There are already signs that demand is outstripping supply for the plant-based food trucks and food trucks in Maine this season. So if you are a customer, you have to expect longer waiting times. Luckily for the overworked truck crew, mobile vegan kitchens appear to cater to a laid-back customer base who are exceptionally patient and uncomplaining.
Popular vegan food truck Curbside Comforts, which launched in Portland last year and sells vegan burgers, mac and cheese, and ice cream, has leased a takeout restaurant and scoop shop in Gorham. Its loss on the streets of Portland could be one of the factors contributing to longer lines at the remaining vegan food trucks.
Longtime plant-based food truck Falafel Mafia is preparing a second truck for the city’s streets, but its fate is now uncertain thanks to Portland’s recently announced plans to reduce the number of food truck slots on Eastern Prom.
Meanwhile, Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck is facing longer lines than ever, while Cornish vegan food truck The Greenhouse by SAO continues to serve towns west of Sebago Lake, adding South Portland to its route.
THIS TRUCK IS COMPLETELY AWESOME
When the Totally Awesome truck showed up for the first time this season at lunchtime in early April, serving Baconators and Street Dawgs, a line formed in front of the truck. You could hardly call it fast food that day – customers waited up to an hour and a half for their order. Owners and husband-and-wife team Tony and Coleen DiPhillipo worked alone on the truck and said the line never let up.
Since then they have been able to hire additional help, but they could use more. “We still get bullied, but it’s a little less painful now,” Tony DiPhillipo told me over the phone. And despite the 30-minute wait at the first 420 brunch of the season, “people stayed so grateful and positive.”
DiPhillipo, who launched the food truck in 2018, has been in the hospitality industry for many years. With other jobs, “there’s always been a percentage of people making it (employees) difficult,” he said. “But that never seems to happen with us.”
Many of his regular customers say they are happy to wait.
“I want vegan businesses to be successful, which definitely makes waiting in line mentally easier,” said Kelly Caiazzo, who was born in Gorham and splits her time between Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Portland. “I’m happy that vegan options are popular because they’re better for animals and the environment. And the long line means vegan businesses are more likely to be successful.”
Christine Drown from South Portland, another regular, echoed the sentiment. “We’d rather pay and wait for good food and service,” Drown said, before joking, “It’s the only time I’m hungry that I don’t lose if I have to wait for food.”
DiPhillito attributes both demand and customer patience to the truck’s menu. Even though the spot he parks at doesn’t have a lot of traffic, vegan hamburgers and hot dogs are “such a niche that a lot of people seek us out,” DiPhillip said.
Before the pandemic, DiPhillipo had considered making a leap into brick-and-mortar retail. He would like more space, more staff and the opportunity to expand his menu. But the last two uncertain years made him pause. Now, despite the ongoing labor shortage, “I feel a lot better,” he said. “I feel like it has to be sooner rather than later.”
For now, the Totally Awesome Truck is planning pop-ups at the Western Prom near Maine Med; Sunday 420 Brunches on the corner of Bolton and Congress Streets, where the former gas station in front of Tony’s Donuts (owned by DiPhillipo’s uncle) will soon open as a medicinal cannabis dispensary; and pop-ups at Rose Mary Jane recreational cannabis store on St. John Street.
The Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck will also be selling food at events including July 4th at Bug Light Park and Art in the Park in South Portland; Woofstock at Kennebunk; and Yoga Fest, Pet Rock in the Park and the Rally 4 Recovery, all in Portland.
PARKING PLOTS FALAFAL MAFIA
After 2:00 p.m. on a weekday in late April, as a choppy wind blew from Casco Bay onto Eastern Prom, the falafel mafia truck, along with three other trucks, parked on Eastern Prom near the playground. No one was at the playground or at the prom, but a group of people braved the cold to order from the falafel mafia.
The falafel mafia offers a simplified version of the menu served at its sister restaurant Nura in Monument Square, including falafel pita pockets, hummus bowls and shawarma fries. The truck’s menu is mostly vegan, with the occasional options for cow’s milk-based cheese or sauces.
Soon the company will operate two identical trucks. Brothers Dylan and Cameron Gardner, who launched the truck in 2017 and opened the restaurant in 2019, ordered a second truck from a Florida company last year. By the time you read this, Cameron Gardener hopes to have driven him to Portland.
Unfortunately, changes in city rules governing food trucks at the Eastern Prom put a spanner in the works. In response to neighborhood complaints about generator fumes, overflowing trash cans, tree damage and clogged sidewalks, the city is significantly shrinking food truck parking in the area.
“We built the new truck with the intention of running Eastern Prom seven days a week before we knew of the city’s plans,” Dylan Gardner wrote in an email.
“We’re kind of in limbo waiting to hear more about the selection process before we look for another location,” Cameron Gardner wrote, adding that they may be forced to lay off or reduce staff if the truck gets there no place gets working hours of the employees; Nura employees do the preparatory work for the trucks.
Until the Eastern Prom changes take effect on June 15, one falafel mafia truck will be parked at the Eastern Prom while the other will offer lunchtime pop-ups at the Western Prom near Maine Med on weekdays and during the Concerts at Thompson’s will sell food point, special events and company dinners. Both falafel mafia trucks will be in action at this year’s Common Ground Country Fair.
HELP SEEKED FROM GREENHOUSE BY SAO
At The Greenhouse by SAO Food Cart, staffing challenges are a key concern. The greenhouse pops up at various local businesses throughout the week and parks at summer festivals and events.
“The challenge is finding reliable staff that can turn up for these festivals,” said owner Shelby Oates, whose Southern-style food truck has already worked for Bridgeton’s Music on Main series, the Ossipee Valley Fair, Buxton’s 250th birthday party and the bluegrass Festival at Apple Acres Farm in Hiram is booked.
Oates runs the car with a team of two to four people. At some of the festivals she worked for last year, “there was such a long wait at certain times.”
“I am grateful for the grace of the customer who is willing to wait for this meal,” she said.
This season keep an eye out for The Greenhouse, parked at The Local Gear in Cornish, Archie’s Strike & Spare in Kezar Falls and Pine Root Farm in Steep Falls. Oates said she is working with the farm to produce a farm-ticketed dinner series. Once licensed in South Portland, Oates plans to do occasional pop-ups at Casco Bay Cannabis, a medical dispensary at 575 Westbrook Street.
Once corn is in season, her favorite grilled street corn will be back, Oates said, and she’s working on creating a homemade barbecue sauce. Other new menu items include vegan shrimp barbecue sandwiches and polenta cake sliders with vegetable and herb aioli.
“People are going to find me a little more common and a little more widespread this year,” Oates said.
THE LAST HORRAH OF A TRUCK
Curbside Comforts, scheduled to open in Gorham on May 28, made its final appearance as a mobile kitchen on Earth Day in Harrison for a town cleanup event. The wait for food was long, said local resident Angie Rosenberg.
“I haven’t heard any negative comments or seen any negative behavior,” she said, “which is surprising given the high tension these days. I work in a restaurant and we don’t get that positive food truck experience in a traditional restaurant atmosphere.”
Curbside Comforts owner Suzanne Grace appreciates customers’ patience and hopes people will realize that food trucks aren’t always synonymous with fast food. Many local trucks are bringing freshly prepared meals that are prepared one at a time, she said, so wait times are increasing as orders pile up.
When she’s not working herself, Grace is willing to wait a long time for a plant-based meal. She has been waiting for up to an hour and a half for a table at the Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro in Portland, which is no longer taking reservations (a first during the pandemic).
“Whenever I go there,” Grace told me over email, “I expect to have to wait and make a plan.”
Her favorite fix: The arcade games at nearby Coast City Comics.
Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer based in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
From ice cream to burgers to macarons, everything in Maine is going vegan