Mobile hamburgers hit the Oakland scene
on January 4, 2011
Every morning Roland Robles gets up and hand-grinds different kinds of fresh pepper—white, Sichuan and black. He also hand-makes three types of mayonnaise; there’s garlic-flavored, chili and regular. Robles is the owner and chef of Fiveten Burger, one of the newest food trucks to come out of Oakland, and he’s dishing out what he calls “America’s favorite food”—the burger. For him, freshness is key.
His day starts at 6 am, when he starts buying ingredients. He gets his meat freshly ground from Golden Gate Meat Company in San Francisco, he gets his buns from a small local bakery and he makes sure to get fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions and other ingredients. By 9 am, he is in his truck mixing up his special vinegar blend with cider, champagne and white vinegar that he uses to hand-brine his pickles. He is also butchering beef for his steak sandwich and making his burgers into patties, adding in his freshly ground pepper and salt.
“We aren’t afraid of salt,” he says with a defiant smile. “You’re not coming to me because you’re trying to lose weight.” It’s true, there’s nothing slimming about the food Robles serves: in addition to thick, hearty hamburgers loaded with cheese—American, Swiss, cheddar or Gorgonzola—he also sells garlic fries made with his own garlic oil, steak sandwiches and chicken sandwiches. There’s also the option of putting an egg or bacon on your burger.
“I’m not much of a burger person,” admitted customer David Gee on a sunny day last week when Robles was slinging his fare in Emeryville, “but these burgers are really good.” Gee works near where Robles parked and is a fan of the Bay Area’s growing gourmet food truck trend. In August, Fiveten Burger joined the cadre of mobile restaurants cruising around the East Bay that announce through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook where and when they’ll be parking and serving food. Gee says he usually waits until right before lunch then checks Twitter to see which trucks are around. “I like that they pop up in different places,” he says.
Robles, a big guy with tattooed arms and a goatee, has been a professional chef in the Bay Area for over ten years. He was born in San Antonio, Texas but moved to Oakland in the mid-90’s. “I got here as quickly as I could,” he says. Over the years as he worked as a chef in restaurants in Berkeley, San Rafael, Sausalito and San Francisco, he had it set in his mind that he wanted to cook in Oakland. But, he says, “opening a restaurant in Oakland is a fortune. To pay bills on something like that is out of the question for normal people.”
Then, last December, he met a woman who was selling a food truck. Within a couple of months he and his business partner, Andrew Seligson, had bought the truck and Robles was working on his menu. This was right around the same time that the restaurant where Robles had been most recently employed—Bar Johnny in San Francisco—closed. At Bar Johnny, Robles had focused the menu on burgers. “I spent a few months writing recipes for meat grinds and made the hamburger the flagship dish of the menu,” he says. “The burger was an instant hit.”
He transferred many of the recipes he worked on at Bar Johnny to his menu at Fiveten Burger. By the time he debuted his truck last summer, he had his spices, meat-to-fat ratios, vinegar blends and mayonnaise recipes down to a tee and a focus on making the perfect artisan burger.
As his business continues to grow, Robles has some ideas for expanding. One idea is to get a couple more burger trucks roving around the Bay Area; the other is to possibly open a small bakery, which would sell baked goods and where he’d also be able to make his own buns.
Fiveten Burger parks in Emeryville Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for lunch and it can be found in Jack London Square on Tuesdays for lunch. At night, Robles caters to the downtown Oakland bar scene by alternately parking in front of The Layover, Era Art Bar Lounge, Café Van Kleef, Kitty’s and Room 389. You won’t be able to find him on Sundays, though; “That’s when my Raiders play ball,” he says.
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