food truck

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Bearded festivalgoers and Austinites in need of a quick trim found what they needed on the corner of Seventh and Trinity during South By Southwest. They congregated in what appeared to be a food truck, but was actually Rough Cut Trims: a fully functioning barbershop complete with three barber chairs and hairstylists from the Austin area.

Jared Vincent, a Round Rock resident, opened up the shop a week before SXSW despite having no prior experience with hairdressing. He was looking for a unique business idea and happened to find the mobile barbershop trailer for sale online. Over the course of two weeks, he got the licensing and permits necessary to open Rough Cut Trims for the SXSW crowds.

“It was an opportunity that I felt like I had to pursue,” Vincent said. “The stars aligned, and it’s been explosively positive over the last eight or nine days.”

The staff saw a wide variety of customers over the course of the week, including members of the hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia and Desus Nice from MTV2’s Guy Code. Hairstylists at Rough Cut Trims cut hair until 1 or 2 a.m. throughout the week.

While some passersby went to the truck for a simple trim, shampoo, shave or neck massage, others requested unique hair designs. One customer asked for a guitar shaved into his beard.

“Having it on the street is a different experience,” Vincent said. “When they’re sitting in the chair and they’re getting all groomed up, they’re able to see the South By crowds and hear the music. It’s their time to enjoy themselves and be pampered a little bit.”

Vincent said after just four days of business, the team was already thinking about opening up more locations in different cities in the future. He said he hopes to move the truck to an area by Fourth Street and Congress so it can continue operating even after SXSW.

“We want to have the best barbers in Austin,” Vincent said. “We’re not just a trailer truck that cuts hair. We want to be a professional, well-designed place.”

Chi’Lantro owner Jae Kim recently added a sit-down restaurant to the chain’s five food trucks. The new location on South Lamar Boulevard serves Kim’s signature Korean and Mexican food, including kimchi fries.

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

For Chi’Lantro owner Jae Kim, five food trucks just weren’t enough.

Kim, whose Korean and Mexican food enterprise already consisted of five food trucks, opened a new restaurant on South Lamar in January. Chi’Lantro’s first brick-and-mortar location boasts the brand’s well-known kimchi fries and bulgogi hamburger. Kim opened the restaurant’s doors Jan. 19, after five years of success in the food truck industry.

Kim said he knew he wanted to open a restaurant in a fixed location from the very beginning, but waited to invest until a prime location became available. Kim said the new location’s proximity to downtown and the convenience of a close parking lot made the location appealing.

“One of the keys to a successful restaurant is to be in a great location where it’s convenient for people,” Kim said, “So when the previous owners of the space reached out to me about taking over this location, I thought it was a great opportunity, and I had the finances.”  

According to Kim, while location and parking accessibility are important, the most important factor in a restaurant’s success are the team members — many of whom he worked with prior to opening the Chi’Lantro restaurant. He said it’s humbling to work with people who are willing to invest their time and energy in an uncertain endeavor. 

“Good people stuck around,” Kim said. “They saw the value in growing the business together, and you can’t be in this business without good people around you.”  

Kim, who always wanted to expand the Chi’Lantro brand, said he knew he needed a better business development plan — so he hired Libby Dearing, who has experience managing food trucks and restaurants in Los Angeles. Dearing said working in a restaurant is much easier than working in a food truck. Kim agreed and said that most food truck cooks have tough personalities.

“When you take a restaurant cook to a food truck, I worry,” Kim said. “But I don’t worry when you take the food truck guy to the restaurant. [Food truck cooks are] the SEAL Team of the restaurant industry.” 

Although Kim has been endorsed by Food Network and honored with a multitude of culinary awards, he said he feels best when his mom is proud of him. 

“When my mom’s proud of me, that’s when I’m proud of myself,” Kim said. “All moms are the same. They like to talk a lot to their friends about their kids, and when she’s proud to talk about me amongst her friends, I feel good.“

Hungry students can find a Chi’Lantro food truck parked at the corner of 24th and Rio Grande streets Monday through Friday. Chi’Lantro often hosts charity events benefiting University organizations, and a truck parks outside of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on every game day. 

“We try our best to stay involved with the University of Texas because we know every year it’s like a new customer base of new students coming in, building a whole new life for the next four years,” said Kim. 

Dearing said opening a restaurant is wonderful because there are more opportunities for involvement.

“With the food truck, once you hand the food through the window, you don’t really control the experience for the customer.” Dearing said. “The restaurant gives us the opportunity to create a whole hospitable experience, with music, seating and making sure the customer is comfortable.”

Founder of SLAB BBQ, Mark Avalos, stands with “The Donk,” the name of its food truck. SLAB was founded originally under the name Sugar Shack BBQ but changed the name in 2013.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Steam escapes from the smoker as SLAB BBQ employee Rance Simpson takes out a piece of seasoned chicken and begins chopping it up with speed inside the small food truck. The SLAB employees are busy preparing dozens of sandwiches for the Intercollegiate Tennis Tournament, one of the many events the business has served.

SLAB BBQ, originally called Sugar Shack BBQ, has been a campus commodity since its opening on the corner of 24th and San Antonio streets. The business began in 2006 as an experiment out of founder Mark Avalos’ home kitchen. Since its inception, SLAB has changed its name and expanded its business, which anticipates the addition of a new restaurant location sometime this year.

“When I bought my house, the first thing I bought was a smoker, and I learned how to smoke on it and I got hooked,” Avalos said. “All the sauces I make are from scratch. It’s all trial and error that I’ve done from back in the day.”

Because the business had been known as Sugar Shack since 2008, Avalos was apprehensive toward rebranding, afraid that students would not recognize the new face of the food trailer. But, in 2013, the name was changed to SLAB BBQ, which stands for “slow, low and banging,” a description Avalos said correlates with the methods of making barbecue.

“I never actually went to the place when it was called the Sugar Shack, but I remember being surprised when I saw the SLAB trailer where the Sugar Shack was supposed to be,” computer science junior Aila Enos said. “It didn’t stop me from going there. I was on the hunt for some good barbecue close to campus.”

Besides being based out of a food truck, SLAB’s barbecue is different in a number of ways from the traditional Texas style staple. The meats are a fusion of Texas-, Memphis- and Carolina-style barbecue, and all the meat is served sandwich style rather than on a plate, after being smoked for 12 hours.

“When I started off in 2006, I wanted to not be like every other barbecue with plates,” Avalos said. “I wanted to focus on the sandwich and so that’s what I did. We low smoke all the meats, but we focus more on the sandwich and what we can create.”

With two trailers and a food truck capable of producing 1,500 pounds of smoked meat already in use, Avalos is looking to move into a restaurant before summer.

“The great thing about what we’re doing now in the order that we’re doing it is that we’re building a clientele with the truck and with the trailer,” Avalos said.  “When we open up the doors to the restaurant, we already have a following. We, at least, have people who know us and will support us.”

Chip Gourley, Avalos’ business partner, is excited for the options a restaurant location will be able to give customers that are not currently available out of the truck and trailer.  

“I’m really excited about moving into a restaurant because I feel like we can broaden the menu,” Gourley said. “You can pick your meat, pick your sauce, pick your side. Build your own barbecue. That was the dream.”

Since its beginnings on campus, the truck has catered events for people such as Norah Jones, Dell, The Ying Yang Twins, among others, and has also been featured on the Travel Channel, Food Network and eHow. Despite SLAB’s success, Avalos remains grateful to his original clients: students.

“I want the students to know that they built what we are now,” Avalos said. “It all started on campus.”

Chemistry sophomore Fahad Raza opened up Kebabeque, an Indian and Mediterranean food truck, on Fifth and Colorado streets this past Friday. Raza and his brother-in-law plan to do all the cooking, cleaning and money managing for Kababeque and are looking forward to seeing how their food truck venture will expand.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Austin’s newest food truck specializes in Indian and Mediterranean food, but the menu isn’t the only thing that sets the truck apart — what makes Kababeque special is that it is owned and operated by a UT sophomore.

After working at a friend’s food truck during last year’s South By Southwest festival, chemistry sophomore Fahad Raza decided a food truck would be a manageable and profitable business venture. He purchased a food truck on Craigslist, painted it himself and began planning a menu. The truck opened Friday at Fifth and Colorado streets.

“[Kababeque] a way to make income without taking away from my school time,” Raza said. “Since it’s on weekend nights, it makes it much more manageable.”

Raza began making plans for Kababeque with his brother-in-law in November. Like many food truck owners, he was able to quickly start the business. Tony Yamanaka, owner of the website Food Trailers Austin, said most people who want to start up a food truck business do so because it is fairly easy to operate a mobile vending truck. 

Raza said he is looking forward to seeing how his food truck venture will expand.

“We’ll see how South By Southwest goes because that’s a real moneymaker,” Razad said. “Once that gets us some revenue, hopefully we’ll do another food truck or wait it out a couple more years and have a restaurant somewhere.” 

Unlike traditional restaurants, food trucks require fewer operating hours, less maintenance and a smaller staff. Raza said the experience will teach him how to be an entrepreneur. He said his goal is to eventually make enough revenue to have his own staff and more food trucks. UT students will receive discounts at Kababeque with their student IDs.

Yamanaka said a rough estimate of food trailers in the city can be found through how many mobile vending permits are issued, though that license is also for people who vend at farmer’s markets, and not every license means the truck is active. In 2013, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department issued 1,239 mobile vending permits.

Yamanaka said there are likely 300 to 500 active food trailers, and 215 are registered with his website.

Yamanaka said he sees many food trailers fail because owners do not put enough effort into the business. 

“It’s a totally different beast,” Yamanaka said. “You’re not able to make the same kind of money you can in a restaurant, so people say it’s a lot cheaper to get into, but it’s also not as lucrative.”

Raza and his brother-in-law plan to do all the cooking, cleaning and money managing for Kababeque.

“I’m excited about the fact that I’m learning how to be an entrepreneur while in college,” Raza said. “Worst comes to worst, I’ll have those skills that I can use later on in life.”

Owner of Lucky’s Puccias Italian sandwich food truck Lucky Sibilla creates a puccia for a customer on Saturday afternoon. Through the taste of fresh ingredients and wood-fired flatbread, Lucky strives to bring elements from his culture’s passion for food to Austin.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

A careful inspection of Lucky’s Puccias reveals that there isn’t a single Italian flag hanging in the food truck. But it is not an oversight, a mistake or even against the health code. 

According to the heavily tattooed, pierced and gauged owner, Lucky Sibilla, one must worry about those who advertise that they are Italian because they have to convince people. 

So how does Sibilla get his nationality across?

“I advertise through my flavors,” Sibilla said. “I let my food speak for me. My personality. How I talk to people. My accent. And girls love it. I just throw a ‘ciao bella’ in there and they melt.” 

And based on its success, Lucky’s Puccias—which will be featured on the Food Network’s series “Eat Street” this May—is speaking loud and clear. 

At age 15, Sibilla began making pizzas for a local pizzeria in Puglia, Italy where he came up with the idea of selling pucce, a micro-regional soldiers’ bread from his hometown, Taranto, Italy. 

“It was the smell that got me really like ‘wow, I really want to do this,’” Sibilla said. “The smell is amazing. It smells cozy, comforting, like something you know, something that’s in my system. I related it to my hometown, and I thought ‘this is amazing; I can do something I really love and introduce it to a new culture.’ And that’s priceless.”

Two years ago, he created Lucky’s Puccias after falling in love with an American woman and moving to Austin. 

Initially, Antonella Del Fattore-Olson, distinguished senior lecturer and coordinator of the lower-division Italian Department, heard praises about the food truck. Fattore-Olson said Sibilla’s pucce make her reminiscent of Italy, which doesn’t happen to her often.  

“The first bite I gave to the puccia, I swear, I closed my eyes, it was dark, it was night and I just felt like I was in Italy,” Fattore-Olson said. “The feeling, the taste, really the sensation that I was there. But I could taste the mozzarella, the fresh prosciutto, the bread. For me, it’s sacred, the bread.” 

Sibilla then got involved in UT’s Italian department by contributing to and appearing in an Italian department music video, “Pesce Grande.” Sibilla is set to act in another Italian video for the intermediate class, entitled “ItalVideo.” 

Paola D’Amora, Italian graduate student and native Italian,  said that Olson has arranged meetings at Lucky’s in order to give Italian students a taste of Italy. 

“Students involved in the Italian language are very interested in the Italian culture and they want to get as much as possible in Austin,” D’Amora said. “They’re obviously interested to go there and have a taste of what real Italian food is like.” 

At a little under $10 each, D’Amora said that the pucce are too expensive for her college budget, but the fact that many people go regardless of the price verifies that the pucce are great.

Sibilla feels it is important to get involved at UT because there are a lot of people who need to learn how to eat a good sandwich. He said they spend their money on Subway or the Drag instead, but the money they save now will be spent on a doctor because they are not healthy.

“That’s why people are so sick, so obese … because they look at the price, because unfortunately, that’s how society was built, and it sucks,” Sibilla said. “So spend a little more money on good food now, and enjoy. Give food the importance it needs. They think meat is a package. I cannot believe that one corporation is able to make the exact same recipe and it tastes the exact same in Canada or Mexico. That is wrong. And that doesn’t help small farmers that work hard. So I stand up for local, simple, fresh.”

According to Sibilla, the main value of his sandwich is the ingredients. 

“I go out and buy the best products for you guys,” Sibilla said. “I don’t sell you meat that is 99 cents a pound. I’m here bringing you something you’ve never had before. I bring … my knowledge of ovens and bread and how to make my sauces. Other people sell sandwiches, and they’re really bad. They really are. I don’t sell sandwiches, but I sell history.” 

Although Sibilla would eventually like to open a restaurant that is less reliant on the climate, he feels fortunate to feed people of all ages.

“My best customers, in my opinion, are the really young people and the older people,” Sibilla said. “I’m able to introduce the young to a new bread that will stick to them. And for the old people, I feel honored and lucky to feed these people something they haven’t had in a whole lifetime. Therefore, you know, I feel like I want to cry.”

Fresh Off the Truck, the latest food truck to join the campus trailer craze, appears to be a swanky new staple, but the food fails to impress.

The food trailer offers an extensive menu, including Korean, Vietnamese and fusion dishes. For summer, they have a scaled-down menu.

You know it’s a bad sign when you have to use the salt packet that comes with plastic cutlery. Although the Coca-Kalbi short ribs are braised and slow cooked well, the flavor was lacking and left something to be desired. The blandness of the short ribs was exemplified by the rice which, although fluffy, severely lacked salt. The Kalbi marinade, which is typically sweet with strong garlic tones, was too subdued.

Another popular dish, the chicken Katsu, repeated the same error of the short ribs — cooked well, but essentially flavorless.

The kimchi and Korean potatoes were a revelation compared to the main entrees. The sweet-pickled vegetables and spice from red pepper in the kimchi offers a superb combination in heat, sweet and sour flavors, and crunchiness. The Korean potatoes, made from boiled and sauteed russet potatoes and topped with toasted sesame seeds, are sweet and savory — firm, but not crunchy.

The truck itself, which moves around campus, is painted with imitation graffiti and a chrome trim. The swanky trailer includes two full-sized ice chests filled with a variety of drinks and a bar displaying Asians snacks and chips also for sale.

The trailer is nice, but they could sacrifice appearance and purchase a bench or two for patrons. Customers are left to fend for themselves to find seating after they get their food.

Given the limited, bland menu and awkward seating situation, it will be interesting to see how successful Fresh Off the Truck is during the school year. As of now, the food truck has a long road ahead.