Creative Economy

Life on the food truck

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Life on the food truck

When the workers of Albany flood out of their offices for their lunch break and take their spot in line at the Healthy Cafe Food Truck, they will get more than just a tasty meal. Manager Kim Muse-Comtois is deemed the “master of remembering people” by her staff, and remembers more than just a name. Whether it’s about their job in the Capitol Building or the children they have at home, Muse-Comtois sparks conversation with each of the “regulars” who spend their short lunch break in Capitol Park, giving them a break from the isolated cubicle that many workers spend their days in.

“It’s more than just lunch,” said Muse-Comtois, 35, of Delmar. “We get to impact people’s day and be a part of their story.”

Lined along Washington Avenue, the choices of what to eat are seemingly endless – and mobile. Food trucks have become somewhat of a craze in the Capital Region, as they have in many cities across the nation. They foretell the arrival of warm weather, giving people a chance to savor the time they have in the sun while grabbing a quick bite to eat.

With each truck comes a unique flavor, yet there is a common thread among them. A truck selling specialty burgers and fries, another serving pizza, and one selling fried food. It’s all deliciously mouth-watering and a great treat for the middle of a workday. But, although it is tempting, eating these calorie-filled foods each day is not the healthiest choice.

Among these options sits a lime green truck that inevitably stands out, and not just because of its bold exterior.

The Healthy Cafe Food Truck draws in customers seeking a healthy alternative for lunch. As the name embodies, the truck strays away from the fatty foods that are typically served out of food trucks and instead provides fresh and nutritious lunch options. The menu consists of wraps, salads, toasted subs, and sandwiches, as well as homemade smoothies. “People don’t want to eat something big and unhealthy and then sit at a desk all day,” said Jamie Kois, who also works at the food truck and is Muse-Comtois’ “right-hand man.”

With a mixture of specialty salads, sandwiches and customer-favorites like the quinoa bowl, taco salad, and hummus, the food is far from boring. “It’s a fun and spunky spin on healthy food,” Muse-Comtois said.

After graduating college with a degree in broadcasting, Muse-Comtois was unsure of where to go next and stumbled upon a job at the food truck. Now, 12 years later, she wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

“I was drawn to the fast-paced environment,” Muse-Comtois said. “And now we’re like a big family.”

The food is prepared in the morning before the truck claims its spot on the street and opens for business. This way, customers only have to wait for the assembly of the meal after they order. That means that all of the chicken must be cooked, the meat sliced, and the fresh ingredients ready to go each morning before lunch breaks begin.

“People think we just roll up and that’s it,” Muse-Comtois said. “But that’s not true.  It’s a lot of hard work.”

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There is no storefront and although the truck is only medium-sized, about five people work on the truck at a time, sometimes six on busy days in the summer. Muse-Comtois hopes to build on an addition in the future to make the truck less crowded for the workers.

After running now for over 20 years, the truck has always parked alongside Capitol Park and opened seasonally from April through November. While food trucks have grown in popularity in the Capital Region, Muse-Comtois thinks they are lacking in Albany compared to other big cities. “It is easier to start and get a permit in other places,” Muse-Comtois said. “I’m not sure why, other than that local businesses don’t want us stealing customers.”

Location is crucial. In order for business to succeed, the spot must be heavily populated at lunchtime and amidst the city life, while also leaving space for the trucks to line up and for people to relax and eat.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had. I mean, this is my view every day,” said Kois, gesturing to the historic Capitol Building that overlooks the greenery of the park.

While the view is scenic and adds to the food truck experience, it also poses constraints and can halt business. On rainy or cold days, the truck typically has to close. Unlike many of the other food trucks, though, Muse-Comtois utilizes social media, specifically Facebook, to give people updates on their closings and hours, as well as their daily specials.

Along with these updates, customers can take part in Trivia Thursday’s, where they can win a free lunch if they answer correctly. Regular customers also have a “frequent buyer card,” where they get a free meal after purchasing ten meals.

These incentives have helped the Healthy Cafe grow in popularity amidst the other food trucks that line up with them each day. “We’re highly competitive with them,” Muse-Comtois said. “But we also try not to undercut each other with prices and always respect one another. We would never sell a Greek salad, for example, since there’s a Greek food truck right next to us. We want to make sure everyone’s on our side.”

Competing with neighboring food trucks while preparing nutritious meals as quickly and efficiently as possible is more strenuous than many would imagine, yet Muse-Comtois and her staff always remain smiling and excited for whatever the next day will bring.

“I tell people to think about preparing Thanksgiving dinner,” Muse-Comtois said. “That’s what we do every day, but for a lot more people.”

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