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. Here’s today’s Friday food truck feature!
Say hello to Hola Arepa — the bright, teal truck that’s fast become a favorite for many downtown lunch-goers. Serving the best in Latin cuisine and traditional arepas, this mobile kitchen has been a popular place since it opened last year. And the folks behind the truck have earned the reputation for one of the hardest working food trucks in the biz.
Not familiar with arepas? Well, you’ve been missing out. Arepas are cornmeal patties that are cooked on a griddle until they’re toasty and delicious, then filled with some of the best Latin-style fixings, like slow-roasted pork, pulled chicken or vegetarian goodies.
The co-owners, Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen, put a little bit of love into every dish they serve. They chatted with us about their truck and their love of serving the community.
Owners: Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen
Date the food truck opened: June 4, 2011.
What kind of food do you serve? We serve Latin street food and we specialize in Venezuelan arepas. They’re cornmeal patties that are cooked on a griddle, split and filled with Latin style fillings like local and naturally-raised meats, vegetables, cheeses and salsas.
Price range of menu: Arepas: $6 to 7, ginger-rhubarb lemonade or strawberry hibiscus iced tea, for example: $2, chips, salsa & fresh guac: $3
Hours of operation: Mondays (downtown St. Paul, on Wabasha and 5th): 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Tuesdays – Fridays (downtown Minneapolis, on Marquette and 6th): 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Saturday (Midtown Farmers Market): 8 a.m. to 1 pm.
We also do some special events and can sometimes be found serving outside of local breweries. We are also available for catering.
Job before opening food truck: Christina used to own a shop called Design Collective that sold clothes and accessories made by emerging local designers. Birk used to make craft cocktails, bartending at places like Bradstreet Craftshouse and the Town Talk Diner. He also used to co-own a screen printing and design company called Overproof.
What made you want to open a food truck? We had toyed around with the idea of opening a restaurant/bar for awhile. After eating street food from around the world and trying food trucks in other U.S. cities, when we found out that the Twin Cities were allowing food trucks to operate here, we were excited to start our own. We loved the food truck culture that we had seen in other cities and liked the idea of all of these tiny independent restaurants that all specialize in just one or two things that they’re really good at making, since they do it all the time.
Why did you want to go into the food industry? We love being in the food industry because there’s something so satisfying about feeding people food that they enjoy and being a part of something pleasurable in their day. When we see our customers eating and their hands are covered in sauce or pork juice and they’re looking happy, there’s really nothing better.
How is your food made? We start at 6 a.m. to make our arepa dough fresh every morning and patty out every arepa by hand every day. These are then cooked on a griddle and later we cut them open and stuff them with different fillings — all of the arepas are made to order. Our meats are local and naturally-raised and we use many sustainable ingredients and products. Everything that we serve is fresh and made from scratch, from our salsas to different pickled vegetables. We put a lot of love in our food.
Is everything done from the truck? Though we serve our food from our truck during services, most of our prep is done before or after lunch service. There are so many components that go into making arepas that we need a full-sized kitchen to do all of our prep-work, so we just end up doing the finishing and serving of arepas from the truck.
How did you come up with the name? After throwing around a lot of ideas, we thought Hola Arepa was a funny and easy to remember name since a lot of the time “Hola” is one of a few words people know in Spanish. We also love that people yell “HOLA!” at our truck when we drive by since that part of the logo is huge on the side of our truck.
How did you decide on the menu/theme? Even though neither of us are Latin American, that’s the type of food that we love to eat and cook. It’s hard to get tired of bold and vibrant flavors and spice. Not that many people in the Twin Cities were familiar with arepas before, so we wanted to introduce them to another type of Latin street food beyond just tacos.
What do you think is your best dish? I would say our slow-braised pork arepa is our favorite and the best seller. You can’t go wrong with pork braised in Latin spices for half a day until it’s amazingly tender, juicy and flavorful. We stuff the braised pork in an arepa with black beans, salty white cotija cheese and then top it with our sweet and tangy Hola sauce.
Describe your truck in one word: Delicious.
What’s your craziest story from working inside a food truck? One time we got to serve Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods some food from our truck. It was a confited guinea pig in a fried tortilla cone, which is something we did just for his show, but people ask us all the time about it. I’m sure we’ll make guinea pig again at some point but it’s not something we do all the time.
What’s one thing you want people to know about your food truck? We just want people to know that we put a lot of love and energy into our food. We’re so particular about making sure that our food is exactly what we want it to be that we take so much time and never cut corners. Every slow-braised meat, every sauce and every arepa is made with so much love, and we hope it comes through in the way our food tastes.
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!