Chicago Food Truck Finder

blogging the Chicago food truck scene

The Corner Farmacy

In September of 2014, Corner Farmacy hit the streets of Chicago for the first time, bringing cold-pressed juices and a menu based on local, seasonal food. Unfortunately I did not try them until late November. I was instantly hooked. Everything I had from them was fantastic. Egg, bacon, cheese, tomato, and pesto sandwich. Cold-pressed kale juice. Blueberry muffins baked fresh on their truck. Then in early December, like Keyser Söze, they were gone. Well, not really gone, they just shut down for the winter season.

Now that spring is upon us and the truck is back on the road, I interviewed Emily Darland and Laura Feehan, the co-owners of The Corner Farmacy.

AV: What are your backgrounds?

ED: Background is such a broad term and could incite me to go on forever… I suppose you would say that my background in food and hospitality started while growing up in and around restaurants, hotels, and retail as a result of my mother’s occupation and entrepreneurship. I worked extensively in sales during and following college in Iowa then moving to Chicago and helped launch Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter (100 E. Walton) in the Gold Coast (If you haven’t yet visited, it’s a must. Everything made by hand, 18 hour croissant dough, never using a sheeter­. Legit French expats would claim better than/equal to Paris. Bread with literally 4 ingredients as it should be­ flour, water, yeast and salt. Chicago Mag’s 2012 #6 best sandwich, the Belgian Chicken Curry Sandwich. And an open kitchen where the artisanal craftsmanship can be seen and appreciated.). Having my hands in every part of that small business for a couple years, I then found myself in corporate sales as a Brand Consultant for specialty food companies for almost an equal amount of time before I dreamt up the food truck and birthed myself a way out.

LF: I have been passionate about food my entire life and have been cooking for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, nothing felt better than someone telling me that they enjoyed something I cooked. When I entered college at Iowa, I decided to be practical and go the Finance/Law route. After graduation, I was a practicing attorney specializing in civil litigation for three years and had resigned to cooking on the weekends, throwing dinner parties, and “catering” tailgates to feed my cooking needs. While I found success as an attorney, there was always something missing that left me feeling unfulfilled. The food truck idea came about at a time in my career when I really needed change and has since been the perfect vehicle to allow me to pursue my passion and share my love of food with a larger audience.

AV: How did the idea for a “farm­-to-­fender” food truck come about?

ED: Having grown up in Iowa we were accustomed to sharing/exchanging agriculture and produce with neighbors and community members. With farms everywhere, roadside stands were often a daily routine and farmers market a must, not to mention our hands on experience in the gardens we all had in our backyards. Fresh and local was natural and inherent, not something that needed promoting.

After making Chicago and its many neighborhoods home, it was almost disturbing how few people were eating and shopping local with the opportunities and resources at their fingertips. No matter where you are, there’s a market by you. I know you know this. Let alone how many phenomenal Chicago independent small businesses there are to support. Missing our roots, I went as far as finding the largest backyard the City had to offer and planting and growing anything and everything I could. (Ironically, that backyard garden had to be sacrificed to move closer to our truck and kitchen when the time came.)

At the same time the need to help bring awareness and exposure to the local producers and artisans got stronger, the curiosity turned focus upon the food truck industry here in Chicago, and the juicing lifestyle we were falling in love with, all collided with wanting to create a new professional reality for ourselves. It was just a no brainer­ all food, and no doubt the juice, is better tasting and better for us when it’s fresh and local. Good food is not about ingredients, it is ingredients. It’s what we know. It’s where our passion lies. And of course, there was nothing remotely like it on the scene.

AV: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with opening a food truck in Chicago?

ED: Of the many challenges we had launching the truck, by far the largest of them was physically receiving the truck from the guy we contracted to build out the truck and the troubles that ensued immediately following. He was refusing to bring it to us after tripling the production time (missing the ENTIRE prime season), and lying about his capabilities and the current state of the truck (to the point we were having to show up there in order to see movement). What turned into a confrontational Dateline-esque delivery in the middle of the night then transitioned into ongoing discovery and piecing together each truck component with the help of newly found mechanics, plumbers, contractors, welders, and commercial equipment specialists. All necessary to get us in working order for a City inspection but then persisting through our first quarter of operation.

This guy, J.W. Doyle in Michigan, owns a company called America’s Resellers Corporation which continues to (supposedly) build out trucks for people, preying on entrepreneurs with a dream in a region that lacks resources for the industry. Regardless of the months of turmoil he caused us, the worst part was that his lack of knowledge lead to an incorrect installation of our propane stove and could have killed us. Laura thankfully walked away with minor burns but we all were psychologically scarred for life. Our hearts go out to anyone else that has gotten caught up in his B.S. and hope no one has gotten hurt.

Although many challenges to note (theft, vandalism, ticketing, etc), the only other one that carried on for weeks or months was getting our bottling license with the City of Chicago (will elaborate more below) in order to produce and sell our cold pressed juices from the truck. A timely and unguided process that exposed the inner workings of the City departments to be far from efficient.

AV: Describe the design process of the truck.

ED: As I mentioned previously, we contracted a company from MI to source our actual truck then built it out per our specifications. Having a very particular vision in mind from the get go we had to all but convince him to follow our wishes from inside out. Providing him handmade renderings of both the aesthetics of the outside and the layout of the inside along with the exact equipment and placement we wished. Also pushing him to go the distance by adhering the 70+ year old barn wood we brought from Iowa in the exact manner we envisioned. Notably his best contribution.

On the other side of the experience we now know that with the right vision and amount of direction (and perseverance) you can get anything done as far as building out a truck. It may take more time using more niche (in specialty and in quantity) individuals or teams working in unison than contracting one general contractor or company would, but considering we were having to manage the project daily from afar, would have rather been our own contractor here locally. The Midwest is still so far behind either coast and down south when it comes to food trucks and that is reflected in the resources at our disposal for build out, repair and maintenance. Some of our peers whose trucks were built out by ‘a local company’ were actually produced in NJ. Many of times we heard ‘we don’t do that’ or ‘we’re not in that business’ before acquiring our new local tradesmen. As the community continues to grow the industry will only thrive and flourish in each facet.

AV: What commissary do you use? How hard was it to secure commissary space?

ED: Kitchen Chicago (located at 324 N. Leavitt) is our commissary and while we love the atmosphere and people there we will forever dream of a home of our own. Considering our planning began in February of last year and we didn’t take possession of our truck until July, we had the space easily secured by then. The parking however, was a bit more of a challenge. Our commissary parking was oversold and spatially didn’t allow for our 26ft truck so we canvassed the surrounding area to find affordable alternative parking that wouldn’t extend our day driving to and from by too much.

AV: How do you source your ingredients (especially in the frozen tundra of Illinois) all year around?

ED: Other than being on the streets serving the people, the sourcing and relationships we’ve built with our farmers and producers, bring us the most joy. Learning about the ingredients themselves, life on the farm, harvest techniques and schedules, their families, their histories, and feeling their passion all contributes to our fire burning year around (even in the tundra).

We were avid farmers’ market goers prior to the truck, making identifying which vendors we could utilize for our various needs quite simple. Sparking relationships at the market led to much networking with in the community and after robust price comparisons, we had our go to’s. Each farm or fresh food producer sends out an email anywhere from 1—4 times a week listing availability. From that we get our creative juices (no pun intended) flowing to determine what our menu will feature that week. Ellis Family Farm, Genesis Growers, Mick Klug Farms, Seedling, and Montalbano Farms are a few of the names often appearing on our menu but it’s not a rare occurrence that we partner and support 10+ farms any given week.

Although we prefer to work directly with the farmers, producers, and artisans themselves whenever possible, ensuring they are receiving max compensation, we do use two distributors­ Local Foods Chicago and Natural Direct of Aurora. Both are companies that share our values and strive to deliver the quality local products we are committed to. We love the people over at Local Foods, it’s been a pleasure to grow with them the last several months and appreciate that they allow us to peruse their warehouse like a wholesale local market. For restaurants, they have been an integral means to conveniently receive and feature local products in Chicago, and continue to make their presence known throughout the city. We are constantly looking, trying, and assessing new sources. You would be shocked at how much is available year around. Sourcing local this time of year means embracing the hardy root vegetables, the greenhouse goods, hydro/aquaponic farms, meat, grains, dairy, and dried and frozen fruits and vegetables.
Nothing to balk at but don’t get me wrong, we are pining for Spring.

AV: I for one am a big fan of everything I’ve had from your truck. What are some of your favorite menu items?

ED: More than any one particular item, our favorite thing pertaining to the menu is that it is seasonally rotating and that we are constantly using the harvest and local offerings at our disposal to create new dishes. If you were to ask us what we eat the most of from the previous offerings it would be a create your own breakfast sandwich (which we happily do with any of the ingredients we have for anyone who asks, mine personally would be a fried egg with cheddar, arugula, onion and pesto) at about 9 am and a veggie burger at about 2:30 pm. Everyone that has tried the veggie burger (containing red quinoa, mushroom, zucchini, onion, and herbs) loves it and returns for more. We obviously are passionate about the juice but our nut milks (that many in the industry have coined mylk but we refer to as nilk,) deserve more attention. Our house being an almond hazelnut but also featuring cashew, pecan, pumpkin, strawberry and cocao at varying times. Not only are nut milks free of lactose and animal byproducts but is high in antioxidants, calcium, omega 3’s, and vitamin A, E and D but also is low calorie (assisting in weight loss) and holds no cholesterol so it reduces the risk of heart disease. Big fans.

AV: You’re the only truck (that I know of) that sells fresh made juice on your truck. How does that go?

ED: We are the first and only juice truck in Chicago. There has been a couple others in the licensing process since before our time but not cold pressed, which is a distinct differentiator. It was extremely important to us to be the first juice truck in a market that lacked healthy alternatives. The cold press juice is still relatively new and in a growth stage here in Chicago and most of our brick and mortar competitors are located outside of the loop giving us an advantage. Being the first mobile food preparer wanting to bottle and sell our juice from our truck we encountered pushback from the City which we ultimately overcame. An additional license would not have been necessary if we were selling the juice in plastic cups with straws and lids. However the nature of the cold press, and to preserve the integrity of the product, we must not only bottle but bottle in glass to prevent oxidation. We are not allowed to produce the juice on the truck (nor would we want to for any reason other than the sake of demonstration) so all production happens in the kitchen.

The response to the juice has been phenomenal, selling out daily and requiring a look toward increased capacity down the road. At this point we are content as a micro­juicery and given the time intensive production of our products and that we are unwaveringly committed to both the farm fresh food AND the juice on the truck, we will continue to produce the artisan small batches that our customers can expect to sell out.

AV: Is the food truck your only business? What do you do in the “off­-season”?

ED: The Corner Farmacy is our main focus at the moment however both of us have and will take on various side ventures in order to create income, anything from practicing law to selling reclaimed wood, we never know what opportunities will present themselves or what we will find ourselves doing.

This first winter, our “off season” has been spent immersed in personal and professional development as it pertains to TCF. The last couple of months have passed in a wink with all the recipe development and testing, cleansing and continued education leading us toward a more plant based lifestyle.

AV: What are your future plans? Will you partner with farmers markets? Any plans to open a B&M restaurant?

ED: We are in discussions with various markets in the area as to what dates we will be where, not a permanent fixture but pop­up appearances at different locations throughout the season will be happening this year. We have also been contacted by numerous corporate organizations that aim to provide their employees with a healthy lunch offering and anticipate more partnerships of that nature in the short term.

A brick and mortar was never our intention upon embarking on this journey, however along the way it became apparent how much more efficient our operations would be if we had a space of our own. This season will establish just how far down the road that will be. Would love to have a place where our customers could come hang out with us and experience our labor intensive production first hand.

Upcoming Food Truck Events

There are so many upcoming events from May 1st through May 5th, I thought it warranted a blog post. (Also, many farmers markers will also be opening this weekend so be sure to check out my Chicago Farmers’ Market Finder)

Thursday

  • Tap This at Fischman Liquors (from 5-9). Featuring Virtue Cider and Cheesies Truck (including gluten-free sandwiches)
  • Food truck rally at The Garage. Featuring Jerk and The Salsa Truck (not completely sure of the lineup yet)
  • Uncubed Job Fair. 2-5 1446 W. Kinzie w/ Gino’s Steak Truck

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Monday

The City of Chicago Food Truck Rally at Daley Plaza from 11-7. Featuring these trucks:

Grill Chasers

Last week I had a chance to go to the launch party of a new food truck Grill Chasers. This food truck will be based in the suburbs (out of the same commissary as Toasty Cheese) and will serve up organic grilled chicken, vegetarian skewers, and comfort-food sides. I am excited to see a truck that makes food-sourcing such a core part of its mission.

My favorite items? The grilled chicken wings, homemmade BBQ sauce, and kale slaw were definitely the highlights for me.

Other tidbits of info:

  • There is a new pizza truck coming soon: The Pizza Via. It will also be based out of Greg’s commissary, along with three other new trucks.
  • Greg let me know that he will be debuting a new menu in early May in his Toasty Cheese truck, which will feature among other things, a duck confit poutine!!!
  • There will be a monthly food truck festival in the Burbs. See here for more information

Auto-pilot

From March 22 through March 29th, I will be drinking sweet rum drinks in 84 degree weather near the ocean without internet access. In the mean time my site will soldier on. It automatically pulls data in from twitter, google calendar, as well as a beacon product (which no one uses). I also manually enter in data I see on trucks’ websites, facebook, emails, etc. The latter is usually done to project a schedule on my site so you can see a truck’s weekly schedule and plan your lunch accordingly.

While I’m gone, I will obviously not be manually editing my schedules, nor correcting any items that automatically get added to my site. Since the twitter parsing can some times lead to wacky results, I’ve added a confidence indicator on my website to every stop that’s added (I added this last week but have been tweaking the algorithm as I’ve seen it perform). You can also hover over the question mark next to the confidence level and it will show you how the stop came to be on my site.

Thanks for using this site and see you on the flip-side.

Hiatus

Dear Food Truck Owners,

The data that gets put on my site is collected by your twitter feeds,@uchinomgo’s twitter feeds, google calendar feeds, emails, websites, etc. Some of it is collected automatically (via twitter parsing and reading your public calendars) and a lot of it is added by me sleuthing around on your websites.

I will be out of the country for a week with no access to internet (from March 22-29). During this time I will be tightening up how stops get placed on my site as to avoid bad data getting added. I could really use your help to assure that during this time truck stops get added correctly. Here are some things you could do to help me (also see this):

1) From March 22 – 29th, you need to use the hashtag #ftf whenever you specify a location on twitter otherwise your stop will not get added to my site or included in any of the tweets to my chiftf_ twitter accounts. So instead of this:

We will be at Clark and Monroe for lunch today

do this:

We will be at Clark and Monroe for lunch today #ftf

See, that was easy.

2) Try to avoid using two locations in one tweet, for example

Sorry Adams and Wacker, we are at Clark and Monroe #ftf

My site isn’t that smart and will pick the first location it finds, so it will put your stop at Adams and Wacker. Ordinarily I’ll spot a tweet like this and correct it on my site, but I’m not going to be here.

3) Try to use times. “11-1:30pm” or “until 3:00” or something like that. If you are a lunch truck and don’t specify times, I just assume you are going to be at a spot for two hours from 11:30 to 1:30 (ok it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the basic gist)

4) If you want to take all your stops off my site for a day, just use “off the road” in a tweet (currently, this sends me an email which validates that that is your actual intention before I click a button and have your stops removed, but during this week my site will just remove all of your stops)

5) I currently manually add your schedules I get in email or day-of on twitter. My site will not add your schedule stops for the day while I’m gone. If you want to post an advance schedule, use a public google calendar and send me the URL to it. Currently Flirty Cupcakes, Chicago Pizza Boss, Baby Cakes, and Cupcake Gangsters are the only trucks that do this.

Thanks again and let me know if you have any questions

Eating Paleo(ish) From Chicago Food Trucks

For the most part, when I’m not eating an occasional donut from The Doughtnut Vault or a sandwich from The Fat Shallot, I try to stick to a paleo-ish diet (my version of paleo includes small amounts of rice, potatoes, ancient grains, legumes, and booze, but I try to avoid processed foods, including anything made with soy or wheat flour, dairy, and sugar). Translating this diet to food trucks can be difficult (especially since most food trucks have some version of meat/veggies contained within some kind of grain-based bread/tortilla/empanada/bun etc.), but here are some options that I’ve found are satisfying and delicious:

  1. The Big Shish is the best food truck for paleo-ish food. I really like their grilled steak platter. To stay truly paleo: ask for “no pita, no bulgur, and extra grilled veggies instead of the salad option”. The meat is marinated in balsamic vinegar. I haven’t seen them since early December, so they might be in hibernation…

  2. Windy City Patty Wagon – Get their ½ pound burger, minus bun and cheese, with bacon and chipotle mayonnaise (yeah, the adobe sauce probably has sugar in it, but it’s worth it). I usually get the bun but don’t eat it, since the burger is served in a pretty thin cardboard box, and the bun usually soaks up some of the juices so the box doesn’t get juicy.

  3. La Adelita – Calabacitas. This is a vegetarian entree that is basically sautéed squash and other vegetables with mexican herbs and spices (this dish has corn in it, which true paleo dieters don’t eat). Comes with beans and rice (I know these are not technically paleo either, but I eat them any way since they don’t affect me too negatively). Also, try the Ghost Beef platter or the Texas Chili when he actually has it on the menu.

  4. The Jibarito Stop – Bisteca en salsa – steak in a salsa. Served with rice.

  5. Jerk – The Jerk chicken, minus the bread and fritters.

  6. Husky Hog BBQ’s brisket chili is delicious. Ask for no muffin (or give it to your coworker like I do) and no cheese. Also, get the collards as a side. You can also get their brisket without a bun. It’s about 5oz., which isn’t a huge portion but it’s doable (I find the chili to be a better portion for the same price).

  7. Meatloaf-a-go-go – Yentl Lentl – This is a black-bean based meatloaf cupcake with black beans and veggies (no meat or gluten).

  8. Caponies Express – The grilled chicken salad, minus the blue cheese. This is a pretty conventional salad. I’m not sure the dressing is compliant, but I usually carry around a bottle of olive oil-based vinaigrette with me.

Android Updates

I’ve made a few improvements to the Chicago Food Truck Finder Android application so that it now includes background sychronization and notifications.

Background synchronizations poll schedule data periodically using Android synchronization framework. Before this change, the application just retrieved schedule data from the server when the application was launched or the user pressed the refresh button. Now, syncs are done on a configurable interval in the background regardless as to whether the application is running.

The second feature that I’ve added, is the ability to receive notifications when you are near a food truck. This will popup a notification when you are within ¼ of a mile of a food truck, listing which food trucks you are near. You can enable or disable this notification from the settings dialog. By default, this is off.

Finally, I’ve made some small UI changes to push it in line with website UI (such as displaying “estimated departure” for active trucks).

This will be the last release of the Android app that will support Android versions less than 4.x. In the next release I am going to totally revamp the UI and notifications to support functionality only available in 4.x (and I don’t want to mess around with the compatibility libraries since less than 5% of my users are using this app on the 2.x and 3.x Android versions).

Liquor, Beer, and Food Trucks

There are several events to look out for this week if you enjoy the combination of beer and food trucks.

Tonight, Windy City Patty Wagon will be at Printers Row Wine Shop grilling up burgers from 5pm-7pm.

Tap This! Featuring Great Divide will be Thursday Jan 16th at 6pm and will feature 5411 Empanadas and Pierogi Wagon. Fischman liquors is at 4780 N. Milwaukee in Jefferson Park.

The Windy City Patty Wagon will be at Warehouse Liquors on Thursday Jan 16th from 5pm to 7pm. The following day, they will be at Tighthead Brewing Co in Mundelien at 4pm-9pm. The following night they will be at Temperance Beer Co in Evanston from 4-9 grilling up their delicious burgers.

Also doing the brewery circuit is the Chicago Pizza Boss which will be at Church Street Brewery in Itasca on Friday from 5pm to 7:30pm. The following day, they will be at Solemn Oath Brewery from 12pm-3pm, then they will be at Urban Legend Brewery in Westmont from 5pm-7pm.

On Sunday, Jan 19th, Baby Cakes will be at the Temperance Brewery taproom from 12-2.