It’s taken years cutting through bureaucratic red tape and advocacy from city movers and shakers, but Dallas now has a burgeoning and successful food truck scene, supplying everything from Korean tacos and bouncy chicken-and-waffle cones to high-end deli sandwiches. All of the mobile food vendors offer unique spins on familiar foods, no matter how slight, including Gandolfo’s New York Deli Dallas, serving deli sandwiches on house-made bread.
Randy Wolken, owner and operator of Gandolfo’s, is the master franchiser for the Georgia-based Gandolfo’s sandwich chain in Dallas-Fort Worth and like many restaurateurs, was once a white-collar worker. After 20 years he left his job in the financial sector to follow his dream: food. “I decided that I was not having enough fun and decided to re-enter the restaurant business in 2009.” Wolken’s previous foodservice experience includes the management of several restaurants and ownership of an upscale catering service. And he’s thinking big, beginning with breakfast.
Gandolfo’s New York Deli Dallas is a rare food truck in Dallas that is open for breakfast, giving workers a quick and easy meal. “The food truck is a natural for breakfast in my eyes,” notes Wolken. “Commuters can stop and get essentially a breakfast meal on a fresh baked Kaiser or bagel in less than five minutes.”
In the next five years, Wolken expects to have a fleet of trucks serving the Polo Ground (bacon, egg and cheese on a buttered roll) and the signature pastrami on rye with bubbling Swiss cheese, along with dozens of brick-and-mortar outlets. However, his business plan is about more than numbers. It’s about cooperation and community. “As a group, we, the food truck, can offer many different choices of food options within a small area. There is a friendly competitiveness that we share, but with that shared experience comes a strength that you do not normally see within the restaurant community. We are learning together and sharing builds a great culture and better products for our guests. We can attract many guests who travel together, but may want different things to eat. There doesn’t have to be a compromise where to eat. They can come to a mobile food park and everyone can have something different.”
That idea was put into practice at the Arts District Summer Block Party June 17. During the outdoor festival, Gandolfo’s was among restaurants on wheels stationed in a court off Flora Street. Together, Wolken and his colleagues had a phenomenal night. “We sold out of food and I learned that I will probably need support vehicles in the future for such events. Every truck at the event had to close their doors early because the demand was so great. We all ran out of food,” he continued. “That’s a good problem to have.”
But not all issues are as gratifying. The food truck owner has to be flexible and prepared. “Having a detailed checklist for operating the truck is almost as important as the checklist for operating a plane. Small things overlooked have the potential to have large consequences,” he said as advice for future food truck owners.
“If you do open a food truck, remember that the way you conduct your business affects all food truck owners and our reputations. You are held to a higher standard than traditional restaurants. If you decide to do it, find mentors like the group on the streets currently. We are passionate about our trucks and are learning something new every day.”