Vendors Descend On Elm Street Near Bushnell Park To Feed Capitol-Area Workers
By GAIL BRACCIDIFERRO, Special To The Courant
September 14, 2007
The makings for some generous and varied lunches roll into the city each weekday by about 11:30 a.m. A variety of chrome and stainless steel trucks and wagons, complete with grills, sinks and well-stocked refrigerators line up along Elm Street at the edge of Bushnell Park, attracting dozens of Capitol-area workers daily.
Tom Keopraseuth of New Britain has operated Thai Food on Wheels for about three years, while Tao Liu of Glastonbury has helped her husband run Peony Express for about 12 years.
Why did you decide to operate this type of business?
Tao Liu: We operated another restaurant before in South Windsor. We have kids and they go to school and we have to pick them up and drop them off. We come here at 10 o'clock. We close at 2. For us, it is a good business because we have three kids.
Tom Keopraseuth: We had another restaurant, the Thai Room in West Hartford. We stopped doing that. This is better. We are here for two hours, three hours. A restaurant you do it for the whole day. With a restaurant, you make more money, but it's a lot of hours. We can have 50, 60 customers a day here.
What are some of the special challenges to food vending from a truck as opposed to a fixed place restaurant?
Tao Liu: Sometimes there are five or six trucks here, sometimes less. It is more difficult the more trucks are here. More competition is difficult. The [lunch] time is too short.
It depends on the weather how many customers come. And holidays. People take vacation time now. Sometimes there is too much snow and we cannot park here.
Tom Keopraseuth: It is pretty slow in the wintertime. People don't want to come out. Too cold. The more trucks here, the more difficult it is. But business is pretty steady. I bought this truck. It cost me $20,000. It had everything in it already. At first, we looked around, and then we parked here. We tried it out and liked it here.
Are there particular health and sanitation challenges in the food truck business?
Tao Liu: We have to have a license and an inspection every year. It's like a regular restaurant. We have to get all the food and prepare everything here.
Tom Keopraseuth: We have everything just like a regular restaurant, the same things.
What about the food, itself, is it difficult to carve out a niche? How did you come up with the menu items and what is it that sets you apart in this crowd?
Tao Liu: We serve Chinese and it's all the popular items. (Most of Peony's meals are in the $5 range. Typical Chinese restaurant fare is offered.)
Tom Keopraseuth: Thai food is popular right now. We changed our menu some from our other restaurant. In the winter, we offer hot soups. (The meals here are in the $5.50 to $6.50 range and customers can choose a mixture of main ingredients such as shrimp, chicken and vegetables, as well as typical Thai favorites such as pad Thai.)
What advice would you give to someone considering starting this type of business?
Tom Keopraseuth: It is the food, itself, that sets you apart.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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