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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About ishasinghal

My name is Isha Singhal and I am from Andover, Massachusetts. I am a senior at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and I am majoring in Journalism and minoring in Art. This blog contains my assignments for my Journalism class, but it might also occasionally display pieces that I write on my own time. Those extra features will most likely expose you to my inner foodie and world traveler.
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