What it takes to run a Boston food truck

“One chicken biryani please,” a customer strained her voice as she tried to outdo the wind. Recognizing the voice, Krupanalini Manmohan turned away from her stove to peek over her husband’s shoulder as he rung up the customer’s order. “Hi, how have you been,” Krupanalini greeted, once she was finally face to face with the lady. “You remember me?” The customer’s volume dropped with shock. “Of course. You were our very first customer at City Hall,” Krupanalini smiled as she returned to her stove.

Even on a 32-degree day, Manojkumar and Krupanalini Manmohan’s sunny attitude and homey smiles bring their customers back to their food truck. The owners of Indulge India just completed their first year of running the successful business. Former chefs from Chennai, India, the couple started their family operated business back in April after being inspired by The Halal Guys during a trip to New York City. Despite the fact that The Halal Guys sold their food from carts instead of trucks, the Manmohans were struck by the idea of street food.

Drawn by a love for baking, they initially planned to run a truck devoted to cakes. However, after giving it some serious thought, Krupanalini realized that there were already plenty of places for dessert. They not only wanted to bring something unique to the city but also be able to provide people with full meals instead of just a treat. “Indian food, the spices we have, health-wise is really good,” said Krupanalini. “The turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves; the spices that we use in the food itself heals the body. So when they start experiencing different things, they will love it and come back.”

After spending an entire year researching how to run a profitable food truck and why certain food trucks are going out of business, the couple got on the road. In no time, Manojkumar realized that only way to be successful was to vend at popular locations. “The key is making money,” Manojkumar said. “If you get a good spot, you will make money.”

He knew going into the business that obtaining the food truck permit was only the tip of the iceberg. Once it was approved, he had to begin choosing through public locations, private locations and special sites, each of which has its own rules and licensing. Within the licensing process, each location requires food truck owners to complete Requests for Proposals (RFP), after which they propose their ideas by giving elaborate presentations with the hope of being selected.

Unfortunately, he has not been thrilled with all of their spots. Their Monday location at City Hall, for example, has consistently lacked the traffic that they need. On the other hand, their Tuesday location on Belvidere Street, outside the Prudential Center, has proven to be lucrative. According to Manojkumar, a chunk of their customers come from the large South Asian population at the nearby company, Wayfair. 

As newcomers, it took some time for the Manmohans to realize which of their locations were keepers and which needed to be replaced. “This year we lacked knowledge. You learn,” Manojkumar optimistically said. “The first year you learn everything.” After some trial and error, he now has his sights set on the Greenway locations where many food trucks have thrived.

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The Manmohans are packed up and ready to hit the road after a day of vending at City Hall.

Indulge India is most likely one of many mobile markets still working out its kinks in Boston. The city was late to the game of street food, but in just the last five years, the city has welcomed over 100 new food trucks. Although the quantity of vendors is only a handful compared to that of places such as New York City, their popularity has been noteworthy.

Steve Leibowitz, a Boston food truck blogger since 2011, said that the city’s food truck expansion was customer-driven more than anything else. “People found they could get decent food, sometimes adventurous new foods, for a reasonable price. People saw opportunity and they applied for new trucks, which in turn required the city to add spaces.”

Many of the most successful food trucks emerged from restaurant fronts, such as Clover, Chicken and Rice Guys, and Bon Me. Others are lesser-known, small operations that were crafted from scratch, such as Indulge India.

“That said, as far as the city of Boston goes, this year was the first year that through the city’s program, fewer new trucks were added, than those that left the program,” explained Leibowitz. “The city hasn’t adjusted their program, even though working with 60 or so trucks requires different needs than a dozen trucks.”

Even so, the Manmohans are not backing out after a profitable year with no outside help. “We both do everything, A to Z. But she is the production manager,” Manojkumar gestured to his wife as she prepared a meal for a customer. “She does all the cooking inside and I do more of the paperwork, documents, inspections, truck-driving and all.” The two started their business as a family-run operation, but they plan to hire an additional chef as soon as they can afford one.

For now, they have both have jam-packed days that begin with updating their followers about their whereabouts via Facebook and Twitter. Manojkumar has found it useful to tag the nearby offices in his daily tweets because it attracts local workers and allows them to further his advertising by re-tweeting him.

Dipesh Khandpekar, a Wayfair employee and a frequent food truck customer, explained that he has never followed food trucks on social media or tried to locate them. He simply visits them if he stumbles upon them or hears about them by word of mouth. The same applied when it came to Indulge India. “My friends who work with me usually bring food from this truck that’s why I started coming,” said Khandpekar.

Indulge India hasn’t made a significant mark on social media yet, but those who find the truck are likely to return for one of Boston’s only authentic Indian food options, served by welcoming people who love their jobs. As Krupanalini put it, “If you’re giving good service, good product and good quality, and if you maintain it, you will be very successful.”

***Quotes have been altered for the sake of clarification.

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The Power of Will

Take a chunk of your day to read this incredible special report written in the Boston Globe that shows the true progress of medicine: The Power of Will

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Boston Children’s & GE team up

Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital have revealed that the MRIs of children’s brains are often misread. Dr. Richard Robertson, radiologist-in-chief at Children’s told the Boston Globe that most MRIs of children’s brains are done in community hospitals where they do not employ radiologists who specialize in children’s brains. Therefore, doctors easily misread the scans in one of two ways – missing a sign of an issue or diagnosing a non-existent problem.

For this reason, Boston Children’s Hospital and General Electric Co. are partnering to develop software that will help doctors accurately read children’s life-altering MRIs. The idea is that the system will have reference scans from children of all ages for doctors to see worldwide when reading a new pediatric patient’s scans. Children’s and Boston-based GE’s health care sector will create the system during the next year and a half or so and then proceed to market it to hospitals around the globe.

Bernie Monegain, from Healthcare IT News, got a statement from Sanjay Prabhu, MD, pediatric neuroradiologist at Children’s:

“Pediatric brain scans of children under the age of four can be particularly tricky to read because the brain is rapidly developing during this period of childhood. Since pediatric neuroradiologists are very scarce, we approached GE Healthcare to collaborate on the development of digital tools to help physicians of varying expertise read the scans.”

This software is part of a greater effort. Over the course of the next few years, GE’s Health Cloud is hoping to support hundreds of “apps” for doctors to use to sort through medical data.

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Research on what triggers allergies

About 50 million Americans have allergies. According to the 2014 National Health Survey, approximately 10 percent of children have hay fever, 12 percent have skin allergies, and 5 percent have food allergies. And yet, until now, allergy treatments haven’t changed much in years.

Fortunately, scientists who study the immune system have recently started to understand exactly how allergies develop. Using that knowledge they are beginning their work on new allergy treatments that intend to stop allergies altogether, instead of just treating their symptoms.

One of the approaching therapies sprung from Nestlé’s $145 million investment in a startup called Aimmune that focuses on eliminating peanut allergies. They are working on creating a peanut desensitization pill, AR101, that will slowly wean patients off the allergy. The company came upon this idea after they identified the peanut proteins that cause allergic reactions. They are filling the pills with those exact proteins with the goal of having patients immune to the substance. Patients would start with a tiny dose and overtime they would work their way towards taking the same dose that one peanut contains.

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Photo (cc) Daniella Segura

The company website states:

“We believe that the level of desensitization potentially provided by AR101 will decrease the likelihood that a patient will suffer a severe allergic reaction. In addition, we believe that successful treatment with AR101 may result in less severe allergic reactions if a patient is exposed to larger amounts of peanut protein. Our hope is that these results would increase the quality of life of peanut allergy patients and their families.”

Although it’s a simple invention, the pill is currently still going through clinical trials and is predicted to be a game-changer.

Other investments have been made with the plan of working towards similar goals as Aimmune. A donation of $24 million to set up an allergy research center at Stanford University has led the researchers at Stanford to branch out further on the idea of desensitization. The Broad Institute of Cambridge, Mass. is also beginning research on the science behind food allergies.

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The C-Brace that created “Iron Will”

Earlier this month, I discussed the progress being made in prosthetics and yesterday our class briefly looked over a relevant multimedia feature in The Boston Globe. Not only is this feature journalistically impressive with its photography, writing, and graphics, but it is also an incredible example of life-changing technology and medicine.

Stacey Kozel, better known as “Iron Will,” was diagnosed with lupus when she was 19-years-old. The autoimmune disease took away her ability to walk as well as some mobility in her arms and hands. But with the help of her C-Braces, Kozel went after her goal of hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The custom electronic leg brace is a computer controlled knee ankle foot orthosis (KAFO). It was designed to improve “lower-limb mobility issues” for people who suffer from problems such as partial paralysis and spinal cord injuries. Unlike wheelchairs and locked knee braces, the C-Braces allow people to continue their daily lives fairly normally.

This is not to say that Kozel smoothly sailed through her hikes. There were bumps along the way, which set her back and often even made her consider returning home. During one of her hikes, her brace constantly malfunctioned and eventually lost its charge. She trekked on for hours with a locked brace and swollen legs. That day she didn’t complete her hike, but she returned, ambitious as ever to finish what she had started.

There isn’t a perfect solution for people in Kozel’s position and there may never be. We can’t say for sure. But without the C-Brace, Kozel wouldn’t have been able to spend her time the way she wanted. Her fellow hikers would have never named her “Iron Will” for her relentless efforts and refusal to give up.

Kozel shared her optimism with The Boston Globe:

“I try not to think about it, but it’s always in the back of my head. That’s why it’s important to enjoy life, laugh, and get outside everyday.”

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Delayed clinical trials for “smart” contact lenses

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Photo (cc) Novartis AG

Novartis took back its 2016 date for testing its autofocus contact lens on people, reported Reuters. Verily Life Sciences, a sector of Google, partnered with Alcon, a division of Novartis to develop this groundbreaking product two years ago, but are currently experiencing delays.

Last year, Chief Executive Joe Jimenez said that his company’s Alcon eye care unit was on track to begin testing in 2016. As of now, they are unsure as to when human clinical trials will begin. Novartis

The two companies are developing two kinds of “smart” contact lenses: 1. An autofocusing lens for people with far-sightedness, 2. A glucose-sensing contact lens for diabetes patients to measure blood-glucose levels.

John Smith, a former executive with Johnson & Johnson, called their efforts “faith-based science.” He told STAT that attempts to measure glucose from sweat, saliva, and tears have been unsuccessful for decades. The teams from Alcon and Verily were aware of the challenges from the very beginning, but they say that for producing cutting-edge technology, their efforts thus far have been solid. Slowly but surely.

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