Food vendors go beyond the taco truck

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 2, 2013 

Taco trucks -- which also serve burritos and tortas -- have been a common sight in the Tri-Cities for decades.

But Mexican cuisine isn't the only food available from these restaurants on wheels. Trucks offering everything from po'boy sandwiches to catfish and hushpuppies to Asian fusion have joined them on the streets.

It's a trend that Victoria Silvernail, executive director of the Pasco Specialty Kitchen, sees spilling over the Cascades from Seattle and Portland. And one she believes will continue to grow.

"Tri-City residents visiting those cities see what a variety of foods the trucks there offer and how successful they are, and now that we have a few offering something other than tacos, we want more," Silvernail said.

In her position at the Specialty Kitchen, a commercial kitchen available for rent, Silvernail has come to know several owners of the trucks because Benton Franklin Health District regulations require they do some of their food prep work in a commercial kitchen.

Silvernail said she'd like to see an area in all three cities where several food vendors could gather and park on a rotating basis.

"Perhaps spending one day in Richland, another in Pasco, another in Kennewick. That's what they do in Portland and Seattle," she said.

Many of the food truck owners use social media to let their customers know where they're parking and what they're cooking.

"We couldn't do it any other way. Buying ads is expensive and this way we're in instant communication with our customers. If we have to close early for any reason, if my husband, Felix, has a new menu item, we can get the word out fast," said Jenny Sanchez of El Fat Cat Grill in Kennewick.

Kai Phengsavanh, owner of Kindra's Wok 'n Roll, said Facebook is invaluable for bringing in new customers.

"People unfamiliar with our menu can see photos of our actual food and -- even if they've never tried it -- can see how good it looks. Several people have told me that seeing the photos on Facebook made them seek me out," Phengsavanh said.

On Aug. 27, when Phengsavanh sold out early in the day -- to prevent disappointed customers -- she used Facebook to send out a message she'd see them the next day.

Tri-City food trucks offering cuisines other than strictly Mexican include:

Kindra's Wok 'n Roll

Kai Phengsavanh of Pasco began serving Asian fusion foods from Kindra's Wok 'n Roll at John Dam Plaza in Richland earlier this summer. You can't miss her, just look for the bright orange truck.

It's named after her daughter, Kindra, who was 5 years old when she died of pneumonia in April 2012.

"Since I was 14 I've always wanted to open a food business. It's my dream," Phengsavanh said.

Phengsavanh has lived in the Tri-Cities since she was 5 years old and learned to cook from her mom.

"All my aunts and uncles in North Carolina own restaurants," Phengsavanh said.

Phengsavanh -- whose family is originally from Laos -- naturally went with Asian cuisine.

"I decided there's lots of Mexican taco trucks in the Tri-Cities. What we lacked was a mobile Asian truck," she said.

Don't call Kindra's Wok 'n Roll "that Thai truck," though.

"It's Asian fusion. It's not Thai, not Chinese, we're Laotian," she said.

All her food is cooked fresh to order.

"We're not like a buffet where you make a lot of food and keep it in a steam pan. It takes a little longer, but the quality is worth it," Phengsavanh said.

Some of her best selling items are her veggie fresh spring rolls, chicken phad thai and teriyaki chicken comb with potsticker, jasmine rice and veggie.

She plans to be at John Dam Plaza through September but can also be found at various concerts and events throughout the Tri-Cities. She also does catering.

Kindra's Wok 'n Roll offers delivery service for a $10 minimum order -- but only in north Richland.

Hours are generally 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday at John Dam Plaza but are subject to change. Find her weekly schedule at Facebook.com/KindrasWoknRoll.

On Oct. 1 Phengsavanh's truck will move to a parking lot at the Port of Benton in north Richland.

Phone: 509-492-0733.

Ann's Best Creole and Soul Food

Angela, aka Angie or Ann, Brown, a native of Baton Rouge, La., opened Ann's Best Creole and Soul Food in May in a parking lot off Court Street in Pasco.

She serves up crawfish touffe over rice, dirty rice with chicken wings, po'boy sandwiches and jambalaya.

She too had always wanted a restaurant -- though not necessarily one on wheels. As a child she learned to cook from her grandmother who did catering.

"When I came home from school she'd be in the kitchen, cooking, and I'd help," Brown said.

"I love cooking, feeding people. To me it's not work, it's my passion," she said.

Hers is the face you see at the order/pick up counter Wednesdays and Thursdays. Other days family members help out with the cooking and serving while she works her full-time job as an operating room assistant/secretary/scheduler at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

Brown's food truck is usually parked at 3315 W. Court St., Pasco, Wednesday-Saturday. Her hours vary but she generally opens at 11 a.m. each day and closes at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, at 4 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Some days -- instead of parking in Pasco -- Brown drives her truck to special events.

The best way to find out where she is, and when, is to go to Facebook.com/AnnsBestcsf.

"I like to stay mobile," she said.

Phone: 509-554-1711.

El Fat Cat Grill

Unlike many of the food truck vendors in the Tri-Cities, Felix and Jenny Sanchez of Pasco originally had a stationary restaurant.

When they lost their lease and closed the restaurant, the couple decided to go mobile with their menu, which includes options like curry marinated chicken topped with mango and jicama on a bun, cheeseburgers, burritos and tacos.

"A lot of people asked if we really wanted to go this route. But we were determined to succeed," said Jenny Sanchez.

They first contracted for space at John Dam Plaza in Richland and were there for five months before Larry Hutchison offered them a permanent spot in the parking lot of his Edison Street Car Wash in Kennewick.

"Larry heard we were looking for a place to move and told Felix, 'Your food is amazing, you need a new situation, come here.' We've been here a year this month," said Jenny Sanchez.

"We still have the wheels, we just don't go anywhere," said Felix Sanchez.

After having a restaurant, the couple say there are pros and cons to cooking in a food truck.

"Storage is always an issue and a restaurant has more of a dining area for customers," said Felix Sanchez, gesturing at the two brightly painted picnic tables next to the truck.

But they have no regrets.

Situated as they are across from Kamiakin High School, El Fat Cat Grill attracts a lot of students for lunch.

"But I'll look out and see them sitting next to men in business suits and ties, 80-year-old grandmoms in their dresses, families ... we get such a diversity of people, it's great," said Jenny Sanchez.

Felix Sanchez said some people think the food trucks have different health standards than a restaurant, but it's not true.

"We have to comply too. And where else can you look in the window and watch the chef make your food?" he asked.

El Fat Cat Grill is open yearround, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday. It doesn't do catering but customers can always place a special order for pick up.

Friend them on Facebook.com/ElFatCat Grill.

Phone: 546-1413. Address: 539 Edison St., Kennewick.

Uncle Brother's Fish Fry

Vanis and Barbara Daniels of Pasco decided to invest in a food truck more than 15 years ago. Their first outing was at the Fiery Food Festival in Pasco in 1997.

"It went over so well we decided it was something we could do once we retired from our jobs at Hanford," Vanis Daniels said.

They specialize in deep-fried catfish, red snapper and hushpuppies.

Vanis Daniels said he's dabbled in cooking all his life. Years ago he was an Army cook, then ran a restaurant in Spokane for a while and later worked in a Seattle restaurant.

In 2004 they bought their present food truck and began going to special events and to the Pasco Farmers Market on Saturdays.

"It keeps us busy though we don't make a lot of money. The part I like is talking to people. Barbara, she enjoys frying the fish and is really good at it," said Vanis Daniels.

Barbara Daniels said their decision to run a food truck was a "a liberating opportunity."

"Every American at some point in time wants their own business. We've had the opportunity to experience that and learned a lot about what it takes to grow your business. It's not done overnight," said Barbara Daniels

The Daniels too, wish there was a place in the Tri-Cities where all the food trucks could gather.

"It's what they do in Portland and is more accepted there. I don't feel it's really accepted here," said Barbara Daniels.

Phone: 509-851-4528.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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