The emerging food truck scene has increased in popularity within the last decade and Philadelphia is no exception to the mobile food craze. Countless concepts have hit the streets such as coffee, korean, and sandwich trucks that now litter college campuses and business districts throughout the city feeding countless hungry commuters. A friend of mine soon started working within the scene and landed at a farm-to-table style gourmet organic truck, he swore I would love, called Yumtown. Intrigued, I headed to Yumtown on Temple's Campus after class one day for lunch. The menu was simple, honest, and mouth watering. I ordered The Joy, a beer braised pulled pork sandwich with all the fixings, house pickled jalapeños, aioli, vinegar slaw and bbq sauce all on a challah bun. I devoured the sandwich like it was my last meal on earth. I was forever a loyal customer.
Soon after spending every day at the truck I got to know Andrew Tantisunthorn and Lanie Belmont the smiling faces behind the window, who work their truck daily. The versatile menu boasts favorites of Tantisunthron and Belmont and is reflectionary of their cultural backgrounds. Lanie a southern bell with a BFA turns out mean and slowed cooked comfort food, while Andrew a seasoned chef, offers spicy and asian inspired flavors. The combination of south meets east gives Yumtown's eclectic menu something for everyone, and is vegetarian friendly. Their commitment to organic, seasonal, and regional food such as their tender pork from Breakway Farms in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, and veggies from Green Meadow Farm, Belmont and Tantisunthorn's product is not your average food truck. After dozens of meals I decided I needed to get the backstory on Yumtown and Lanie and Andrew were kind enough to answer a few questions.
When and how did Andrew and you meet? Why did you want to start a food truck together?
Andrew and I met through mutual friends. We were both interested in starting a food truck, and realized we were probably each other's best (if only!) option
Have you always been interested in food?
I've always tinkered around cooking, but took more of an interest after college. Andrew's father used to own a restaurant, and worked his through many kitchens over his school years.
Where did you cook previous to Yumtown? What was your skill level as a chef?
I worked around the back of the house in a catering company for many years- display, bartender, server, even interim office manager, but not in the kitchen. I worked for John and Kira's chocolates for a few years and helped in the production, manufacture really, of thousands of chocolates. I've just been futzing about in my own kitchen for a while and love food. Andrew's skill level as a chef is more refined, and has been learned through many years working in restaurant kitchens.
How did you find your truck? How long after did you open?
Craigslist. The truck was one of the first things we had. We found her in April? And opened in September.
Who painted/designed the truck?
I did. Have to use that BFA for something.
What was the most difficult hurdle of opening your truck?
The reliability of new hurdles every day. Licensing with the city was a pain. So many steps milking you for a fee each time.
Where did the name 'Yumtown' come from?
It's just a funny name we thought would stick in people's heads.
Why is local produce and organic important to you and your food?
Our mission is to serve the best quality food that we can. For us that means that our meat, produce, and cheese comes fresh from sustainable local farms, and grown without harmful pesticides or in other adverse conditions.
Do you find the quality of local produce to be the reason for your popularity?
Produce in season just tastes better. Getting things fresh from local farms ensures- more often than not-better quality.
Is it difficult to compete with food trucks that offer a lower quality product for a cheaper price or do customer know your food its worth the price because of its quality?
We can't compete with their prices, but they can't compete with our product. We are harmed by a certain sticker shock, but we know the quality of what we are serving is superior.
You vend at Clarke Park's farmers market on Saturdays, is it important for you to be present at events that share the same philosophy as your truck?
It's a natural fit with the farmers' market, it's catering to our base.
How do you find inspiration for your food?
We try to be open to all avenues. Eating out, cook books, magazines,re-imagined old favorites.
What is your favorite dish you've prepared?
I love anything new we are working on and tweaking as we go. I loved the Pate LaBelle sandwich we had for awhile. It had chicken liver pate and fried onion rings. It was really decadent.
What is Yumtown known for/your most popular item?
That's a toss up between our two bestselling sandwiches- the Joy, our braised pork, and the Edgar Allan Potato, the sweet potato baguette.
What is your favorite thing about operating in a food truck as opposed to a store front? What is the downsides?
The flexibility it offers is a plus. There is a distinct downside to having a disconnected kitchen and dining room.
You often work along side other local food trucks, is the community important to success? Do you often flock to the same areas?
If there is enough of a crowd, multiple trucks will draw more people, which benefits all. There's a reason there are hubs of trucks clustered together on the various college campuses around town.
You have quite a following at Temple University, why do you think the student enjoy your product?
I think the student enjoy something new. I think generally speaking more people are concerned with where their food comes from, and there is certainly a faction of students that appreciates where we are coming from. Or they just love the fried mac n' cheese. I am open to any and all reasons students find to come to the truck.
You often engage your audience through social media, how important is facebook and twitter to your business?
It offers a supremely easy way to directly communicate to our patrons and possible patrons.
What’s your favorite thing about running Yumtown and what is your biggest challenge?
There's the satisfaction that comes with owning a small business but
also the crushing reality of it.
What are some things that are different than you expected about running a food truck?
I realize I had no accurate expectations about how to run a food truck. Other than there would be an exchange of money for food. Even that...
What is something “off the wall” that you would love to put on your menu but aren’t sure your customers would order?
We got a request for blood sausage once, which I was surprised anyone would want from a truck
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of starting their own food truck business?
Make sure you know where to find your customer.
What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten from a food truck? Which truck was it and where?
Pizza, Pitruco is a great truck. SPot has a mean burger.
What does the future hold for Yumtown?
We're full of surprises, who knows.
You can track Yumtown online here:
Select photos courteous of Ted Nghiem