Unique Comfort Food

Illustration by Laura Sanders

Diving In

He stops at an intersection where the DO NOT CROSS sign is giving him the hand. At this moment he checks his watch. A couple of cars zip past. The man checks his watch again, seeing that the second hand twisted a couple of clicks. He looks up, back to the watch, catches his reflection in a row of bus windows flying by, and returns to another reflection on the face of his ticking accessory.

Over and over again, the man examined the time. And over and over again, Jordan Lamatrice thinks about the man.

“He had looked at his watch like 15 times, waiting for this light to go. I thought, ‘Man, everyone’s in a rat race for something and that just sucks. I don’t wanna be that, I don’t wanna do that,” said Lamatrice, a self-described “dude” who’s just trying to do something different.

He certainly is. When Stock & Barrel found out that Lamatrice quit a five-year career at one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world to start his own food truck—with almost no culinary experience to his credit—we knew it was a story we had to follow.

“The money wasn’t worth it,” he said. “At the end of the day, I had a really nice bank account, I had a lot of cool stuff at my place …but it’s just money. I kind of followed the path that everyone tells you to go. I went to college, I got the job, I kept my head down, and I followed the path and it didn’t really work out.”

Sure, we get that. But a food truck in a city littered with talented food truck chefs? With almost no experience in the kitchen?

It hinges on another man he spotted on the street, a man parked outside of a dog park serving coffee and other products to dog walkers. He immediately envisioned entering the industry with a “simple healthy product,” contrasting the classic greasy street food of nightlife and festivals, his crosshairs set on the lunch rush demographic that comes from business complexes, looking for a smart midday choice.

Thus, his new business, Alphabetical Soups & Salads, was born.

“I’ve always been a soup fan … as weird as it sounds, I’ve always thought of chili as a good drunk/hangover food,” Lamatrice explained. “It used to be a ritual of mine where I would have chili at my house and I’d be real excited, ‘cause I’m like, ‘Well I’m just gonna put a bunch of crackers and cheese and hot sauce on this chili and slam it and it’s gonna be great!’”

“The gratification I’m gonna get is from being able to say that I tried. I put forth the effort, and I think that’s what you’re supposed to do: give something a chance.”

His optimism for this plan is boosted by his most ironic quality: no experience in professional cooking, no experience in entrepreneurial business, and, of course, no experience in food trucking. And he’s allowing us to take the journey with him, and let us document all that comes with someone’s first year in business.

“Really, it’s about giving something a chance,” he said, aware of how crazy his plan sounds. “The gratification I’m gonna get is from being able to say that I tried. I put forth the effort, and I think that’s what you’re supposed to do: give something a chance.”

He bases his outlook on what any businessman would tell you; breaking even after year one of a new business is a great year. Similarly, he explained this idea along with the risk of taking everything you had in the bank and just doing the damn thing. The entirety of his savings from the old cellular retail job sat readily in the account, perhaps awaiting his ambition.

See, banks aren’t really jumping at the chance to scoot loans across the table to food truck startups just yet. Most of the help comes from places like The Commissary, FoodFort, and ECDI (Economic and Community Development Institute). A place like The Commissary will offer a space to do prep and preliminary cooking to legally take out on to the streets (it is illegal for food truck chefs to cook within their homes to sell at events or out in public). Additionally, The Commissary offers a pop-up space where people like Lamatrice are able to unveil their product to anyone who’s interested.

Then there’s the logistics of where you can sell your product.

Which is where he does start with some advantages. Lamatrice had previously known people working in commercial real estate companies who allow him direct access to information on property management. Because of this connection, he swiftly located seven or so companies looking for food trucks to be on the premises daily—without having to drive around looking for places to pitch his idea.

Granted, there is no exact formula to this exploding industry. To Lamatrice, everyone is always in a unique situation. No matter what, you have to make the best of what you have.

“What I’ve started to realize is there’s a billion ways that you can do this. You ask people, you listen … you always ask around and just become a student of life,” he explained. “But really when the time comes, it’s up to you; no one can tell you how to do it.”

“I understand what I’m getting into is so much work. I’m already starting to feel it. I have days where I don’t wanna make a phone call, where I don’t wanna do shit … But I’m doing something for myself, and it’s a continuous feeling of gratification … it’s really cool.” 

The Commissary will host an unveiling for Alphabetical Soups & Salads on April 10. For more of Lamatrice’s adventures in the food truck scene, check the next issue of Stock & Barrel.

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