In a light-filled spacious kitchen, James Millett pops open a bottle of white wine and sprinkles it on a pile of fresh chard. Then he adds olive oil, salt and pepper and gives the greens a stir. Next to him, Jeff Gallishaw slices open an orange, squeezes out all the juice and adds it to a cup of homemade soda water mixed with simple syrup. They are working in your typical commercial kitchen, complete with refrigerators, sinks, a stove, griddle and oven. But at the end of the day, they can start up their engine and drive this kitchen away.
Localicious is one of many mobile food trucks that have popped up in the East Bay over the past couple of years, but there’s something different about it. Most food trucks are designed to keep food warm and to let chefs cook on the spot, but they usually don’t have much refrigeration or storage space. Ovens are almost unheard of. In fact, many food trucks prepare, cook and store food at off-site locations and mostly just use the truck to serve. Localicious, on the other hand, is a complete rolling commercial kitchen, filled with stainless steel equipment, three big skylights and plenty of space to do everything a brick and mortar kitchen can do.
“We were going have it built, but it would’ve cost over $100,000,” says co-owner Gallishaw, a tall, lean man who is quick to smile. “So I quit my job and did it myself.” Gallishaw spent over a year installing the kitchen equipment on what was originally a Snap-on tool truck, getting everything up to code and putting in an intricate electrical system that was designed by a guy who does electricity for ocean-going yachts. In November 2010, Gallishaw and his wife opened up shop and began peddling their local, organic food with an Americana flavor.
Part of the reason why Gallishaw and his wife, Maggie Vashel, who is also his business partner, wanted a kitchen with all the capabilities of a regular restaurant was that they wanted to make all of the food they’d serve fresh each day, and that meant having the necessary equipment and refrigeration to do it on the premises. “Most of our food is prepared fresh everyday in small batches of fresh ingredients,” says Gallishaw. “We never sell leftovers at all, which is unusual in the restaurant business.”
Localicious is only open three days a week in Emeryville right now—Tuesday, Thursday and Friday—but Gallishaw is hoping to expand to more days and sell in Oakland, where he lives. The City of Oakland doesn’t allow mobile food vendors to legally stay in one spot for more than half and hour, except on International Boulevard in East Oakland, so Gallishaw is waiting until the city makes the permitting process easier.
On an unseasonably warm day earlier this week, Localicious pulls up to a grassy park in Emeryville off of 62nd Street and Hollis. On the menu is seasonal fare with hearty dishes, grains and greens—saffron and paprika rice with chicken breast, spicy sausage and bits of broccoli; a pulled chicken sandwich served with shredded chicken in bourbon barbeque sauce and coleslaw on an Acme ciabatta roll. There’s also mushroom barley soup and a cheddar grilled cheese on Levain bread with Swiss chard and pepper plant hot sauce. All of the meals cost $9 or less. Although right now this is mostly wintery comfort food, it doesn’t taste heavy but rather has a light, citrusy quality.
“We get the best food we can and prepare it really simply and that’s it,” says Gallishaw. “Our food isn’t fancy.” He points to the slaw, which can be bought as a side, and says all it has in it is shredded cabbage, sesame seeds, cilantro and lime. It’s all about being fresh and highlighting local and seasonal ingredients, he says.
Every Sunday, Gallishaw shops for produce at the Temescal Farmers Market and then augments his supply throughout the week with food from Berkeley Bowl, buying produce that is supplied to the store by regional farmers. He gets his chicken from Field to Family Natural Foods in Petaluma. When Gallishaw and Vashel first started thinking about opening a business together they agreed it was important to do something they could be proud of. Their criteria, he says, was “global sustainability and something we could feel good about.” The local food movement seemed like a natural fit.
Before opening Localicious, Gallishaw was an energy conservation engineer, and before that he worked much of his adult life in restaurants, which included an 11-year stint at Joyce Goldstein’s Square One restaurant in San Francisco that specialized in fresh and simple food. But he says that Vashel is the driving force behind Localicious. “She’s the brains of the outfit,” he says. In addition to being in charge of recipe development, Vashel also heads the business side of the truck. She recently graduated with a Masters in Business from the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco and designed Localicious’ business plan as her thesis.
“This is the first truck, but hopefully there will be many,” says Gallishaw, talking about their long-term plans. For now, though, since they’ve only been open a couple of months, they’re continuing to work on workflow and efficient cooking methods. For example, one popular menu item—“brave potatoes,” which are cubed potatoes baked to have a texture that’s crisp and golden on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside, which are then topped with a spicy butter sauce and sour cream—have been tricky to get just right.
“It’s been trial and error,” says Millett, Localicious’ co-chef. The potatoes need to be sold fresh out of the oven, but it’s inefficient and hot to constantly run the oven, he says. So, Gallishaw and Millett decided to sell the brave potatoes for just a short while each day. They are also working on the development of different soups. So far they’ve made carrot soup with ginger and coconut milk, cream of broccoli, kale with cannelloni beans, and cheddar ale, which is a real crowd pleaser and exactly what it sounds like—soup with lots of cheddar cheese and local Lagunitas beer.
Gallishaw says he can’t wait for summer “because the produce goes crazy.” On the summer menu, he’s planning to introduce more side dishes and fresh vegetable along with entrees like tomatoes and avocados on Levain bread with sea salt. “There will be lots of fresh herbs and citrus—basil in the spring and eggplant in the summer,” he says. “As far as flavors, simple is the key word.”
Update: Localicious closed for business in late March, 2011.