with the American dream, the tagline of Brandon’s trailer is “Be your own boss.”
“A few years in to working the corporate sales lifestyle, I got really sick and tired of the office culture, dress code and politics around the coffee pot,” Brandon shares. “Music is my passion, so I wanted to find something I was equally passionate about while fulfilling a need. I talked with an executive chef friend in town and threw out the idea to do po-boys. I’m originally from Lafayette, LA, and I really wanted to do po-boys like I remembered from back home. But, the chef friend and I looked at all the ingredients and food costs and he suggested building the concept around pork. I fell in love with the menu he was proposing. I’ll be honest, I went through a period of discouragement, but after being consistently open and working really hard, I’ve come to realize this business is not just about great food; it’s about personality. I love how honest it is. I love knowing that my food makes people happy, and that’s what keeps me going. This has tested my humanhood more than anything and I’ve never been happier.”
So whether you’re hankering for a fresh Italian sandwich, fried chicken or a pulled pork sandwich, consider the long hours these vendors have put in to ensure you are getting a great meal. They are living their version of the American dream, hoping to see you smile.
Stay tuned to all things food trailer throughout the year at trailerfooddiaries.com.