PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Food trucks and late-night dining are two of the hottest trends on college campuses. At 2,400-student Rhode Island School of Design a mobile food truck, named Rosie, satisfies both trends. Pierre St-Germain, executive chef/associate director of dining and catering services, says the food truck model made sense for a late-night option because of the all-hours schedules of design students.
“Our student body is extremely engaged in the portability of their food. Since we are a design school, working on projects in the students’ studios is important,” St-Germain says. “They like to be able to grab their food and go to their studios as opposed to sitting and eating together. [The desire for portability] coupled with the fact that these students tend to be up late working in their studios means they need portable late-night options. The truck is open from about 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.”
Hitting the road: The process for getting Rosie up and running on RISD’s campus was not an easy one, according to St-Germain. After extensive research about different trucks, the department found a truck, for the right price, in California.
“Our business manager found the truck in southern California so he started developing a dialogue with the owners,” St-Germain says. “This was an older model that the owners were selling off. We negotiated a price and in the price we managed to negotiate that they would upgrade a few things to bring it up to code for us. Then we had it shipped from California.”
Once the truck made it to RISD, the department assessed the equipment and started developing the menu.
“I wanted the menu to be a cross between diner food and [international comfort food],” St-Germain says. “The menu was designed to be items that could be produced within a three-to-five-minute time frame. Beyond that we also really wanted to use a lot of local products. For example, for the steak sandwich we use local steak. The tortillas for the tacos are from a local producer.”
The menu features items such as New England-style hot dogs called saugies, a grilled cheese, a pulled pork sandwich, a steak and onion sandwich, Irish-style nachos [french fries instead of chips], black bean quesadilla, Vietnamese-style bún, Singapore noodles and vegetable stir-fry.
St-Germain says the menu also tries to offer healthy options but since Rosie is open late nights it is tough to strike a balance with healthy and what the students want late at night. The truck also sells chili, chips, yogurt, whole fresh fruit, brownies, churros, cookies, doughnuts, sodas, teas and juices. The truck accepts student meal plans and credit and debit cards but no cash. St-Germain says since the truck is a late-night option the department didn’t want to deal with cash.
Personality: Customers place orders at one window and pick them up at a second. In between the windows is a large ice bay for bottled beverages. One of the biggest parts of giving the truck personality was coming up with the name.
“A couple of different [stories] went in to coming up with the name,” St-Germain says. “First, our school was founded in 1877 by women, so the idea of a strong female character was attractive to us. We also used to have an employee who we worked with named Rosemary Schultz who had worked with us for 14 years. She actually left RISD, but on good terms, and a year after she left us she passed away. We thought it might be a nice nod to name the truck for her because throughout the whole time she was here she was the one saying we need a food truck. When we were having the discussion about naming it, Gennie [Dunleavy, director of dining for RISD] brought up the idea of naming it for Rosemary. We were all like, absolutely.”
St-Germain says the department operates the truck with two employees, sometimes three during rush periods or special events. Social media has been integral with Rosie, serving as the place students go to find out where and when Rosie is going to be out selling.
“We have almost 500 friends on Facebook,” St-Germain says. “If you are a friend of Rosie you’ll get the message that we are going to be in such and such a place. We also try to increase sales by parking at different events around campus and the community. We just parked outside the first basketball game of the season. Sales really depend on the time of year and the truck’s location. A good day of sales on a normal operating day is $600. When we do special events we can do anywhere between $1,500 or $2,000.”
St-Germain says one of the biggest challenges the department faced with the truck was simply the fact that it was an older model.
“The first year we got it we had an issue with the propane tank and because of the type of truck it is it was tricky,” St-Germain says. “Newer trucks have back-mounted propane tanks. Ours
is undercarriage mounted, so it’s tucked up inside the truck. That had to be replaced early on. You have to be proactive about maintenance on it. Otherwise it runs very well.”
Another challenge with the food truck is knowing what to do with it when the students aren’t around, says St-Germain. Dining served lunches during the summer and plans to bring the truck to more events.
“We have to make our own bread and butter,” St-Germain says. “I’m always on the lookout for events or somewhere to take the truck. It’s a balance of trying to figure out what the next great events are for our truck.”