When Kitchen Tools Become Friends
An interview with Victoria Harris of CapMac, one of The Daily Meal's 101 best food trucks
Keywords Washington DC, Best Food Trucks 2012, CapMacDC
Run by chef Brian Arnoff, who has worked under Barbara Lynch in Boston and for one of Michael Mina's establishments in D.C. describes his wandering food truck CapMac as "The Capital of Macaroni." Mac and cheese is thus, not surprisingly, the main draw here, either in classic form or with meatballs or "sloppy" with meat sauce. There's also long-cooked brisket over rigatoni, Buffalo chicken mac, and a "happy ending" bar — a layered concoction involving a chocolate chip cookie, a coconut brownie, and a sheet of honey walnut toffee.
Read More: 101 Best Food Trucks in America 2012
Arnoff launched CapMac in November, 2010, and with him, the truck's other key figure Victoria Harris has been a permanent fixture of Frankie ever since (Frankie's the truck's name, apparently). "For the most part, we did all the prep work, dishes, social media, catering, and regular truck services," Harris noted. They've gotten some more help of late, but not before she spent so much time in the truck that she named all the kitchen tools (more on that below).
In this interview with CapMac's Victoria Harris, discover how the truck got its name, how it almost blew up on its first day, and who Winston, Spatty, Clopsy, and Cache are.
What was the inspiration for going into this business?
Brian has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 14. After working for prominent chefs like Barbara Lynch and Michael Mina, he realized there was a need for quick casual pasta that was tasty. D.C. was chosen as the city to launch CapMac in because his wife is pursuing a Ph.D. at Gallaudet University.
What's the story behind the origin of your truck's name?
Capital of Macaroni!
How did you come up with your truck's design? Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
Does your truck have a vanity license plate? And if so, what does it say?
No vanity plate. However, the truck's name is "Frankie."
What model truck do you have?
A 1993 Ford E350.
What's your signature dish? Is it also your most popular dish?
Classic CapMac & Cheese is our signature dish, however by customer demand "Balls out" and "Sloppy" are the most popular versions ("balls" means adding chicken parm meatballs, and "Sloppy" means adding Bolognese sauce).
What's the inspiration for your cuisine and recipes?
We like having Italian classics like chicken parm and Bolognese on our menu to complement our pimento cheese mac. Great classics inspire us. We also make spin-offs from classic sandwiches like the Reuben and Philly roast pork with broccoli rabe. Our customers are extremely vocal about their eating preferences. They are by far are our biggest inspiration.
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
The most challenging thing thus far has been finding qualified employees. For the past year or so, Brian and I were the permanent fixtures of the truck. For the most part, we did all the prep work, dishes, social media, catering, and regular truck services. Now, because of the relationships we've built in the city we've gotten some excellent referrals!
Would you ever go brick-and-mortar?
We're open to all kinds of opportunites!
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
Spend a week or two actually working with a food truck operator. Brian and I have degrees in food and beverage/restaurant operations so we kind of knew what we were getting into. Most other owner/operators opened their truck as a second career. The common misconception about opening a truck is that it's easier than opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. It's NOT! Be prepared for 70-hour work weeks and lots of creative problem solving!
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
We make a new dish (salads, soups, macs) as often as once a month; as soon as Brian tells me what he's scheming up I'll let you know.
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
We are heavily involved in social media on several different platforms. That being said, we just joined eHow.com as experts on mac and cheese, we started filming a few weeks ago! We'll have a YouTube channel and will be on the site, so stay tuned!
Lots of things happen when running a restaurant and that probably goes double on the road. As such, be it weird, funny, good, or bad, what's one superlative or particularly outstanding moment or story that's ever occurred with your truck be it with customers, in the kitchen, or just in general?
Weird: We were alone in the kitchen for like 12 hours a day in the beginning, so I started naming the kitchen tools. Brian jokes that they were my only friends. We still use the names to this day. Winston the whisk, Spatty the spatula, Cache the cash box, and Clopsy (short for cyclopes) is our wooden spoon that has a burn mark on it that looks like an eye).
Funny: Brian and I met through a mutual friend, and I moved to D.C. to start the truck with him before I ever met him in person. We say that deciding to run a food truck at 23 was our "quarter-life-crisis."
Good: We have two recipe publications, a Zagat rating (one of four trucks mentioned), and have done at least four of our customers' weddings!
Bad: I almost set the truck on fire the first day. I did not realize there was a pilot light in the same area where I had decided to put the paper bags!
Anything else you'd like to add?
Our customers are beyond outstanding, they make every day awesome.
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.