Nicholas Fitzgerald arms change to Jessica Sullivan Might 21 as she orders meals on the meals truck Smiley’s within the Lindale Mall car parking zone, in Cedar Rapids. The enterprise is a household affair with father Colin Fitzgerald and sons Nicholas and Liam working collectively. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS — Come rain or shine, pandemic or derecho, meals vans in Cedar Rapids have weathered a difficult yr to see one other summer season.
With a number of new ones on the streets, the pattern that has picked up velocity during the last a number of years is as sturdy as ever, with much more selection for hungry clients.
New vans on the block
Some, like Smiley’s Soups & Sandwiches, are simply getting began. The brand new meals truck, which began serving Cubanos, cheesesteak sandwiches and Kentucky Sizzling Browns this month, gives recipes that Nicholas Fitzgerald and his household have been making at house for years.
Colin Fitzgerald sauces some beef steak on the flat-top Might 21 on the meals truck Smiley’s Soups & Sandwiches within the Lindale Mall car parking zone in Cedar Rapids. The enterprise is a household affair with father Colin and sons Nicholas and Liam. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The dream of his — to have the ability to work and spend extra time with household — got here after an unlucky prompting.
“When my buddy Dustin handed away, I needed to do one thing in his honor, begin a brand new chapter in my life, discover a new profession,” he mentioned. “Dustin had an awesome relationship together with his father. I needed to spend extra time working with my father.”
Bearing Dustin’s final title, Smiley’s signature Kentucky Sizzling Brown serves up carved turkey in an open-face sandwich topped with a cheese sauce, chopped tomato and bacon.
A Kentucky Sizzling Brown is able to be wrapped up at Smiley’s meals truck, which received its begin this yr. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A former Verizon supervisor, Fitzgerald, 29, is ready to run the enterprise with the assistance of his father, spouse and brother.
Although the upfront funding is decrease in comparison with the value of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, not every little thing within the meals truck enterprise is simple as pie.
After getting an excellent deal on the truck and hauling it again from Texas, they realized it was not weatherized for Iowa situations, Fitzgerald mentioned. They needed to substitute water programs, pumps and different gear earlier than it might be able to go.
“It’s not terribly tough, however it’s fairly a bit of labor to do,” he mentioned.
With its first month in enterprise, Smiley’s has been studying one of many largest guidelines to success by trial and error.
“Enterprise begins with location, location, location,” Fitzgerald mentioned. “It’s nonetheless a studying expertise on a regular basis, studying the place you’ll get the visitors and the place clientele might be hungry.”
To date, the brand new truck has discovered that neighborhood occasions, office occasions and church occasions are essentially the most profitable. With the success Smiley’s has seen to this point, Fitzgerald mentioned the enterprise might doubtlessly develop right into a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
The Cubano at Smiley’s meals truck. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
“It’s a check trial to see if our menu and idea is profitable,” he mentioned.
Tried and true
Different meals vans, like Caribbean Kitchen, are among the many few originals in Cedar Rapids nonetheless operating right now.
“There have been possibly 4 of us at first,” mentioned proprietor Patrick Rashed, often known as “Jamaican Pat.” “(I’m) one of many few which have been round.”
A favourite amongst meals truck diners, Caribbean Kitchen is thought for its genuine, high quality Jamaican dishes. It has been doling out jerk rooster, coconut curry goat and rice and beans since 2012, when it began as a enterprise in NewBo Metropolis Market.
“The meals shouldn’t be typical for a meals truck,” Rashed mentioned. “It’s a restaurant on wheels. You may get restaurant high quality meals from my truck.”
Rashed mentioned each the most important professional and con of his meals truck is it’s portability, which invitations fixed questions on the place he’s parked.
“I’ve to inform them to go on Fb and see,” he mentioned, chuckling. “I benefit from the journey, assembly completely different folks, going to occasions — it’s numerous enjoyable.”
And within the pandemic, when conventional eating places have been shuttered or restricted to carryout solely, his mannequin thrived, bringing in about 20 p.c extra enterprise than ordinary — a lifesaver when he didn’t qualify for Paycheck Safety Program loans.
As many summer season festivals and actions have been canceled final yr, he misplaced one in every of his largest sources of gross sales income.
However with the generosity Rashed sowed into the neighborhood, loyal clients ensured he stayed in enterprise by thick and skinny. When the derecho hit, he gave away 3,000 to 4,000 meals — one thing he had achieved quietly for years in smaller portions.
“I simply by no means instructed anyone. If someone’s courageous sufficient to come back up and ask for meals, they have to want it. I’m not going to say no,” he mentioned. “It wasn’t one thing I made a decision to do due to the derecho, it’s one thing I’d been doing for a very long time.”
If a buyer comes up a bit brief, he simply says “It’s already paid for.” Over the past yr, loyal clients have donated to create a fund guaranteeing he’s capable of give away meals each time somebody wants one.
The Metropolis of Cedar Rapids has licensed 4 new cellular meals distributors within the final yr: Americana Concessions, The Espresso Pusher, I’m Soul Hungry and Smiley’s Soups & Sandwiches. Two licensed distributors, Caribbean Kitchen and Keepin’ Up With the Jones’s, have added a second licensed unit.
From left: Colin Fitzgerald and his sons, Liam and Nicholas, at their meals truck Smiley’s Soups & Sandwiches Might 21 within the Lindale Mall car parking zone. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Nicholas Fitzgerald arms a meals order to a buyer Might 21 from the meals truck Smiley’s Soups & Sandwiches. The brand new meals truck opened a month in the past by Nicholas together with his father, Colin Fitzgerald, and brother Liam. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The menu board at Smiley’s meals truck. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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