How food trucks are finding new ways to serve up their eats
It’s a hot afternoon in July as Tony Elias begins gearing up his new food truck, The Spot To-Go, for dinner outside Manchester Firing Line. You’ll find him there every Monday during the range’s Cruise Night car shows, in addition to other spots throughout the week, serving up Puerto Rican foods he grew up eating, from empanadas to jibaritos.
Even though he’s in the middle of his first season behind the wheel of The Spot To-Go, Elias is no stranger to food trucks — he’s also owned Made With Love 603 since 2014, a food trailer offering a similar menu of Puerto Rican eats. He took about two years off from the business, getting a day job while working with different recipes under what would be a new, rebranded concept.
Earlier this year, Elias was all ready to get out there and cook — but then the pandemic arrived, forcing the closure of city government offices and temporarily preventing him from getting his licenses. He eventually was able to open for business, albeit several months later than planned, during the first week of June.
“I had the food truck custom-made and everything … and it must have been like three days after I got the truck that everything started getting shut down,” he said. “At that time, I had already given my notice at my job. So everything was kind of stuck in limbo, and I had no choice but to ride it out, but I did have time to come up with a menu and imagine everything I wanted to do.”
Indeed, the pandemic came to New Hampshire as the state’s food truck industry was continuing to boom. Currently, there are 199 licensed mobile cook units in the state, according to Colleen Smith of New Hampshire Food Protection — an increase of nearly 50 percent since April 2016. Now, as the virus has all but wiped out the already short window of time for food truck festivals in the Granite State, many truck and trailer owners already licensed with the state have chosen to sit out the season, while those who are carrying on have sought out other avenues to make up for lost business.
New trucks rolling in
Launching a food truck is hard enough, Elias said, never mind maintaining a regular schedule during a pandemic. That’s why he jumped on the opportunity when he was contacted earlier this year about parking The Spot To-Go at the Firing Line every Monday. He can also be found on the Beech Street side of the JFK Arena and in the parking lot of Titan Auto Repair on Elm Street, depending on the day.
His menu is similar to that of the Made With Love 603 trailer, featuring favorites like beef and chicken empanadas, combo plates with pork, rice and beans, and jibaritos, or fried plantain sliders with pork, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo ketchup. But Elias has also added a number of new items — his tacos, for instance, have been a huge hit.
“I call them Puerto Rican tacos. I do them differently with the seasoning in the meat and on the shell,” he said. “You bite into this taco and it’s just an explosion of flavor in your mouth.”
He has also introduced canoas and mofongo “cones.” Canoas feature a roasted yellow sweet plantain sliced all the way down the middle and stuffed with beef, melted cheese and cilantro, resembling the shape of a canoe.
Mofongo traditionally consists of fried plantains mashed up and stuffed with meat, cheese and seasonings. Elias takes his creation a step further by shaping the mashed plantains into a cone and wrapping it in foil. You can get it with roast pork, fried pork or chicken.
“I actually came across a video on Facebook of a place in Puerto Rico doing it, and I said, ‘Man, that is a great idea,’” he said. “So we shape [the mofongo] into a cone, and then we fry it a second time, so it’s a nice crunchy outside with a soft inside, and a bang of flavor.”
A plant-based comfort food truck known as The Hungry Caterpillar also launched last month, owned by Christy and Nick Ortins of Geary Farms in Chester. Christy Ortins said the couple’s original plan for the truck was to secure bookings at festivals. But once all of the festival cancellations were set in motion, she said, they began contacting nearby business owners inquiring about possible parking spots.
“We reached out basically to anybody we could think of that had commercial property,” she said, adding that The Hungry Caterpillar can now be found at Hampstead Health & Fitness most Mondays and at Sue Padden Real Estate in Sandown most Wednesdays and Fridays. “Our next step is to contact some breweries and wineries.”
Popular items at the truck include a homemade black bean burger, fried cauliflower bites, “plant-a-rella” sticks, or plant-based cheese sticks that are breaded and deep fried, and a tempeh sandwich with sliced tomato plant-based mayo and local greens on bread from the Portsmouth-based Me & Ollie’s Bakery & Cafe. Christy Ortin said the truck has also recently begun offering a few flavors of vegan ice cream from Memories Ice Cream of Kingston, while specials may include fried zucchini slices or summer squash they grow themselves on the farm.
In Concord, a 20-foot food trailer called Wander Roll made its debut earlier this month, serving several types of locally inspired Vietnamese-style egg rolls. Co-owner Andrew Weakly of Bow said he and his wife Inga were supposed to receive the custom-built trailer from M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks in Florida in April — but due to the pandemic, it didn’t actually arrive until mid-June, delaying the couple’s licensing application process. Once they were ready to go, they had what they called a “soft launch” on July 11 outside a friend’s South End home.
“I think, short of having actual events, one of our strategies is going to be around … pop-up neighborhood events, and then also some private events,” Andrew Weakly said.
Wander Roll is starting with five types of egg rolls, named after places the Weaklys have lived, are from or have traveled to — a traditional pork roll (the “Can Tho”), a Buffalo chicken roll (the “Brighton”), a sweet potato black bean roll (the “Bristol”), a honey ginger tofu roll (the “Concord”), and a cake puff dessert roll topped with powdered sugar and homemade chocolate sauce. Andrew Weakly said the trailer also offers fresh limeade and is in the process of collaborating with downtown Concord’s Revelstoke Coffee to introduce a Vietnamese iced coffee. Wander Roll’s next public appearance will be on Sunday, Aug. 2, at Lithermans Limited Brewery in Concord.
Also recently serving its first customers in the Capital City is The Food Abides, a new food truck named after a play on words from the famous quote “the dude abides” in the ’90s film The Big Lebowski. The Lunch Lady food truck, as it was formerly known, was sold to Jesika Belair, owner of Umami Farm Fresh Cafe in Northwood, in February.
Now, Umami chefs Patrick Harris and Max G. Dowling are a two-man team, bringing The Food Abides to several local breweries. The truck served a special Jamaican-themed menu on July 26 at Lithermans, but Harris said the menu will feature all kinds of creative takes on sandwiches, tacos and salads. The Food Abides is scheduled to appear at Henniker Brewing Co. on Saturday, Aug. 15, according to Harris, and will be available to rent for private events later this fall.
“We definitely want to alternate [menu items] depending on where we go, and if we’re at a brewery then we want to use that brewery’s beer in our cooking … to give people a full culinary experience,” Harris said.
The Gyro Spot in downtown Manchester recently announced it has built a food truck. According to owner Alex Lambroulis, the plan is for the truck to offer catering services and to be at various breweries in the area in the near future.
In Loudon, the Whisked Away Cafe food truck is also in the middle of its inaugural season. You can find it most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at a dirt turnaround road on Route 106 in Loudon, steps away from the Cascade Campground. The truck is run by sisters Korrie Garland and Crystal Hopkins, along with their mother, Louise Cloutier, who owned the Bonne Femmes restaurant in downtown Pembroke about 15 years ago.
Socially distanced catering
Despite the absence of festivals, some seasoned food truckers have reported a surge in other aspects of business, most notably in the form of private event catering requests.
Dan DeCourcey is the owner and pitmaster of Up in Your Grill, a barbecue food trailer based in Merrimack. He said he initially had to pivot his operations to roadside vending only because every fair, festival and catering event he had booked at the onset of the pandemic was canceled. But by the end of June, “the catering floodgates seemed to open,” he said — now he gets at least one and oftentimes multiple catering inquiries a day.
“People are looking for good social distancing alternatives to traditional catering buffets and summer barbecue buffet-style events. Food trucks are very well positioned to fill the need,” DeCourcey said in an email. “We can provide individual meals from the window and folks can have socially distanced outdoor events.”
Lately, DeCourcey said he’s seen an increase in requests for “treat the team for lunch” company parties and gatherings. When he’s not catering for an event, he can be found in the parking lot of Vault Motor Storage in Merrimack on weekends, offering several items that can be ordered as combo plates or sandwiches, like pulled pork, pulled chicken and beef brisket.
Windham chef Adam Wactowski of Walking Gourmet, a food truck converted from an old church bus in Ohio, is at a few public locations in New Hampshire during the week, while his weekends have mostly been devoted to private events. He said rescheduled weddings and rehearsal dinners from months ago have been some of the most common.
“Brides and grooms had to scramble when everything shut down, so they’re being creative and having a lot of fun with their menus,” said Wactowski, who will often create personalized menus from the truck for his clients. For instance, he said he recently did a breakfast-themed menu for a wedding with made-to-order crepes, croissants and hash brown “egg nests.” When he’s parked at a public spot, he’ll usually dabble in his own gourmet burgers, chicken sandwiches and rangoons with a variety of fillings.
The Winni Wagon food truck, which appears at several spots in Laconia, has also been getting attention from couples looking to have a caterer at their rehearsal dinners. Owner Janine Geddis started the Winni Wagon last year in a former FedEx truck. She serves all kinds of comfort options from burgers and hot dogs to a Buffalo chicken grilled cheese and a cheesesteak sandwich with peppers and onions, many of which are named after an island on Lake Winnipesaukee.
“People have changed their plans from this big wedding to a small backyard wedding where they can’t necessarily take a large group to a restaurant, so they’ll contact me and say, ‘Hey, you can come to my backyard rehearsal?’” Geddis said. “I’ve had them do what they want [with the menu]. They’ll pick maybe three or four items from my main menu and a couple of sides.”
Like Elias’s weekly appearances at the Cruise Night car shows, food truck owners are still finding ways to serve their customers in safe environments. Last month the Derry-Salem Elks introduced food trucks to its outdoor pavilion on Shadow Lake Road in Salem every Tuesday through Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., rain or shine.
“[The pavilion] is normally private, but during these times we’ve allowed the public to come sit at the picnic tables by the gate,” Derry-Salem Elks member Melissa Levesque said. “We’re trying to plan something like a small festival at the lodge, since we have a huge parking lot.”
Every Tuesday you can find B’s Tacos outside the pavilion gate. Owner Kenny Spilman launched the Londonderry-based truck in 2013, serving Tex-Mex-style tacos, burritos and other items using fresh ingredients. He has a second trailer that you can also find every Tuesday through Saturday outside the BP Gas Station on Mohawk Road in Londonderry.
On Wednesdays the Walking Gourmet takes over cooking duties at the gate, and Wactowski will often have at least one burger, one chicken sandwich and one rangoon option in addition to a few sides and children’s meal items. Then on Thursdays it’s all about the barbecue as Doug Loranger of the Nashua-based Ranger’s BBQ comes around to serve several meats and sides.
The pavilion, according to Levesque, features eight tables that seat up to six diners each that are first-come, first-served and regularly sanitized.
In Milford, owner John Goldberg of The Riverhouse Cafe has put together his own outdoor seating area for his recently launched food trailer, Fuel — complete with a full-service craft cocktail bar, covered seating and live local music acts every Friday and Saturday throughout the summer. Fuel features several upscale comfort foods like its own ground burgers, hand-cut fries and dry-rubbed chicken wings and, as of earlier this month, fried seafood and buttered lobster rolls. Goldberg said the trailer is expected to provide food options for the upcoming Station 101 craft beer and wine bar opening next door.
Breweries also continue to be popular spots to enjoy food trucks. Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. in Merrimack, Lithermans Limited in Concord, Henniker Brewing Co. and Twin Barns Brewing Co. in Meredith all have regular schedules of food trucks and outdoor patio seating.
Where to find local food trucks and trailers
Even though there are almost no annual food truck festivals this year, dozens of New Hampshire-based food trucks, food trailers and mobile caterers are still actively operating across the state. Here’s a list of them with information on what they offer, as well as where and when you can find each one. Know of an active food truck or trailer in New Hampshire that’s not on this list? Let us know at email@example.com.
• B’s Tacos (nhtacotruck.com, find them on Facebook) offers a menu of fresh Tex-Mex options like tacos, burritos and rice bowls prepared using family recipes. Find them outside the BP Gas Station (3 Mohawk Drive, Londonderry) every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. A second truck regularly appears at several locations across New Hampshire. On Tuesdays, for example, you can find them at the Derry-Salem Elks Lodge (39 Shadow Lake Road, Salem) from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Follow them on Facebook for updates.
• Baked, Brewed & Organically Moo’ed (bakedbrewed.com, find them on Facebook @organicallymooed) features a menu of organic ice cream, locally roasted coffee and baked goods, like the “bubble waffle,” made to order with a scoop of ice cream, maple syrup, freshly made whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles. Find them at 915 Suncook Valley Road in Alton (hours vary) and at the Gilmanton Community Farmers Market (1385 Route 140) on Sundays from noon to 3 p.m.
• Dulces Bakery (dulcesbakerynh.com, find them on Facebook @dulcesbakerynh) launched a dessert truck earlier this year, offering its own assorted cookies, cupcakes and other pastries and treats, including more than two dozen flavors of tres leches. Find them at 16 Walnut St. in Nashua on Saturdays, from 1 to 8 p.m.
• Flaco’s Mexican Street Food (find them on Facebook @flacosmexicanstreetfood) offers a variety of made-to-order Mexican options, like tacos, burritos and quesadillas, with fillings such as asada (grilled steak), al pastor (marinated pork), chicken, slow-cooked pork and Mexican sausage. Find them at 185 S. Main St. in Newton every Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 8 p.m., weather permitting.
• The Food Abides (find them on Facebook @thefoodabidestruck) is a new food truck run by Patrick Harris and Max G. Dowling of Umami Farm Fresh Cafe in Northwood. It held its first public event on July 26 at Lithermans Limited Brewery in Concord, offering creative takes on sandwiches, tacos, salads and more. The truck is scheduled to appear at Henniker Brewing Co. on Saturday, Aug. 15.
• Fuel (damngoodgrub.com/fuel, find them on Facebook @fuelnh) is a new food trailer offering scratch-made options like its own ground burgers, hand-cut fries and hand-breaded chicken tenders, along with more than a dozen original sauces, or “fuel,” to choose from. Find them outside The Riverhouse Cafe (167 Union Square, Milford) every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m., and on Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. Live music begins at 6 p.m. outside the truck on Fridays and Saturdays.
• The Gyro Spot (thegyrospot.com, find them on Facebook @gyrospottruck) recently announced a food truck that is available for catering, according to owner Alex Lambroulis. He said they also plan to park at local breweries weekly in the near future.
• The Hungry Caterpillar (gearyfarmsnh.squarespace.com/foodtruck, find them on Facebook @thehungrycaterpillarnh) is a new food truck offering plant-based comfort items like black bean veggie burgers, hand-cut fries, fried cauliflower, fried zucchini and summer squash and more, owned and operated by Christy and Nick Ortins of Geary Farms in Chester. Find them on Mondays from about 4 to 8 p.m. at Hampstead Health & Fitness (45 Danville Road, E. Hampstead), and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sue Padden Real Estate (346 Main St., Sandown).
• Island Bowls (islandbowlsllc.com, find them on Facebook @islandbowlsllcnh) is a mobile food wagon offering organic açaí bowls, spirulina bowls and Hawaiian shaved ice. Find them at 589 Elm St. in Milford every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Jayrard’s Java Cafe (jayrardsjava.square.site, find them on Facebook @jayrardsjavacafe) is a mobile coffee shop specializing in Costa Rican coffees, organic teas and more. The trailer appears at several locations throughout southern New Hampshire. Its next event will be during the Village Green Summer Concert Series in Pelham on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 5 p.m.
• Just Like Meme’s (find them on Facebook @justlikememes) is a Rumney-based food trailer offering comfort items like doughnuts, burgers, steak tips and more. On select dates in August you can find them at the Heritage Harley-Davidson in Concord (142 Manchester St.).
• Mama’s On the Run (find them on Facebook @mamasontherunn) is a Hillsborough-based food truck brought to you by the owners of Mama McDonough’s Irish Pub, offering a selection of American-style foods with an Irish twist. Their featured locations vary week to week, including at Twins Smoke Shop (80 Perkins Road, Londonderry) and at the Henniker Brewing Co. (129 Centervale Road). Follow them on Facebook for the most up-to-date details.
• Messy Mike’s Barbecue & Catering Co. (messymikesbarbecue, find them on Facebook @messymikesbbq) is launching a 30-foot mobile food trailer in the coming weeks that will soon be in the parking lot of Rockingham Acres Greenhouse (159 Rockingham Road, Derry). The menu, according to owner Michael “Messy Mike” Massiglia, will include various meats sold by the pound, sandwiches and sides, including cornbread provided by Cheryl Holbert of Nomad Bakery in Derry. Details on days and times are still to be determined, but Massiglia said the trailer will likely be there at least every Thursday through Sunday.
• Pressed for Time Mobile Cafe (pressedfortimecoffee.com, find them on Facebook @pressedfortimemobilecafe) offers all kinds of specialty coffees, creative takes on breakfast sandwiches, bagels, crepes and more. Find them at Seacoast Sport Cycle (129 Rockingham Road, Derry) every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., on Fridays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• Ranger’s BBQ (rangers-bbq.com, find them on Facebook @rangersbbq17) is a food trailer specializing in a variety of styles of barbecue, including North Carolina-style pulled pork and slow-cooked Memphis-style ribs, as well as smoked brisket, pulled chicken and several sides, like homemade macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, cornbread and smoked baked beans with bacon. Find them at the Derry-Salem Elks Lodge (39 Shadow Lake Road, Salem) on Thursdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and at 324 Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua (near the Tyngsboro, Mass., state line) most Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Follow them on Facebook for the most up-to-date information, as owner Doug Loranger will sometimes cater for private events on the weekends.
• The Rolling Stoves (find them on Facebook) is a new Meredith-based food trailer offering menu items like burgers, hot dogs, wraps, french fries and more. They appear at several different locations, but most regularly at Twin Barns Brewing Co. (194 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith).
• Smoke N’ Butts BBQ (smokenbuttsbbq.com, find them on Facebook @smokenbuttsbbq) offers several barbecue options like pulled pork tacos and burritos, seasoned pork spareribs and smoked chicken wings. Find them at The Farmer’s Wife (20 Main St., Candia) on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• The Spot To-Go (find them on Facebook @thespottogo603) offers a variety of Puerto Rican options, like beef or chicken empanadas, pinchos (chicken kebabs), tostones (fried plantains), canoas (roasted yellow plantains stuffed with beef and cheese) and mofongo cones, or cone-shaped plantains, fried and stuffed with your choice of fried pork, roast pork or chicken. Follow them on social media for the most up-to-date details on their whereabouts, but they’re most often found at the Manchester Firing Line (2540 Brown Ave.) on Mondays from about 5 to 8 p.m. during the shooting range’s weekly Cruise Nights; at the JFK Memorial Coliseum (303 Beech St.) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from about 3 to 8 p.m.; and at Titan Auto Repair (151 Elm St., Manchester) on Thursdays and Fridays from about 3 to 8 p.m.
• Taco Time (find them on Facebook @tacotimenh) offers authentic Mexican cuisine like tacos, quesadillas, nachos and occasional specials, like tres leches, coconut rice pudding, three-bean chili with cornbread and fresh fish tacos with haddock or shrimp. Find them at 244 Elm St. in Milford (in front of the former Lefty’s Lanes bowling alley) every Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Up In Your Grill (upinyourgrill.com, find them on Facebook @upinyourgrill) is a Merrimack-based barbecue food trailer offering pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef brisket, sausage, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, cornbread and more. Find them at Vault Motor Storage (526 Daniel Webster Highway, Merrimack) most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., except for when the trailer is hired for a private event. Hours for the week are always posted to the Facebook page.
• Walking Gourmet (find them on Facebook @walkinggourmetnh) is a food truck converted from an old church bus from Ohio, offering an ever-changing menu of comfort foods. Popular items include unique takes on burgers, chicken sandwiches and rangoons. The Sunday chicken sandwich (pictured on the cover of this issue), for example, features fried chicken breast with Swiss cheese, Brussels sprout and radish slaw, garlic dill pickles, black pepper aioli and maple Dijon. Find them on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Derry-Salem Elks Lodge (39 Shadow Lake Road, Salem), and on Fridays from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Griffin Park (101 Range Road, Windham).
• Wander Roll (wanderroll.com, find them on Facebook @wanderroll) is a new mobile food trailer launched by Andrew and Inga Weakly of Bow, specializing in Vietnamese-style egg rolls. They also offer fresh limeade and are in the process of introducing Vietnamese iced coffee in collaboration with Revelstoke Coffee in Concord. They’ll be at Lithermans Limited Brewery (126 Hall St., Unit B, Concord) on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 2 to 6 p.m., and will likely appear at other venues and pop-up events later this summer.
• Whisked Away Cafe (find them on Facebook @whiskedawayfoodtruck) offers a diverse menu of sandwiches, wraps, chicken fingers, empanadas, sides, salads and more. Find them at 485 Route 106 South in Loudon, near the Cascade Campground, most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (hours vary).
• Winni Wagon (winniwagonfoodtruck.com, find them on Facebook @winniwagon) offers a menu of fresh comfort foods, many of which are named after different islands on Lake Winnipesaukee. The Cow Island, for example, features a four-ounce Angus patty topped with macaroni and cheese and a drizzle of barbecue sauce, while the Mark Island is a cheesesteak sandwich with peppers and onions. The menu also includes sides like loaded cajun fries and drinks like homemade strawberry lemonade. Find them most Mondays at Trustworthy Hardware (1084 Union Ave., Laconia) and Thursdays at the Irwin Hyundai dealership (446 Union Ave., Laconia), from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on both days. If the truck does not have a private event booked on Fridays or Saturdays, it will sometimes appear at Trustworthy Hardware on those days as well, according to owner Janine Geddis.
Licensing and permitting
All food trucks and trailers must have a mobile food unit license from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. If a truck is operating in any one of the state’s 15 self-inspecting cities and towns — Bedford, Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Derry, Dover, Exeter, Keene, Manchester, Merrimack, Nashua, Plaistow, Portsmouth, Rochester and Salem — its owner must additionally have a hawkers and peddlers license issued by that municipality.
Additional single-day permits are also required for a truck to participate in an event such as a festival. Some food truckers, either to save money on fees or because an event in a self-inspecting city or town has been canceled, have chosen not to renew their hawkers and peddlers licenses.
Earlier this year a bill had been introduced in the New Hampshire Legislature calling for the establishment of a committee to study food truck regulation, with the goal to streamline the licensing process. SB 479 was passed in the Senate with amendment on March 5 before it died in the House, but Sen. Harold French of Franklin, the bill’s prime sponsor, said he plans to raise the issue again during the next legislative session.
Featured image: Sunday chicken sandwich (fried chicken breast, Swiss cheese, Brussels sprout and radish slaw, garlic dill pickles, black pepper aioli and maple Dijon) from the Walking Gourmet food truck. Photo by Matt Ingersoll.