Eastern Market's Food Trucks Give Diners Choices
On a sunny Saturday, in a bricked courtyard outside Eastern Market’s Shed 5, lines snake like mazes of tangled cords leading to food trucks parked along the outer edges. Grosse Pointers Laura and Adam Hull make it a point to grab lunch at the food trucks whenever they bring their family to the market.
“It’s worth getting up for in the morning. We usually come here and then we always get beignets, of course,” says Laura Hull, adding that their daughters sing about beignets the night before. She and her husband are regulars at the El Guapo Grill truck—they’re all about the chicken tacos—and by the looks of their daughters’ tomato-sauce-speckled faces they’re likely to return to Saucy Joe’s truck. “We’ll have to try this one again.”
It’s a place where a multitude of options converge. That’s part of the beauty of the food truck court, says Dan Gearig of El Guapo—Fresh Mexican Grill. “I come from a big family. I love opportunities with good price points where people can have a field day,” Gearig says. Besides, “everyone’s amazed by a food truck—the young, the old—everyone loves it.” And Gearig loves the new courtyard space, built out for the food trucks last year during Shed 5’s renovation. “They nailed it,” he says.
The Hulls aren’t alone in falling for El Guapo’s chicken, always a big seller, but the pork belly confit gets everyone talking. “We took the most decadent cut of meat we know, which is pork belly, and added the most decadent seasoning. It’s a little bit of artwork,” he says.
Gearig started in the food truck industry about eight years ago during Michigan’s film incentive era. When the state axed the incentives, Gearig and his wife, Lindsay, considered a change. It was short-lived when Detroit’s fresh new food truck industry beckoned them back.
Although “taco trucks” were prevalent in southwest Detroit, few legally licensed trucks existed in downtown or Metro Detroit. Within two years, and after working through ordinance issues, more than half a dozen popped up, he says. A new one was the Mac Shack, a brainchild of the Gearigs serving up mac and cheese in a variety of forms, plus fries. Last year longtime employees Chris Damon, Ben Beazley and Bryan Sutton bought the Mac Shack from Gearig.
“It made perfect sense, and we’re just so proud of them. It’s a win-win. It works with both brands,” says Gearig. “All the people I respect in this game, they know their concept. They have laser-beam focus.”
Like Gearig and the others, Mark Hausner and Michele Pearson have that focus. “All we do is beignets,” says Hausner, manager of the aptly named Beignets that features the deep-fried New Orleans delicacy pronounced ben-YEY, the French term for pastry. The food truck offers a variety of flavors, as well as cronets, made from a combination of donut and croissant dough, plus chicory coffee.
Hausner says he and Pearson became enamored with beignets while in New Orleans, and he marveled at their absence in French-founded Detroit. Three years ago, the pair decided to remedy that. With dough made by Golden Wheat bakery in Hamtramck, Beignets started as a food truck to see how the community would respond and stayed in it because it works. “On a busy Saturday we’ll sell 1,500 beignets, minimum,” Hausner says. “Every donut is made hot and fresh. We cook them right on the spot.”
Joe Sciamanna loves the market’s energy too. “The Eastern Market people, the staff, our customer base, it feels like family. It feels like home,” says Sciamanna, the Joe behind Saucy Joe’s Food Truck. “It’s a beautiful thing.” Sciamanna loves feeding people—he’s Italian—so food trucks made sense when he wanted to peddle what his friends and family called his killer sauce. “There needs to be a vehicle, no pun intended, so people could try it,” he says.
In 2011 he bought his first food truck, following it up three years later with the Good Vibrations Groovy Food and Gelato, a second, smaller truck that serves panini and gelato. For Saucy Joe’s big truck, the top seller is their meatball sandwich, a ciabatta filled with beef meatballs, provolone and the house Racy Sauce, one of two signature tomato sauces. The most popular side is garlic knots, served piping hot with sauce for dipping. And amid the gnocchi and pastas, Saucy Joe’s is also becoming known for the Scarface Panini, their take on a Cubano.
Being part of the energy that fuels Eastern Market just keeps getting better and better, says Sciamanna. “It’s the place to be on Saturday. If you’re anywhere else, you’re in the wrong place.”
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