A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE J STREET FOOD TRUCK

What’s it like to run a food truck? We spent a day with the crew of the J Street Food Truck re­cently to find out.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Allyson Reedy

8:25 a.m.

I’m a touch early to meet Ja­son Bray and Amy Crow­foot, own­ers of the J Street Food Truck, which is good since all I see is a generic of­fice build­ing where the com­mis­sary kitchen they share with other food trucks and cater­ers is sup­posed to be. Oh wait — that generic of­fice build­ing is the com­mis­sary kitchen.

I pull around back to see that the build­ing grows and grows and some­how cam­ou­flages a whole fleet of food trucks. It’s kind of like a clown car where they just keep com­ing out, ex­cept with chefs and trucks and pounds of raw an­i­mal flesh in­stead of ter­ri­fy­ing clowns.

Bray has been here since 6 a.m., chop­ping veg­eta­bles, brais­ing ribs, mix­ing up sauces, do­ing dishes and load­ing the truck for a 9:30 a.m. roll­out time. He’s al­ready been shop­ping, too. Bray is the chef be­hind J Street, which sells glob­ally and sea­son­ally in­spired street food with a menu that changes ev­ery month. His wife, Crow­foot, who runs the busi­ness side of things, is on her way.

Be­fore start­ing the truck in February 2016, Bray was the ex­ec­u­tive chef at the Sheri­dan Den­ver West Ho­tel for eight years. He wanted to make his own food, and a truck was a less risky way to do that. The cou­ple traded $3,500 for the shell of an old Oroweat bread truck they found on Craigslist, and they were on their way.

“It’s not gonna ruin your life if it doesn’t work out. Not like a restau­rant and you lose half a mil­lion,” Bray said.

Be­cause their menu con­stantly shifts, they needed a truck equipped to cook up a va­ri­ety of dishes. That meant cram­ming a six-burner stove, a flat­top, a Sala­man­der broiler, a steam ta­ble, an oven, a grid­dle, two cool­ers and a freezer into the back of that old Oroweat truck. To­day it also means cram­ming Crow­foot, who just ar­rived, and J Street’s cooks, Josh Ron­n­feldt and Justin Hales, into the truck. (Bray will stay be­hind to work on Au­gust’s menu.) Oh, and me.

9:40 a.m.

Crow­foot drives the truck to DTC

Eats. (No, you don’t need a spe­cial driver’s li­cense to op­er­ate this mon­strous ve­hi­cle; I asked.) I’m rid­ing shot­gun in the pas­sen­ger seat that doesn’t have a door. An unin­sured driver knocked it off last year, and they haven’t got­ten around to fix­ing it. Ron­n­feldt and Hales are balancing on cool­ers in the back, check­ing their phones for the quick­est route to the meet-up.

For this truck gath­er­ing, as well as for the pop­u­lar Civic Cen­ter Eats, trucks pay to be there. For the brew­eries (“Ev­ery­one wants all the Golden brew­eries! They do re­ally well,” Crow­foot tells me) and pri­vate events, the trucks don’t have to pay to sell their food, but, de­pend­ing on the city, they may need to pur­chase spe­cial per­mits to legally sell there.

10:15 a.m.

We ar­rive in the park­ing lot for DTC Eats; seven trucks are al­ready here. It’s first come, first serve for a spot, and in a par­al­lel park­ing-ish ma­neu­ver, we pull up be­hind the Tony Gua­camole truck.

The J Street crew turns on the gen­er­a­tor, then all the equip­ment it pow­ers. They like to give them­selves at least a half hour to get ev­ery­thing pow­ered up, un­tie and un­wrap ev­ery­thing that had been locked in for the drive, re­fresh the dry erase board menu and pull out ev­ery­thing they need for the day.

While the J Street crew is putting ev­ery­thing in its place for lunch ser­vice, the Chibby Wib­b­itz truck rolls in and — whoops! — backs into Tony Gua­camole’s ser­vice win­dow. The guys come out, as­sess the dam­age (not much) and then shake hands and smile. Food trucks trade food and crew mem­bers, and they know that what’s good for one is good for all.

10:45 a.m.

When your of­fice is a truck, where’s the bath­room? Crow­foot di­rects me to a nearby of­fice build­ing. Cri­sis averted.

10:56 a.m.

The first din­ers come in. Brian Fieser and Lori Marra made the full loop through the trucks and cir­cled back to or­der. Marra orders the Wa­ter­melon Tomato Salad based on Crow­foot’s rec­om­men­da­tion, and Fieser chooses the Mojo Ribs with Cuban Brus­sels Sprouts. Later, they re­turn to tell me the food was great.

12:15 p.m.

Dur­ing peak time, there’s al­most a chore­ographed dance to how the trio ma­neu­vers the tiny kitchen. There’s side-step­ping, sur­pris­ingly elegant turns and suave slides per­formed to get that salad as­sem­bled, the cheese melted, the Brus­sels sea­soned. Ron­n­feldt is on one side, Hales on the other. Crow­foot is in the mid­dle, work­ing the win­dow. But when Hales needs the fryer — po­si­tioned di­rectly be­hind Crow­foot — and Ron­n­feldt is on the grill getting five Cubano sand­wiches meated up, things get tight. (I’m still tucked into the pas­sen­ger seat.)

The men es­pe­cially are in con­stant mo­tion, bop­ping along to what could be mu­sic, but is re­ally just the sound of sliced pota­toes meeting bub­bling oil and fans spin­ning the hot, sticky air. (The air tem­per­a­ture above the grill can get up to a blis­ter­ing 150 de­grees.)

The smell from the fryer and the carameliza­tion of the Brus­sels sprouts makes that hot, sticky air smell greasy and sweet, so you al­most — al­most — for­get how damn hot it is.

Out­side the truck, peo­ple are stand­ing about ev­ery­where,

Pho­tos by Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

J Street Food Truck co-owner, driver and front per­son Amy Crow­foot puts up orders for the chefs at the DTC Eats food truck gath­er­ing on Syra­cuse Street.

The J Street food truck of­fered a Caribbean Fla­vors menu at a crowded DTC Eats.

Ro­drigo Ribeiro is caught off guard af­ter ask­ing if the Cuban Brus­sels are good. “They’re ter­ri­ble,” cook Amy Crow­foot an­swered. Ribeiro or­dered the sprouts.

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