In his six months on the mobile food scene, Ermyias Shiberou of the Stickem food truck isn't quite sure where his venture fits into the local dining world, but he's trucking all over the city to find out.
"Business is up and down," he says, "but this is still a new way of dining in Memphis."
Memphis has been figuring out its relationship with food trucks since the city council gave them the green light in April 2011. Are they for catering? Late-night nosh? A quick-and-easy lunch option?
For his part, Shiberou is tracking down the lunch crowd in a loose pattern of regular stops — sometimes in Court Square downtown, sometimes Shelby Farms, often for lunch at local businesses like Service Master, St. Jude, and the East Memphis Hilton.
The menu is simple. Everything from shrimp and steak to chicken and tofu is served, you guessed it, on sticks. Skewers of seasoned, succulent grilled bites come on a bed of hand-cut French fries and grilled vegetables or served atop a salad with feta cheese and a light dressing. A sizable portion will run you $8 to $10.
"I didn't want to do something someone was already doing," says Shiberou, a native of Ethiopia, who came to Memphis in 1992. "It's a lot more than meat on a stick. It's about the vegetables and the side items, and hopefully I'll be able to include a lot more items. With the summer coming, I'll be able to use more local ingredients."
As with many food trucks, the best way to find out where to catch some of Shiberou's tasty kabobs is by following him on Facebook at facebook.com/stickemfood or on Twitter at @StickemFood.
You may have spied Graze, a small, green food truck with an emphasis on local and organic products, serving opera-goers at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre or catering a private event.
Owners Amelia Timms and Georgia Smith aren't doing daily lunch rounds yet, but they're interested in getting involved in the next batch of food truck rodeos, set to begin this spring. (Check @memfoodtruckers on Twitter or memphisfoodtruckers.org for updates on times and locations of upcoming food truck rodeos.)
So far, Timms and Smith have been using their collective experience in catering to jump-start the farm-to-truck concept.
"We launched on September 28, 2012, and we've already got four weddings booked," says Timms, who met Smith in the catering kitchen of Lakeland's Club Windward. "It's adorable. It's my little, retro, green food truck."
In December 2011, Timms bought the truck, a "30-year-old, ugly Chevy" painted "a weird maroon color" on the outside and "completely black on the inside," for $3,000 on Craigslist. In February 2012, she painted the outside bright green and began converting the former maintenance truck into a commercial kitchen with the help of her husband, Rich.
Graze's menu will be eclectic and change depending on local produce from the garden at Shelby Farms and other local farmers. The food won't all be strictly health-concious, of course. One of Timms' signature dishes is a made-from-scratch chocolate croissant bread pudding. But expect plenty of fresh salads and sandwiches, including vegetarian options, made with what Timms describes as "simple, organic ingredients."
"Right now, I'm researching farms because I want to use produce from the local area," Timms says. "I'm so excited about going to Shelby Farms and asking the gardener, 'What do you have today?' and picking a fresh tomato and slicing it and putting it straight on a sandwich. That warms my heart."
Find Graze Food Truck on Twitter at @grazefoodtruck or online at grazefoodtruck.com.