Dominic Machi always wanted a food truck for his district meal program at Davis Joint USD in Northern California. An executive chef and the district’s director of nutrition services for the past 15 years, Machi got his chance when Davis Senior High School decided to tear down its existing cafeteria and replace it with a new All Student Center that would include a dining outlet.
As that project is scheduled to take up to a year and a half (construction is slated to begin in the next couple months), another onsite dining option had to be developed even though the campus is open during lunch and most of the 1,700-plus students—less than 20 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price school meals—don’t eat lunch at the school. Daily lunch counts were around 250 before the cafeteria closure.
Originally, plans called for a temporary dining facility to be put up, but Machi wanted to go in another direction.
“I wanted something that was fun for the students as well as something we could use in the future,” he says, and a food truck looked like the ideal solution.
“We know the mobile food truck trend here,” he notes. “I live in the Bay Area and they’re all over the place. We wanted a food truck like the ones our students would see in retail food locations or on the nearby UC-Davis campus.”
So the money in the project budget slated for the temporary dining facility was diverted to the purchase and refurbishing of a used Aramark linen truck. Rather than simply being a rolling dispenser of pre-prepared and –packaged meals, the truck is outfitted with an array of heavy-duty production equipment, including a six-burner range oven, a charbroiler and a flat grill, as well as steamtables, complete refrigeration and even a triple sink. The on-board POS system validates USDA subsidized purchases as the menu, specifically designed by Machi and his staff for the truck, meets National School Lunch Program standards for qualifying meals.
“I wanted to produce food on the truck [rather than simply dispense packaged meals] because Davis is a very unique community and they are very food conscious,” Machi observes. “I wanted to provide that service not just for the students but the community to show what we’re doing for our students.”
Some of the equipment on the truck is actually superior to what was in the now-closed cafeteria. For example, Machi says, “we didn’t have the right equipment to cook hamburger properly, but now with the charbroiler we have gone from selling five burgers to a hundred.”
Other popular choices on the truck menu in the early going include street tacos, a country-style pork rib with hoisin barbecue sauce and the district’s own hand-cut, from-scratch potato wedges. Students can take their meals to the nearby picnic tables or sit on the grass to eat while listening to the tunes emanating from the truck.
Machi says once the senior high school’s new cafeteria opens, the truck could be used around the district, perhaps even visiting the elementary school sites on occasion.
“I wish I had two or three more trucks because the kids love them,” Machi says. “We designed it to be fun and give students an experience, [not just by] being able to cook as close to to-order as possible with restaurant-style equipment, but we wrapped the truck to make it look exciting. We also have music coming out of it so we’re creating an energy on the campus.”