Kabobs! brings food-truck trend to downtown Salisbury
SALISBURY — In cities like Charlotte, food trucks are a part of dining culture.
The vans travel to different spots for lunch, using social media and websites to publicize their routes.
Food trucks offer an array of niche foods and comfort foods. In major cities such as Washington, D.C., food trucks sell everything from fried chicken to falafel.
This past year, Jonathan Rojas — known to many by his nickname, Johnny Reds — wanted to open up a food truck for regular service in Salisbury.
So did Andrew Dionne.
A mutual friend brought them together, and Kabobs! is the result of their partnership.
“In Salisbury,” Dionne said, “there's always somewhere to go for Chinese food, Italian food.”
Dionne said he and Rojas wanted to offer “something unique, something no one else had.”
Last Thursday afternoon, the Kabobs! truck was in its usual spot, in the parking lot on the corner of North Lee and East Kerr streets.
With the smoke of cooking rising from the vent on top, and a few new onlookers every time the light changed, Kabobs! drew a steady number of customers from nearby offices and those who were just driving by.
Rojas said that's how they plan to grow their customer base. “You stop by one day, and you become a regular,” he said as he got ready to take the next customer's order.
Sticking to it
Kabobs! is a “gourmet food truck,” and the concept is meant to be lighthearted.
The name, and the logo of a fist holding a kabob punching through, are meant to remind people of the “bam! and “kapow!” fight graphics of the Adam West “Batman” TV series, they said.
The colorful van is easy to spot. Inside, Dionne and Rojas wear matching chef's jackets for a uniform.
The menu is simple: a choice of chicken in a Greek marinade, bourbon-marinated beef or citrus-infused shrimp, with a choice of brushed-on glazes.
Each kabob comes with choice of pita bread and Israeli salad, or a seasoned rice medley.
So far, Dionne said, the simple, straightforward menu has been “mind-blowingly successful.”
“Right now, me and Johnny are the only employees, we're the owners, we're everything,” Dionne said.
“It's gotten to the point where we can't keep up. It's a good problem to have,” he said. “We almost sold out of food about three days in a row.”
And nights, too. Besides weekday afternoons for lunch on the go, food trucks are also big business on weekend evenings as crowds leave dance clubs and bars.
Dionne said Kabobs! will aim for both sets of clients.
They also plan to live up to the “gourmet” label.
In “about a month,” Dionne said, they hope to offer a “chef's menu” of meats that aren't generally available
Among the options being considered are venison, buffalo and even kangaroo meat, Dionne said.
There's a lot riding on this venture.
For one thing, Dionne said, the two had to find funding.
They had to invest in the truck, obtain the necessary licenses and work out a deal with the Ketner family, owners of the parking lot where Kabobs! operates on weekdays, Dionne said.
Finally, there's the challenge of letting people know where they are.
Dionne's brother, Justin, and other friends from Lee Street Theatre have been supporters, and there's a stack of theatre company brochures by the food truck's cash register.
Both passers-by and word of mouth have sent more customers their way, Andrew said.
Business has been so good, they're considering the need to hire others to help, Dionne said.
At the same time, there's the challenge of growing a new customer base in a town with many restaurant options.
The negative stereotype of food trucks, or “carts,” is that the food won't be good, Rojas said, or that the people preparing the food won't be good at their jobs.
“A lot of people are afraid to eat food off a cart,” he said.
That's not the case in bigger cities, Rojas said, where food trucks are a common part of the lunch hour.
Some cities actually have parking lot space leased out to food trucks, Rojas said. “I would love to see a food truck lot here in downtown.”
Still, Dionne said, it may be some time before Kabobs! starts making the rounds to different locations throughout the week.
That is definitely part of the plan, Dionne and Rojas said.
For now, they'll keep serving from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, in the parking lot at the corner of North Lee and East Kerr, in addition to the late-night hours on Fridays and Saturdays.
Rojas said there's room for more variety in Salisbury and they “would welcome other food trucks.”
“You can't expect everyone to come to the same truck every day,” Rojas said.
Both said they're pleased with how the partnership has turned out, and glad to support the local economy.
“Every day is a new challenge, but a challenge I'm willing to face head-on,” Dionne said. “I couldn't imagine being happier at what I'm doing.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor's desk at 704-797-4244.