Richard Hales on Roundups: "A Crutch for Crappy Food Trucks"
Richard Hales's Sakaya Kitchen was a pioneer in both locale (midtown, then a ghost town in terms of eateries) and concept -- affordable, chef-driven, Asian-inspired small plates (pre-Gigi, Wok Town, Pubbelly, etc.). Hales was also right at the intersection of the original food truck courts; his Sakaya Kitchen Truck, then Dim Ssäm à Gogo truck were and remain two of the best. His new set of wheels, just now rolling out, is the Baketress dessert truck, with pastry chef Vanessa Paz at the helm.
Hales emailed me recently concerning something I had written awhile back about food truck roundups; he wasn't happy about the direction things were going. So I asked a few questions about that subject -- and also inquired about Baketress desserts.
New Times: What do you think about the current state of the food truck roundups?
Richard Hales: We (Latin Burger, Fish Box, and Dim Ssäm à Gogo) started the first roundup on 65th and Bird Road a year ago and sort of wish we didn't. Roundups became a crutch for crappy food trucks to survive without going through what we did and especially what Latin Burger and GastroPod went through developing a customer base through good food and social media. The bottom feeders took over the industry and effed it up.
The concept of food courts was supposed to be the offering of cool, home-cooked street foods at a fair price and in a fun atmosphere. Would the term jumped the shark be applicable?
A select few of the trucks are still doing just that, but we have been infiltrated by uncool, overpriced, and processed carnival food. No, I would not say it "jumped the shark," but there has to be a correction toward better concepts, ingredients, and flavor.
Do many of the original food truckers agree with your assessment? What can be done about it -- a separate, exclusive food truck court?
All the top trucks have the same complaints; we even have meetings to discuss issues. The organizers have taken over the whole industry and the food trucks just pay and line up these days. Separating ourselves has not worked for the roundups, so we are looking just to find places where two to three trucks can park and serve the community.
Cool. Now tell us about your new Baketress dessert truck, and about the Baketress herself, Vanessa Paz. And are her desserts being featured at Sakaya Kitchen?
Vanessa is very talented and we are doing some real homey desserts. She is low-key and will present something to me that on paper sounds too simple -- but when you eat it it makes your knees buckle. We are starting with pies and doughnuts and will start to work ice cream into the menu. Everything is made from scratch, from the pies to the toppings and sauces. We are still working on the doughnut menu and will have a "bao" type doughnut.
The Baketress ice cream menu features things like housemade "chaco taco" and a brownie ice-cream sandwich; milkshakes come in flavors like banana cream pie and pumpkin 'n' bacon; ice-cream toppings include miso glaze, apple cider caramel, and peanut brittle. So the question is: For those who don't always run into food truck courts, will these desserts be featured at Sakaya Kitchen?
We are working some of the desserts into Sakaya Kitchen midtown at the moment. My plan is to put a full display of them once we get downtown going. The downtown location will have a counter just for Baketress and Panther Coffee.
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