^pBy SUE WADE
At best during the summer, a food truck can be a sauna on wheels. At worst, it’s a big, 120-degree toaster.
With record heat indexes pushing past 100, how do local food truckers survive?
Executive Chef Hector Cordero of Cape Coral-based Red Roc Cravings has an unfair advantage.
He’s used to it.
One of the hottest places he ever cooked, he recalled, was “Mexicali, Mexico, 1995. I believe it was June. Almost broke their record if I remember it right, about 124 degrees in an open-air mom-and-pop kitchen.”
His advice for food truck newbies also new to Florida summers? “Point your fans to push the heat out instead of right at you.”
There’s also an advantage on 100-plus degree days to be inside an ice cream truck—but not for the people.
“The ice cream is just fine,” said Sunny Days Ice Cream owner Jennifer Kyser of Port Charlotte whose been in business for 13 years. We have high-quality freezers that keep our ice creams below zero. No melting products here, just staff.”
Eli Scioli, who operates Dairy Free Island Smoothie Bar in Fort Myers, can relate.
“The temperature reaches 120 from the heat of our freezer motors and the sun beating on our aluminum walls. And we don’t even cook hot food; we blend frozen smoothies.”
Can’t stand the heat but can’t leave the kitchen
How about a pizza truck with ovens blasting at 600 degrees?
Bianca Hannigan and partner Mike Barone already sweated AC issues at Port Charlotte’s brick-and-mortar Pioneers Pizza. Now they have two pizza ovens running full time in the Trippin’ on Pizza truck.
“We have a commercial hood/exhaust unit and an awesome AC unit,” said Hannigan. “So it’s always pretty cool in the truck even on hot days. We didn’t build a truck to be sweaty and uncomfortable.”
Jessica Robison, who runs Venice’s new cult-favorite truck, Hashtag Pizza, isn’t quite as cool and collected. She has to push fluids, take multiple breaks and work shorter days.
“We have no AC and work only about five hours,” she said.
Beth Lybarger-Daubenmire, manning twin ovens in Fort Myers’s Folkswagen pizza truck, said, “I’m new to the food truck game, eight months in, first summer, and it’s been brutal. We have fans going at all times, drink lots of water and take breaks as often as possible. I try not to book too-long shifts and use a few people so no one’s on the truck for 12 hours in this heat.”
Jake Murphy, of Port Charlotte-based JD’s Chuck Wagon, takes a multi-strategy approach to beat its 114-degree heat.
“To keep myself cool, I got hats and head wraps that you soak in cold water, and keep a spray bottle of cold water packed in an ice cooler,” he said. “All I could do was drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes and make sure I had good airflow—until I found this refractive RV paint/sealer, which made a definite difference.”
Can’t get enough AC
Danny and Jayna Cortes of Danny’s Food Truck in Port Charlotte had no idea their first year would be one with record heat.
“This heat is definitely exhausting,” they said. “But we work through it. We have two AC units and two fans, and are about to get a portable AC unit as well. Even with all that, it’s 100 to 110 degrees inside.”
Port Charlotte food truck guru Lee Caglioti, formerly of The Ravenous Rhino, said more AC units isn’t the answer.
“Lots of trucks have AC units, but they don’t do squat. Any cold air gets sucked right out of the hood system. It’s part of the business, though. It can get just as bad in a brick-and-mortar kitchen.”
In fact, it can get worse.
Like Caglioti, Ralph Mercier, at Port Charlotte’s Ralph’s Original Philly Cheese Steaks & Hoagies, has worked in both worlds—truck and brick-and-mortar.
“Most of the time it’s good in here,” he said. “I did my research; I have a white-rubber insulating roof. But if you go into Chubbyz’ 125-degree kitchen, it’s hot as hell.”
Abed and Samantha Haswah at Cape Coral’s Hunger Station Middle Eastern food truck have a unique coping strategy.
“Silently, and not so silently, cursing at the sky. In multiple languages,” they said.