c/o BonAppetitWesleyanUniversity

c/o Bon Appétit Wesleyan University

Bon Appétit’s latest campus operation, the food truck, was introduced last semester as an exciting new lunch option. While the food truck’s return this semester was delayed until after spring break due to damage after being clipped by another truck, it is now back outside of Usdan and North College every weekday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

When coming up with the idea for the food truck, Bon Appétit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf initially imagined involving food trucks from restaurants in Middletown. However, because the University’s contract with Bon Appétit does not allow the sale of external food, Strumpf took matters into his own hands.

“One of my culinary chefs used to work at Esca in Middletown, and they had bought a food truck prior to the pandemic and had plans of putting it on the street,” Strumpf said. “It never materialized, and the truck had been sitting basically vacant in their driveway for two years. We put a bid on it, and here we are.”

While Usdan has held a few barbeques and small catering events outside in the past, nothing came close to the scale of a food truck. There were some initial issues to work through, as Strumpf had to bargain with the Bon Appétit union to hire two workers who were trained as hot cooks, not just preparatory cooks. Eventually, Strumpf found his two cooks in Ted Briggs and Gloria Tobon. Strumpf spoke highly of the chemistry between the food truck employees. 

“Once they got the jobs, they got right to work together as a team,” Strumpf said. “The two work very well together along with Megan the cashier, so I think that the truck has been performing very well.”

The fourth member of the crew is Bon Appétit Catering Manager John Kehoe, who moonlights as a server on the truck. Kehoe belts out students’ order numbers, often pairing them with a corresponding professional sports player’s number. His personality has become iconic and created a vibrant atmosphere around the truck. However, the food that Kehoe, Briggs, and Tobon provide is the main event. Strumpf spoke about his choice to use Mexican-inspired food items and the importance of speedy service.

“I liked the idea of doing three proteins and three or four different applications,” Strumpf said. “Something simple, something fast, and something very flavorful, something that everybody likes.”

Briggs, Tobon, and Strumpf noted the importance of keeping the menu short, especially since the food requires a lot of preparation. Briggs and Tobon do most of the prep in the morning, but for some meats, like the smoked beef, preparation begins a few days in advance. The truck aims to serve about 200 students a day and usually reaches this quota before 1 p.m. 

While the truck is cramped, Briggs and Tobon enjoy their work. After interviewing Briggs and Tobon, I knew I wanted to see their chemistry and banter in action on the food truck. I had the pleasure of joining the team on the truck for a day and witnessing their efficiency firsthand. Kehoe had the day off, so Strumpf helped make the quesadillas, while I attempted to fill Kehoe’s huge shoes with my own brand of number-calling.

From 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., the line was sparse, and I was able to inquire about how Briggs and Tobon divided tasks. Tobon dealt with the fryer, cooking yucca fries and tater tots for the breakfast bowls. She also assembled the quesadillas that Strumpf cooked on the grill. Briggs made the burritos and taco cones, and he finished Tobon’s breakfast bowls with the specified meat.

Soon, the line got longer, orders started pouring in, and even I had to work fast. But Briggs and Tobon kept their composure, and with Strumpf’s impeccable quesadilla-making skills, every order seemed to be made within five minutes. While I wasn’t able to think of many basketball players’ numbers to call out, I still felt like I had become a part of the team and was working within a highly refined system. 

The team has lots of ideas for the future, including a possible menu change. Strumpf acknowledged that student participation in creating a new menu is possible, but new options need to fit within the structure of how the truck operates now. That said, Tobon still asked me to reach out to friends for any constructive criticism.

“I think it’s a good idea for you guys to start writing down what you guys like and what you don’t like,” Tobon said. “Then we can see what we can do.”

Strumpf expects the truck to relocate and set up outside of Pi Café next week in order to reach upperclassmen, who might not frequent the Usdan area. He wants to expand the truck’s location range, and looks forward to a system upgrade.

“We want to go over to Freeman, do some athletic events,” Strumpf said. “We’re in the process of upgrading the point-of-sale system to cloud-based…. When the system gets puts into place, I’ll be able to take credit cards anywhere on campus…. Then we could park the truck wherever we want.”

The food truck is part of an expanding food landscape at the University. Along with the new iteration of Star & Crescent and Story and Soil’s delicious menu, the food scene on campus seems to be thriving, and in good hands.

Lewis Woloch can be reached at lwoloch@wesleyan.edu

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