Street Food Profiles: Roli Roti in Northern California
What's on the menu? Gourmet rotisserie meats such as free-range chickens, heritage pork (made into porchetta sandwiches), and lamb.
How long have you been street fooding? RoliRoti started in 2002, but Thomas has been grilling meats for much longer. It all started back in his family's butcher shop in the Swiss Alps where his father Otto taught him the secrets of beautifully grilled rotisserie meats. When he arrived in Berkeley, California, Thomas was taken with the local gourmet food movement but found that the typical American flate-grate grilling approach left meats dry and tough. And so, the mobile rotisserie grill company RoliRoti was born.
Why a mobile business over brick-and-mortar? My business model is all over Europe. After research on food trucks and street food business I concluded there is no restaurant quality street food available. I was probably one of the first to convince customers that street food can be fresh, seasonal, and not greasy.
Who are your typical customers? Farmers' market shoppers.
Describe a typical day from start to finish. Sanitize the truck, load and drive to the market, set up and sell, come back to commissary kitchen clean and sanitize truck.
What were you doing before this? Working and studying organic farming in Switzerland.
What makes your food so special? Can anything like it be found in the city? My family is in the food business (we still have a small butcher shop outside Zurich Switzerland). I learned about cooking and the butcher trade from my parents—my mother especially is a very good cook.
How would you define "street food"? It's a culinary expression of lifestyle for different geographical areas. Street food reflects the culture and the openness of people. For instance, New York has hot dogs and Zurich has roasted bratwurst.
The best street food city and why. I love street food everywhere I go. But I do love porchetta, tripe, and lambredoto sandwiches in Florence, Italy. Simple but superior ingredients is what makes great street food so great.
Your comfort food after a long day? I really just love a fresh roasted chicken with salt and pepper and roasted potatoes underneath the chicken served with a seasonal salad. My memories of chicken have always been associated with family dinners.
Advice for an aspiring vendor? Don't start a street food business just because of the the lower start-up costs. It's still a serious food business that requires a lot of culinary talent and an open mind for creativity.
Video: How Roli Roti Roasts the Perfect Chicken
Note: The people of Slow Food Nation put this video together.