When the food-truck movement exploded in the early 2010s, Bridgett Blough was living in the Bay Area and experienced first-hand how trucks could both create a sense of community and also allow chefs an opportunity for flexibility and creativity on the menu. She fell so hard for it, in fact, that the certified natural chef moved back to her home state of Michigan and, in 2012, opened the Kalamazoo-based Organic Gypsy, a food truck serving a menu that changes daily based on what fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients she can source from local providers.
The Organic Gypsy rides on today, serving community events and catering functions. Blough also rolled out a mobile coffee bar called Dotty and has introduced meal-kit, detox, and community-supported agriculture programs to help her through the winter months and further promote fresh, local ingredients.
Blough explains the intricacies of operating a food truck that serves fresh ingredients—and why she wouldn’t have it any other way.
How difficult is it to serve fresh foods out of a food truck?
It is very complicated. When I park alongside someone who has barbecue pork sandwiches and fries, and they’re buying their pork already cooked, buying canned sauce, buying a pack of buns, and buying frozen french fries that they deep-fry, I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if it was that [easy].
You’re in a really small space; you don’t have a lot of storage. It makes it logistically challenging. We have a commercial kitchen where we prep everything, because everything is fresh. If we have a lunch event, we’ll go to our commercial kitchen in the morning and maybe finish some stuff up, load everything up, then unplug and drive to a location and set up. We get the awning out and turn on the griddle and heat our propane up and get everything going and ready; that’s at least a half an hour or maybe an hour. Then we serve for two hours and pack up—which is a half an hour—and we drive to our kitchen and unload all of the dirty dishes.
You’re really selling me on starting a food truck.
When people ask, “Should I do it?” I say, “You should come and work with me for a day. I don’t think you’re going to want to.” I love it, but it’s not for the faint of heart. I think it makes more sense to have a restaurant where you already have your production space and you already have a consistent situation, then you might add a food truck. I don’t think it makes logical sense to do it the way that I did it.
What kind of equipment do you have on it?
I have a really old-as-dirt Vulcan stove with a 24-inch griddle, and I have two burners. I also have a salamander, and those are the only pieces of equipment that I have to hold anything hot or cook anything onboard. Then I have a fridge and a freezer.
How does that limit your operation?
What I found was going to all these public events in these public spaces, like our local farmer’s market, they don’t have the electrical capacity for me. That’s one of my biggest limiting factors as far as equipment, which is the electrical. My fridge and my freezer, that’s pretty much the most I can pull as far as power.
When we’re serving people on the street, it’s different than catering. If we’re catering and I know that we’re serving 200 people, we’re able to execute things differently with hot boxes. But when we’re just parking on the street, if a rain cloud comes and it rains, there goes 80 percent of the food that we were going to serve. If a normal brick-and-mortar restaurant thinks their revenue is up and down based on the weather and other things, a food truck is that times 10.
Have you thought about opening a restaurant?
I had a café for almost a year, and I absolutely hated it. Part of what makes the food truck so difficult is it’s an unknown thing where you hope people show up to the event you’re going to. But there is something I love about the mystery of it. The interaction you get with people is also totally different. When we’re there at an event, you hand them their food and they’re like, “Wow, that looks awesome!” On the street, we’re like two feet away from the people we serve. So it’s kind of an intimate experience in that way.