Food Truck Hopping with Empanada Intifada in New Orleans
After working in the corporate world — and feeling the "inner warnings of existential decay" — the founders of Empanada Intifada decided to peace out on their cubicles and office attire and start a food truck. Launched Jan. 1, 2011, the creators strove to create a top-notch food experience by serving local, seasonal — and superb — empanadas out of a 1981 Grumman Step Van that is the self-proclaimed first solar-electric food truck in the city.
Aiming to provide "SlapYourThigh delicious" fare, the menu includes items like mestizo meat pie, a fusion of the traditional empanada with the traditional meat pie; poblano-cream mac and cheese; and Wok Yer Socks Off, a veggie peanut stir-fry. All that hard work landed them a spot on The Daily Meal's 2012 list of 101 Best Food Trucks in America.
In this interview with founder Taylor Jackson, discover the truck's inspiration, their new dishes, and find out about that time when two guys food-truck-hopped their back bumper...
What model truck do you have?
1981 Chevy P30.
Does your truck have a vanity plate? If so, what does it say?
Nope. But next year we will be classified as an "antique" truck and get a nifty license plate with a Model-T painted on it.
What was the inspiration for going into this business?
We were inspired by our deep love for the boundless possibilities of the Chilean-style empanada while living in Ecuador.
What's the story behind the origin of your truck's name?
In addition to being one of like two words that rhyme with empanada, intifada is our favorite word for "revolution." It literally means a "shaking off" and seemed to fit the feeling of starting the truck, in which we shook off the suits and cubicles of our jobs in corporate settings.
How did you come up with your truck's design? Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
I came up with the design myself, but its implementation was greatly aided by Mr. Ryan Riedel.
What's your signature dish? Is it also the most popular one?
Our signature dish, which is also our most popular, is the Mestizo Meat Pie, a blend of the Argentine Mendoza empanada and the Louisiana Natchitoches Meat pie, with smoked beef brisket, ground round, the Cajun Trinity (celery, onions, and garlic), olives, egg, and potato.
What's the inspiration for your cuisine and recipes?
We are natives of the American South and long-term residents of South America and countries around the world, and we draw inspiration from the dynamics among cuisines, particularly Southern soul food and Latin American flavors.
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
The regulations in the New Orleans are among the most food truck unfriendly in the country right now. We're working with the New Orleans City Council to change those laws.
Would you ever go brick and mortar?
Possibly, if the right opportunity came along, but life on the road suits us fine.
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
Unless you are extremely well funded, and can hire accountants, movers, drivers, shoppers, mechanics, and equipment repairmen anytime something comes up, prepare to spend at least half of your time doing things other than making and serving food.
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
We're unveiling our satsuma-glazed carnitas today at the food truck festival, as well as our new homemade lemon habañero hot sauce.
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
We're working hard to bring the excitement of the food truck culture to the already exciting food culture of New Orleans. In the near term, we are going to be varying our location more regularly and relying more on twitter (@empanadaintifad) and our email and text message alert system (www.empanadaintifada.com/follow), to let people know where we are. We're also taking requests for service locations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lots of things happen when running a restaurant — that probably goes double on the road. What's one particularly outstanding moment you can share?
One late night, we had two guys ride food-truck-hop our back bumper — they rode half a mile down Frenchmen before we realized they were there. The whole time we thought pedestrians were just cheering because they were really happy to see empanadas (which, in our defense, does sometimes happen).
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.