What does it take to own and operate a thriving food truck in NYC? I caught up with entrepreneur James Klayman, founder of the Gorilla Cheese NYC Truck, based in New York. The chef not only dished on the makings of a mobile food business, but he revealed his secret to making the perfect grilled cheese: loads of butter, a Panini press—so the sandwich grills evenly—and cooking it at a high temperature for a crisp finish.
I always loved cooking. My grandfather owned diners, so it's in the blood.
When it comes to the warm, gooey all-American staple, Klayman's advice carries some weight. He does, after all, own and manage one of New York's most successful food trucks, and his team puts out a luscious list of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches seven days a week. Imagine a delectable lunch consisting of prosciutto di Parma with triple-cream Brie and strawberry preserves (his personal favorite), or the truck's bestseller, pulled pork with cheddar and caramelized onions. Top those ingredients off with two slices of all natural Pullman bread from Rockland Bakery, and you have yourself a mighty delicious mouthful of goodness in every bite.
Klayman took the leap into the food truck business in 2011, when his brother-in-law convinced him that grilled cheese would be a hot trend in mobile dining. He saw the cult-like following for the sandwich on west coast trucks, so he decided to develop the same concept in NYC. Luckily for him, great food has been part of his life since he was a child. Throughout his youth, he worked in a host of restaurants and delis, so an eatery of some kind seemed like a natural progression. "I always thought I'd have a restaurant somewhere, but never thought a food truck," he explained. "I always loved cooking. My grandfather owned diners, so it's in the blood."
Being a food truck owner might seem like a snap compared to a brick and mortar establishment, but Klayman says the mobile food biz has its challenges. For instance, when he started Gorilla Cheese NYC five years ago, he was one of six or seven modern trucks on the streets of Manhattan. Finding a parking spot wasn't an issue. Today, though, that's not the case — the competition has heated things up. Now, over 50 trucks cook in the city, and new trucks show up every day, which makes holding a regular spot nearly impossible. "I used to be able to pull up at 10 am every Tuesday, but now I need to get there at 3 am or 4 am." Due to the increasing number of trucks, it's common that several trucks vie for the same spot.
Also, Klayman explained that the equipment takes a beating because the truck doesn't have a real roof over its head. He needs to perform maintenance on the truck constantly, and so he tackles it himself to cut costs. "That puts thousands of dollars back in my pocket every year."
Sold on starting your own NYC food truck? Klayman claims that the key to a successful food truck is treating it like a business. He works 18-hour days, so even though running a truck appears to be a lot of fun, it requires a lot of hard work and patience until you reap the rewards. "People think it's easy — nothing in life is easy," he said. "Don't do it as a hobby. Do it as a job."
Gorilla Cheese NYC 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.