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Gourmet on the go The food truck phenomenon

Owner: Jon Hepner

Headquarters: Verona

Cuisine: Authentic Thai

Aroy-D, The Thai Elephant

Owner: Jon Hepner

Headquarters: Verona

Cuisine: Authentic Thai

Signature dish: Pad Thai; mango and sticky rice

Founded: 2011 (in 2014, Hepner and his wife, Pupay, opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Verona): “I opened the restaurant so that when the truck was out, the restaurant was making money back home, too,” Hepner said.

Background: Hepner previously worked in information technology before marrying his wife, who trained as a chef at a culinary institute in Bangkok, Thailand. “I’m not looking to make $1 million from this,” he said. “I’m looking to take care of my family and have a nice life.”

Expansion plans: Hepner said he soon will be unveiling a second truck focusing on Thai desserts called Ice Cream Thai’M.

One more thing: “Hepner utilized his business — just over a year old at the time — to provide free food to those affected by Hurricane Sandy in Ortley Beach for seven weekends in 2012.”

Empanada Guy

Owner: Carlos Serrano

Headquarters: Freehold

Cuisine: Latin Spanish

Signature dish: Sweet and savory empanadas; Cuban sandwiches

Founded: 2012 (a restaurant was founded in 2014): “The food trucks built the restaurant,” Serrano said. “The company needed an identity, a brick-and-mortar to consider home base. When people can’t make the truck, they know they can at least go to the restaurant. It’s big enough to act as my commissary kitchen, too.”

Expansion plans: Contacted by food manufacturers in Pennsylvania and Florida to bring his products to supermarkets.

One more thing: Serrano, who struggled tremendously financially to the point of bankruptcy, had to bring his three daughters — now ages 16, 13 and 6 — to restaurants and delis while trying to sell his wholesale empanadas. “You just continue to get up in the morning when your kids tell you, ‘Daddy, you can do it!’” he said. “I succeeded out of anger and desperation. There was only one way.”

Polkadot Cupcake Shop

Owner: Arlene M. Altschuler

Headquarters: Nutley

Cuisine: Custom gourmet sweet treats, including cupcakes, cookies and cakes.

Signature dish: Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Pretzel Cupcake; Cannoli Cones

Founded: 2011 (made-to-order dessert catering); truck in 2013. “People were asking where they could buy just one or two cupcakes, but because I was renting a kitchen by the hour, that just wasn’t possible,” Altschuler said. “I had to do something to be more accessible without being ready for store overhead.”

Background: Altschuler was employed in human resources management before obtaining her master’s degree in marriage therapy.

Expansion plans: Recently expanded into a storefront in Nutley. “I’m still baking in commercial space and loading onto the truck,” Altschuler said.

One more thing: Altschuler had taken up baking as a way to reduce stress. “It was so crazy to me that people were paying me for something I really enjoyed doing,” she said.

Pompier Catering and Cuisine

Owner: F. Scott Belgard

Headquarters: Hightstown

Cuisine: Three brands: Pierogi Flats (fusion pierogi); Carib (Caribbean street food); Pompier Street (authentic global street foods).

Signature dish: Butternut bacon pierogi with brown butter, caramelized onions, crème fraiche and chives (Pierogi Flats); coconut-curried chicken with jicama slaw and grilled naan (Carib).

Founded: 2013 (Started catering with help from his fellow volunteer firemen in 2008): “The reason behind the truck was to have a mobile kitchen to support the catering, especially for big weddings and festivals,” Belgard said. The truck carries enough food to serve 1,000 people a day.

Expansion plans: “I would like to be able to have both trucks — Pierogi Flats and Carib — at the same event, representing two different brands,” Belgard said.

One more thing: The gourmet pierogi and Eastern European fare concept for Pompier Catering and Cuisine was born out of necessity. “When I looked at the industry, I saw that most ideas were already utilized: tacos, BBQ, etc.,” Belgard said.

Surf and Turf Truck

Co-owner: Mike Barlettano

Headquarters: Hamilton

Cuisine: Yin and yang — lobster and beef; soft and crunchy; sweet and spicy.

Signature dish: Four different types of lobster rolls, using domestic and wild-caught seafood without fillers or preservatives, sautéed kale and locally baked bread.

Founded: 2012, by Adam Browne and Beata Browne. Barlettano and his girlfriend, Cindy Matas, joined last August. The Brownes took the other truck to Florida in December.

Background: Barlettano had been a trader on Wall Street who took courses at the Culinary Institute of America in New York in his spare time. “Operating a food truck gives you a lot more freedom,” he said. “I’m really happy I left my old world to do it.”

Expansion plans: The goal is to open a brick-and-mortar seafood market and grill while building up catering opportunities at weddings and parties.

One more thing: Surf and Turf Truck runs an event in Mercer County Park called “Food Truck Fiesta.” Last spring, it attracted 16,000 people by inviting 40 food trucks.

Meg Fry

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