Behind the Scenes with an L.A. Food Trucker: A Day in the Life with The Manila Machine
There's nothing glamorous about running a food truck in Los Angeles. Nothing. Sure, there's much comfort in seeing our customers' satisfied grins after they've eaten and enjoyed Filipino food from The Manila Machine. But few people realize how much love and sacrifice goes into the day-to-day of operating L.A's First Filipino Food Truck. So here's a look at a typical day with me and The Manila Machine.
Early RiserAfter working a double-shift (lunch and dinner) the day prior, it's a bit harder getting myself out of bed this morning. It's 6 a.m. and I kill the alarm clock before it wakes my wife or my one-year-old son in the next room. I head to my computer to check emails and the day's schedule for The Manila Machine.
Morning DriveIt's 7 a.m. and my wife and kid are still sound asleep. It may be another late night to come, and I realize I might not see my son awake for at least another day. I make it a goal to get home before his bedtime tonight. I get in my car and begin my two-hour traffic-laden commute to the San Fernando Valley where the truck is parked. Although The Manila Machine is based in Los Angeles, I just happen to live 60 miles from our truck lot. Yes, I realize this is crazy.
Arrival at the BakeryI arrive at a Filipino bakery at 9 a.m. to pick up hundreds of freshly baked Pan de Sal (Filipino bread rolls) that will be used for The Manila Machine's various sliders. While walking out of the bakery, 20 bread bags in tow, I always make sure to breathe in a deep whiff of the wafting scents of Filipino pastries and breads. I will never tire of the sweet smells of a Filipino bakery.
Arrival at the CommissaryAt last, at 9:30 a.m. I reach the commissary where The Manila Machine sleeps. My business partner, Nastassia Johnson, arrives a few minutes after me with more bags of supplies and groceries. And our line cook trudges in as well. It's time to start prepping for the day. Onions are chopped, a giant pot of rice is made, the Pan de Sal is sliced.
More Morning DriveWe leave the lot at 10:30 a.m. and head out to our lunch destination that's only 15 miles away, but we always plan on an hour of L.A. traffic. While I man the wheel and navigate the freeways, Nastassia is busy on her Blackberry tweeting, checking emails, and fielding phone calls.
A Hungry Crowd AwaitsIt's 11:15 a.m. when we reach our lunch destination and there's already a line of people at the curb. This sight is simultaneously encouraging and frightening. Encouraging because it's nice to have loyal followers after just a short time in business. Frightening because I need to park and get some meat on the griddle in the next 15 minutes!
The Manila Machine's windows go up and we start our lunch service at 11:30 a.m. sharp. Nastassia takes orders and expedites, I man the griddle, and our line cook handles the fryer and helps plate the finished dishes.
For the next two-and-a-half hours, I have little to no awareness of what is going on outside the truck. My eyes shift from the growing queue of ticket orders, to the griddle, and back as I furiously work to toast bread, fry eggs, grill beef and pork, and cook sausages all on the same stainless steel flat-top at the back of the truck.
Despite my best efforts, sometimes the "weeds" are unavoidable. But most of the time, the hungry crowd doesn't seem to mind a short wait
A Short Respite
Our lunch crowd begins to thin at around 1:15 p.m. and the pace within The Manila Machine slows, but only a bit. I reach my wrist to my face to wipe my brow, then realize that my forearms seem to be slicked with equal parts sweat and griddle grease. My shirt and baseball cap are also soaked in perspiration—not surprising considering it's the middle of July and I'm trapped in a box of fire on wheels. Cooking on a food truck in the dead of summer has done a number to my already-thin frame. I've lost 15 pounds since launching The Manila Machine—15 pounds I didn't want to lose.
I chug a bottle of water and get back to the griddle.
We serve the last of our customers for the day and shut our windows by 2 p.m. Though we are cleaned out of food, the inside of the truck is in shambles. We tidy up and head back to the truck lot.
The Day is not Over
We reach the truck lot at about 3:30 p.m. after dealing with the usual afternoon L.A. traffic. Although we aren't doing a dinner shift today, our work is far from over.
We clean out the inside of the truck and start getting ready for the next day. Meat has to be broken down and marinated, bread has to be ordered for morning pick-up, and our chicken and pork adobos have to start braising (don't let anyone tell you otherwise, but braises are ALWAYS better when served the next day).
Leaving Los Angeles
Prep is done and food is stored. I lock up the truck and finally head home at 6 p.m.
On my car ride back home, I reflect back on the day and am relieved that the oil in our fryer didn't explode (like it has twice before), that we were able to start our truck without any problems (unlike when we were stuck in the middle of a college campus after a lunch shift because our ignition was broken), and that we didn't run out of gas in the middle of a freeway interchange (like we did the day prior when we caused a major traffic jam on the 110, 101, 60, and 5 freeways).
I return home at 7:30 p.m., and my son is still awake and ready to play with dada. I'm dirty, I'm greasy, and I'm tired.
But I'm happy that the end result of all this hard work is that people are eating Filipino food.
It also helps that my son doesn't mind the smell of grease.