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