It’s food truck season, but the industry is running on fumes due to COVID-19. With events canceled and a limited number of spaces available to serve hungry customers, it’s harder to find your favorite rolling restaurant. Online resources such as Twitter, Pittsburgh Food Trucks and Roaming Hunger can help you track a truck. And during the pandemic, third-party delivery services such as DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats are giving a lift to eateries on wheels.
Juan Gonzalez and Elizabeth Vater serve Japanese-style hibachi out of their two Hoshi vehicles. Regular stops range from Downtown office buildings to breweries as far away as Grove City, Pa.
Since the stay-at-home order went into effect in March, the couple’s truck has been idling outside of a commissary kitchen in Glenshaw and a few tried-and-true spots where devoted customers are keeping their engine purring.
“COVID-19 has brought the majority of our work to a halt and it has completely destroyed the 2020 food truck season, which normally begins March 1st and is full swing by April,” Vater says. “All of our big events that provide revenue for the year have been canceled altogether or postponed. The ones that have been postponed will play havoc with our schedule.”
Despite challenges, they continue to obtain fresh meat and seafood and serve their full menu, including filet mignon and scallops, their biggest sellers.
Mobile operations may have a slight advantage over brick-and-mortar restaurants, but Vater says spaces are hard to come by and fear is keeping people away.
Delivery is available through DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. Hoshi fans can also use Mobile Nom (@hoshi and @hoshitoo) to receive the latest updates.
Cilantro & Ajo
Husband-and-wife team Anthony Goncalves and Marlyn Parra opened Cilantro & Ajo on East Carson Street in the South Side in September 2018, followed soon after by a food truck.
With no dine-in customers to serve, sales are down by more than 50 percent. The couple thought about temporarily shutting down, but loyal customers hungry for Venezuelan takeout keep them going. Delivery is available through Uber Eats and DoorDash.
When their Payroll Protection Plan loan application didn’t go through, they had to cut their six-member staff to two. The food truck has made a few stops at area breweries, a far cry from last spring’s full schedule.
“Even in hard times, we can feel the love and support from our customers,” Parra says. “Our brick-and-mortar is keeping afloat with low sales, but the food truck has been highly affected by quarantine. Because festivals are canceled until further notice, our food truck is parked without gaining money most of the time.”
Vagabond Taco Truck
As if the COVID-19 crisis wasn’t enough to kill business, someone stole two generators from chef Michael Madigan’s Vagabond Taco Truck … on Cinco de Mayo.
A nearby security camera recorded the crime, which happened in Washington County, and Madigan was able to get one piece of equipment back. As for business? It’s still MIA.
“No matter what your business model was — breweries, festivals, catering events — it’s all gone,” he says. “Even if you were diversified, it was an across-the-board annihilation.”
Madigan doesn’t use third-party delivery services, but he’s investigating the possibility of driving through neighborhoods and making stops along the way like an old-fashioned ice cream truck. In the meantime, he’ll be at Stick City Brewing Company in Mars on May 24 from noon to 6 p.m.
You can’t miss the truck. It’s a vehicular tribute to the AMC hit “Breaking Bad” and Madigan often serves food dressed in a hazmat suit and respirator, which is a fitting outfit for the times.
“Pittsburgh has a lot of grit and we’re used to adversity,” he says. “We’ll get through this.”