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A Day In The Life Of Mobile Food: Rolling With The Grilled Cheese Truck
By the time Ruby returns home sometime between midnight to 2 a.m., she's easily served well over 500 sandwiches throughout her day to hundreds of hungry Angelenos. Her home - just west of downtown L.A. - is an overnight shelter for many like her in need of a place to stay for the night. The following morning, she and others will be picked up and they'll repeat the cycle all over again: Roll out, feed and park.
Ruby isn't an ordinary girl: She's one of two mobile eateries from the Grilled Cheese Truck, which have been serving cheesy melting goodness between two pieces of bread to L.A. since last October. After competing in the Grilled Cheese Invitational for the first time last year, Dave Danhi and Michele Grant realized the city's stomach was grumbling for a food truck that brings back the nostalgic elementary school lunch, but with a grown-up twist. Co-owned by friends and entrepreneurial chefs Grant and Danhi, the Grilled Cheese Truck was a hastily prepared idea that unexpectedly exploded as a success.
"From the moment that we announced we were doing this, there was such a fervor," said Grant from her home office after dropping off the truck to the kitchen. "That became our hard deadline...Neither of us felt like we could call (it off after that)." After roughly six weeks of pulling together a plan and registering their Twitter account -- which seemed to seal the deal -- the Grilled Cheese Truck hit the streets for the very first time.
A staff of roughly 17 keeps the Grilled Cheese Truck melting. "I book, he (Danhi) cooks," said Grant, who is also a personal chef serving clients with special diets. Danhi is president of a food industry recruitment company that connects chefs and other culinary professionals with jobs. For both Grant and Danhi, the Grilled Cheese operation is something to keep their creative juices flowing alongside their full-time jobs, but it's not exactly an easy side job. On a typical day, the truck is picked up from the lot and taken to a kitchen in an undisclosed location where the food is prepped before the vehicle is taken out to serve lunch. Once noon hits, the on-board crew of five can easily grill out 300 sandwiches in two-and-a-half hours, and each one of those served with a sincere "thank you" and a smile. At some point in between their lunch and dinner stops, Danhi and Grant regroup to get their sales numbers and discuss general company operations with administrative assistant Elaine DeLange. The two co-owners have a Bluetooth earpiece fused to the side of their heads (hello, hands-free law!) and with good reason: Both are constantly multi-tasking, whether it's checking in with each other on the way from one place to another, overseeing the truck kitchen a three or four times during the week or ordering bread and supplies.
It's no surprise that the Grilled Cheese Truck is so popular among Angelenos - in addition to serving gooey goodness for those without a care of calorie-counting, the crew shares their workplace camaraderie with the crowd, making each customer feel like they're a trusted part of their family. You might hear a polite "What'll you have today?" at your local diner, but the Grilled Cheese crew will still warm you up with a "Hey, how's it going, man?" And though from outside the tiny ordering window the truck's inside may seem like chaos, in reality it's a highly efficient and controlled chaos of an assembly line in the roughly 23-foot long truck.
The Grilled Cheese Truck has had several proposals for spots on a reality TV show thrown at them and turn down offers daily to cater private events. "We could do more, (but) it's just a question of having enough staff," said Grant. And ultimately, they want to maintain the street food spirit and keep their cuisine available to everyone, she said.
To experience a day in the life of one of the best-loved food trucks, LAist hit the road last Thursday with the Grilled Cheese crew as they served lunch to Culver City for the first time ever, fed partygoers at KCET.org's website launch and ended the night at Liquid Kitty in West L.A. to celebrate the bar's 14th anniversary.