Reporting Sara Pelissero
With so many new — and delicious — food trucks hitting the streets of the Twin Cities each summer, it’s almost too tough to keep up. Well, fear not, we’re here to help. Introducing our new Friday food truck feature!
Each Friday, we’ll put the spotlight on a different food truck in the Twin Cities. And not just on the food, but on the fabulous chefs behind the truck.
And who better to kick things off than our street vendor neighbors — YumMi Truck. Sure, they’re located right outside our newsroom (and tempt us daily with the wafting aroma of banh mi) but beyond that, they’ve become one popular spot for downtown lunch-goers.
Plus beyond the tasty creations, the history of YumMi’s chef is quite a story — one that involves a diversion into culinary school and even a stint in prison.
So without further adieu, let’s meet YumMi.
Owners: Hoa Nguyen and James Schanen
Date the food truck opened: Early October, 2011 for about three weeks before it turned cold. Then we restarted May 1, 2012.
What kind of food do you serve? Gourmet Vietnamese-style sandwiches (banh mi).
Price range of menu: $4 for half sandwiches, $6 to $8 for full sandwiches. $1 off for all choices every Monday.
Hours of operation: Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Job before opening food truck: Hoa was in graduate school for literature when she started to feel a pull towards something different. She enrolled in culinary school at the Art Institute in 2010 and worked part-time at Sweets Bakeshop, following her passion for food. She said she found a career in cooking to be more immediately rewarding than researching. James worked in complaint handling for Medtronic Neuromodulation.
And I hear before that, Hoa, you had quite a crazy immigration snafu? Yes. My husband and I didn’t file some paperwork and I was on a student international Visa, so we missed that and I was arrested by Immigration Border Control. I was in jail for 69 days — eating jail food and learning how people make jail food. It’s kind of crazy how people make jail food out of chips and various junk food that they have access to in jail. But thankfully, it all got resolved. We’re lucky that we are connected to a lot of good folks here and all over the country. They cleared our record and after all that, we’re very thankful to have the chance just to have a normal life and to have a choice.
What made you want to open a food truck? I (Hoa) just finished culinary school when James and I had a conversation that made us realize we could partner up to start a business. We both noticed how the food truck trend was picking up in the Twin Cities. I wanted to apply my culinary passion and business degree while James wanted to run a business to challenge himself personally and professionally.
How are your sandwiches made? Each sandwich is made using a 7-inch baguette bread from New French Bakery, drizzled with Sriracha aioli, then layered with a choice of protein (Korean-style beef, Vietnamese caramel pork, five-spice chicken or lemongrass tofu) and vegetable slaw or pickled vegetables. Each sandwich is also topped with fresh cucumber slices and cilantro.
Is everything done from the truck? No. We do all the cooking and prep work in our rental kitchen space (Kitchen in The Market at the Midtown Global Market) and assemble the sandwiches to order in the trailer.
How did you come up with the name? Hoa came up with the name YumMi, as she thinks it is memorable enough for people to remember. It includes “-Mi” which reflects the sandwich that we sell — Vietnamese banh mi — and it has a positive culinary sound to it. (Fun side note: The truck’s colors stay with the theme — the light green representing the inside of a cucumber, the darker green symbolizing cilantro and the purple bottom gives a nod to the cabbage slaw.)
How did you decide on the menu/theme? We decided to have banh mi as our main menu item because we noticed a lack of this type of lunch item downtown. Although many people have tried the traditional banh mi, with pate and Vietnamese cold cuts, we wanted to push for more variety of this sandwich, to show how versatile it can be. We also wanted to offer different protein options for meat eaters, as well as vegetarians — thus we have three kinds of meat and one tofu on the menu. When it gets hotter, we will offer a seafood option on the menu, as well.
What do you think is your best dish? The Oink Mi (pork) has been the most popular, so far. But we also have a lot of regulars who come back for the Bean Mi (tofu).
Describe your truck in one word: YumMi
What’s your craziest story from working inside a food truck? There were several episodes of mechanical glitches that were kind of crazy. We only wanted to operate a “food” business, but we often end up spending lots of time and resources dealing with the “truck” part of food truck. However, what has been most memorable is the camaraderie we feel towards our co-workers/employees, as well as our patrons. They play such an important role in the success of a business, especially a new business such as ours.
What’s one thing you want people to know about your food truck? Hoa: We are just excited to be able to provide a gourmet sandwich choice that is different than other choices you have downtown right now. We look forward to expanding our services a little bit more once our name is established to the folks downtown and beyond. We’re trying to let people know that we do catering, private parties, box lunches, that type of thing. James: There’s a lot of love that goes into our food, so purchasing our sandwiches helps spread the love a little bit.
Catch the Friday Food Truck Feature every week, in the Curiocity column. Know of a food truck you think should be featured? Let us know by leaving a comment below or tweeting your suggestion to @SaraPelissero!