Kim Ima doesn't play favorites. The owner and driver of the charming NYC dessert food truck, The Treats Truck, gets asked what her go-to pick is at least once a day: "My honest answer is that it depends on the day. I eat my treats every day, but I don't have a single favorite. It's all about cravings and what's going to taste good to you in the moment."
She wants to give everyone the opportunity to feel like a kid again, even if just for a few minutes.
When it comes to satisfying those sweet cravings—particularly the kind that seem to always pop up in the middle of the workday—Kim is definitely the master. She's known for baking childhood favorites, but enjoys mixing up her menu with unexpected items such as her delightfully decadent dessert nachos—a heaping mound of cookies shaped like tortilla chips and topped with chopped brownies, whipped cream, hot fudge and, of course, sprinkles.
A hit with everyone from high-powered businessmen to pajama-donning toddlers, the Treats Truck is a welcome respite from the bustle of everyday New York City life.
Kim describes the way her customers light up as they choose their dessert, some mulling over the decision with the same gravity they bring to business decisions of higher consequence.
"I love when you see someone in business attire and you know what he does during the day is very high stress, and he says to me 'Can I have that orange one on the right?"
She laughs, but is quick to point out that this is exactly what's she's trying to accomplish with her business. She wants to give everyone the opportunity to feel like a kid again, even if just for a few minutes.
"It's about that. I love cookies and treats, but it's more that the treats are a way to have a moment. No matter what you do during the day, you can come and have your cookie or your favorite treat and just enjoy."
Kim's love of her customers comes through in everything she says and does. The Treats Truck launched on June 9, 2007, and Kim has been driving and running the truck ever since that day. "She's the real deal," says Ariel Barbouth, owner of the popular Nuchas empanada truck. "Others that started at the same time moved to the office, but she's there every day."
In the early days, Kim was also the one doing all the baking. She described arriving at her commercial kitchen by 5AM, the first to open up the gates and warm the ovens, before baking and taking the truck out for 7 or 8 hours of selling. As her business grew, she was able to hire other bakers to handle the bulk of the kitchen work while she manages the truck and evening catering events.
"It's a long, long day, but I love it."
In 2012 she opened the Treats Truck Stop, a brick and mortar store in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It began as a full-service café but is now used as a space for private events and activities. And she's incredibly proud of her cookbook, The Treats Truck Cookbook.
"I love my book," she says, hugging it against her. "There is a cool digital version with extra features and videos, but there is just something special about being able to hold something in your hand."
The book is filled with stories about her regular customers, colorful graphics done by Austyn Stevens (the same artist that designed her retro-style branding), and features the actual recipes for the treats sold in the truck. "They're all in there. I really want to encourage home baking because I believe it's important to have those experiences. I want people to buy from the truck, but I want them to bake, too."
As passionate as she is about her business, she does note that there are challenges to running a food truck in New York City. Finding a place to park the truck is a constant one. She has regular spots ("it's an honor system that most food trucks respect"), but sometimes arrives to find a delivery truck or parked car.
"I can't double park, so I circle. I just go around and around the block until something opens up. Sometimes I get lucky and I just have to go around once or twice."
TV and film production can also pose an issue. "If a movie or TV show is shooting, they shut down the whole block and I have to go elsewhere." She alerts her customers to last-minute changes via social media, and says she wouldn't be able to do her business without it. But she does add that the treats help.
"I always make sure to pick a driving treat before I leave in the morning. I keep it by me since I can't just reach back and grab it once I'm on the road."
She's also a strong believer in community, and has made friends with her fellow drivers and street vendors, regularly gifting them warm beverages or their favorite treats. They all happily return the favors.
"I feel like cousins with everyone who works on the street," she explains. "The guy with the chicken and rice cart, and the guy who sells scarves and hats. We're all out here together, so we support each other."
Her sense of community also extends to other small shops and food entrepreneurs. "If I pass by a place that I can tell is a new or small business, I always go in and buy something. Even if I'm stuffed. It may just be a $3 thing, but it's more about the act of supporting them. It's part of being in a community. I feel it from my end, so I want to return the favor and continue the cycle.
"And if I get to eat something delicious, too? It's a win-win!"
Treats Truck was one of several food trucks that participated in Citi's Sweet Offers event, where Citi cardmembers received perks for using their Citi card at participating food trucks. To find the latest dining offers for cardmembers in your area, visit Citi Dining.