Food - A day in the life of a food truck

A ride along with the MIX'd UP food truck crew

The rock 'n' roll-inspired food truck MIX'd UP is the brainchild of executive chef Brett Eanes and his business partner chef Massimiliano Gallinoni. An expansion of their Sandy Springs catering company Cuzine Chefs, MIX'd UP hit the streets in the summer of 2011. The truck serves chef-driven, gourmet street food dishes such as the Hero, a Greek lamb burger with Tzatziki sauce, and the ATL, a Coca-Cola-braised short rib sandwich with pimento cheese and pickled onions. We caught up with the truck on a typical day of service to see what it's like to live like a food trucker.

5:45 a.m.: Brett Eanes and the MIX'd UP food truck crew pull up to Restaurant Depot on the Westside. It's time to stock up on food and supplies for the day ahead. "We're on a double today," Eanes says. "Lunch at the Atlanta Food Truck Park, and then dinner in Cabbagetown." Eanes, a classically trained chef, shops with his two cooks Brandon Hammond and chef Terrell Holloway.

7 a.m.: Back at the satellite kitchen in Cabbagetown, the crew begins to prep. Ingredients are portioned out and carefully wrapped. Lists from the night before are checked and double-checked as fresh vegetables, containers of meat, and bags of bread are loaded onto the truck. "Once we're there, we're there. If we forget something, we're screwed," say Eanes.

9 a.m.: The MIX'd UP truck is ready to roll. The engine roars and the truck lurches from the curb. "Don't worry, you got that Allstate plan!" Hammond yells from the back. "You're in good hands." At approximately 9 feet wide, the truck takes up almost all of the narrow Cabbagetown street. Families and children playing in their front yards wave from behind picket fences. "We're local celebrities," Eanes says with a smile.

9:05 a.m.: With some calculated maneuvering, a right turn sends the truck rumbling through the Krog Street Tunnel. Next, a wide left onto DeKalb Avenue. "We're gonna take Decatur Street through downtown to get to Howell Mill," Eanes explains. "I avoid the interstate whenever possible." And for good reason: With 45 gallons of gasoline, 30 gallons of propane, and plenty of Freon pulsing through the truck's refrigeration system, a minor fender bender could cause a catastrophe. "Never tailgate a food truck," he says.

10:15 a.m.: MIX'd UP is the first to arrive at the Atlanta Food Truck Park. Eanes drives the truck to his favorite spot along the gravel lot's perimeter. Eanes lights the pilot lights while Hammond props up the menu board out front. Holloway portions out a pan of ground chorizo with an ice cream scoop in anticipation of the lunch rush. Eanes connects an iPad to the stereo system and pulls up Pandora. Sublime's "Garden Grove" fades into "Redemption Song" by Bob Marley. Drinks are stocked in the ice well below the service window.

Atlanta Food Truck Park co-owner Howard Hsu comes by to say hello. He joins Eanes in stuffing Cokes and Gatorade bottles into the ice. Hsu motions toward a construction crew installing 15-foot posts around the lot. "A truck took down a string of lights the other day," he says. "It was crazy." He explains that the posts will prop the lights up high enough to permit truck traffic below.

10:20 a.m.: The Mobile Marlay and Banged Up and Mashed pull in and find some free spots. One of the Banged Up and Mashed crew stops by on his way to the lemonade guy who's also begun setting up his cart. He takes a drink order from Eanes and his cooks. "I'll have the skrawberry," Hammond says. Holloway opts for mango lemonade. "We are all in competition," Eanes says, nodding to the other trucks. "But most of us are friends, too. There are a lot of really great people in this scene."

11 a.m.: The Atlanta Food Truck Park officially opens. Only three trucks, a cupcake cart, and lemonade stand await the lunch crowd. "Everyone's at 12th and Peachtree today," Eanes mutters. In the food truck world, too many trucks in one place means less money, but too few often causes prospective customers to leave for lack of options. The park's first visitors start to trickle in.

11:18 a.m.: Mix'D UP's first customer, a nine-to-fiver sporting a maroon button-up and dress pants, approaches the truck. He shifts his weight from side to side as he squints up at the colorful menu board. "Is the Fi Fi a sandwich?" he asks through a thick Eastern European accent. Eanes describes the dish of curried chickpeas served over basmati rice. The man goes with the ATL instead, a shredded short rib sandwich with pickled onions and pimento cheese spread.

Disaster strikes. Eanes discovers that the Coca-Cola sauce for the short rib sandwich has over-reduced, rendering the mixture too salty for service. He and Holloway whip up a new sauce. It takes a couple of tries, but they soon make a mixture they both agree tastes great. Crisis averted.

Noon: Tickets continue to pile in. Customers wait for their orders while checking iPhones and scoping out nearby picnic tables.

12:15 p.m.: The lunch shift is in full swing — and so is the sun. Inside the truck the fryer bubbles, the flat top sizzles, and the steam table steams. Unsolicited beads of sweat begin to accumulate on the foreheads of Eanes' crew and customers alike. "Hot enough?" Hammond asks as he assembles several sandwiches at once. "You should come and stand next to the grill. Whoo!"

12:47 p.m.: The rush begins to subside. Eanes and company begin to make a list of ingredients they'll need for the dinner shift, as well as for tomorrow's lunch. An intense song by Sevendust bellows from the speakers. Eanes hurries over to hit the next button. "Don't want to scare 'em off," he says, laughing, as Tool replaces the scream-o.

Eanes excuses himself for a smoke break. He returns with a heaping portion of bangers and mash from the truck next door. "Want some?" he asks. Hammond and Holloway nod and Eanes divides lunch into three equal portions.

1:15 p.m.: It's a pleasant 70 degrees outside but still about a zillion inside the truck. The saying goes, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." In this case, it's more like, "If you can't take the heat, too bad, you shouldn't have bought a food truck."

1:20 p.m.: With lunch service coming to a close, it's time to clean. "The good thing about a truck is that when it's time to go, you shut the doors and go," Eanes says. Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" comes on and, almost as if on cue, Hammond and Holloway bust into an impromptu Michael Jackson dance sesh.

2:15 p.m.: "We did about 60 people," Eanes says. After he finishes counting the money and taking care of the books, it's time to roll. "We've got to stop by Restaurant Depot for macaroni, red wine vinegar, and stuff," he says.

2:30 p.m.:"You're gonna like it in there," Hammond assures me as we approach the entrance to Restaurant Depot. "It's cold." Being inside Restaurant Depot is like being inside a refrigerator the size of a warehouse — a warehouse where everyone knows your name. Several other food truckers are shopping. Everyone's busy toting flatbed carts through the aisles, restocking and replenishing, but not too busy to chitchat and say hello.

3:45 p.m.: Back in Cabbagetown, the truck is unloaded. Dishes are washed in the certified catering kitchen that was once a spare bedroom. The truck's battery is plugged in to an outdoor outlet to recharge.

4-4:45 p.m.: Finally, a break. For Hammond, the day is done. His girlfriend stops by to pick him up. Eanes and Holloway relax at a picnic table in the backyard.

5 p.m.: It's time to start loading up and head out for dinner. Trays of hand-cut fries wrapped in plastic are stacked five-high on the truck's counter. The tower sways, rights itself, and sways again as the truck weaves through Cabbagetown. Kids wave as the truck drives by. The evening site is near Cabbagetown Park at Sweet Cheats cupcake and dessert shop.

5:30 p.m.: "Yumbii is usually here with us," says Eanes as the setup process begins again. "But they're doing a private event tonight. We're gonna get crushed."

6:15 p.m.: Families gather at the park with kids in tow — lots of kids in tow. Up-beat reggae spills out through the truck's speakers. Eight people suddenly appear at the service window. The line stays that deep for nearly an hour. A chicken finger basket and grilled cheese sandwich with fries have been added to the menu in anticipation of all the kids — there's at least one for every adult.

6:30 p.m.: It's chaos inside the MIX'd UP food truck, but you wouldn't know it from the outside. Interactions with customers are calm and friendly. Parents chat about their children's shenanigans and recent school events. Behind the scenes, however, Eanes and Holloway are in the midst of a kitchen crash.

6:34 p.m.: Eanes' wife shows up after she gets off work. She hops in the truck and takes over the order taking. At this point, they're so backed up with tickets, they have to stop taking orders for five minutes to catch up. Exasperated but in good spirits, Eanes yells, "This is the madness that happens when there's only one truck. We get crushed!"

7:45 p.m.: As dusk settles in, the truck's interior lights come on. Illuminated from within, the truck takes on the appearance of a miniature diner in the twilight. Most everyone seems to be fed. The orders slow down for the first time in more than an hour.

8 p.m.: Even after a long double, Eanes wastes no time in starting his prep list for tomorrow, another double. "We cut fries every day," he says. "We stay one case of potatoes ahead at all times. Our fries are the shit."

9 p.m.: The MIX'd UP food truck is cranked for the last time of the day.

9:05 p.m.: After another short rumble back through Cabbagetown, the truck is home. "We did 98 people at dinner!" says Eanes as he tidies up the prep counter. "We always shoot for selling $1,000. We did it today." The grill is scraped and beers are cracked. It's all in a day's work.

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