One of the great advantages of food trucks is that owners are on the truck daily. This brings a tight bond between the owner and their hungry patrons. Since many of us only get that small time between ordering and grabbing our food, I wanted to help bring us together. That’s when I got the idea, Behind The Wheel. Gets me back to telling the story and further enjoying – being around food trucks. This week I highlight MANNA.
I wish I practiced more what I preached. I encourage people to be adventurous in their food choices. I wander to scout out places that may not look flashy. I open this week’s Behind The Wheel with this thought, because I remember the first time I saw MANNA. It was parked at the Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo next to the Wells Fargo building at the corner of Hargett and Fayetteville. It stood there like a mustard-colored box with wheels and a red banner with white lettering saying “MANNA”. Normally, I’d be first to jump in, but the food snob (aka “the foodie devil”) sat on my shoulder and said, “Nah!”
This is the first time I’ve shunned Manna. But the menu should have made this an easy “heck yeah!” decision, when it highlighted Fried Fish Sliders, Jerk Chicken Tacos, and Pimento Cheese sliders. I recall, “Why am I passing this up?” One day, I stopped by Big Boss on my way to another event Downtown. I saw on Twitter that MANNA was at Big Boss and proclaimed today would be the day. Still wanting to dip my toes in the water, I safely ordered the Fried Fish Sliders and Fries. When the food was presented and I sat it on the table, I noticed the sliders had this orange sauce on it. I had not asked what all came on the sliders, by this point I just dove lips first. As my lips and the sauce met, beads of sweat formed on my forehead. “Man that’s got a little kick,” I thought. Turns out MANNA likes to put a little sirracha aioli on their sliders. “I think I like this truck,” I concluded.
I visited MANNA a few more times wandering the menu. When I finally grab the courage to introduce myself to Ryan and really talk to him, I couldn’t believe the vast chef experience he had.
How did this all begin?
Ryan started cooking professionally at the age of 16 in Maine. His career really took off at Weathervane Seafood in Maine and quickly moved up the ranks to Kitchen Manager. His career progressed further and moved him to Upstate New Yorkand worked as chef with Coyote Grille. He loved cooking and spent 100+ hours a week working as a line cook. Soon he made his way down to Triangle area, where he started working on the Corporate/Executive track with The Pointe in the Five Points area. It was his next stop that brought on some stories that he enjoyed what he was doing was when worked at Nana’s Chophouse, which later became The Pit in Raleigh. The part he liked was the open kitchen where patrons could sit at the seats facing the kitchen. It was entertaining and the kitchen staff were a lot of fun. The last spot he has been spotted was occasionally at 18 Seaboard. Lately, though Ryan’s been focusing primarily on MANNA.
Why did you get in the food truck business?
It all started with Tim Boone’s Sabrett hot dog stands. One day, Ryan started selling hot dogs in front of Lowe’s. Soon he got a following and customers started to frequent his stand just because Ryan was there. Then one day, he thought of bringing the hot dogs out to New Hope Valley, a train that travels around for fun in the Southwest region of the Triangle. It was a success and soon he began thinking could he expand his culinary experiences into his own venture.
Wanting to transform his career from a executive/corporate track and more entrepreneurial hebought the current trailer he has now. I have asked him a couple times trailer versus truck and Ryan is pro-trailer. While it is pain to setup and breakdown, he still prefers the trailer model. The other thing he enjoys is his low cost of ownership, which he trickles down to keep his prices low. The higher priced items he’s had is Shrimp and Grits (priced at $8.50) and Soft Shell Crab (priced at $10), which I personally wish I had eaten this season.
What is your cuisine?
Ryan gives off a slight chuckle and explains how he started off trained in Old European cooking. His first teacher an Egyptian with trained in Italian cuisine living in America. As he tells me this, the menu starts to make sense. It truly is a blender of flavors. He calls it a Mediterranean and Caribbean fusion, which the thought of “Global Seafood” hits my mind.
His focus is to keep local, but tries to keep organic as well. Ryan is very price conscious wanting his food to good and priced well. As a result, organic trumps local when purchasing ingredients. Ryan grows some of the items, too, as you will notice the slow heat hitting the back of the palette with the Jerk Chicken Tacos. A guest comes up to give Ryan praise on the tacos’ deliciousness. The guest asks, “Poblano? Cerrano?” and Ryan reveals there are Scotch Bonnets in the tacos. I get to witness this heat first hand. As my wife, grabbed a taco (and I wrestling with my camera) a noticed a doppler-like effect. My wife eating quietly, as the Scotch Bonnets’ heat hits my wife’s back palette. The heat’s slow delay is acknowledged as my wife lets out a “Whew!” in response.
So what is next?
Right now MANNA is changing its menu from a Summer menu to more Fall. We will start to see Smoked Chicken Apple Sausage, the Fish Sliders will become Fish and Chips, and more hearty items. With the trailer paid for, Ryan can position himself for MANNA’s next strategy. He mentions a larger trailer, which will allow for more equipment and more cuisine options. But he acknowledges, a larger trailer might take up more space and limit his location options. He also mentioned the possibility of building a commissary close to home.
What is your favorite item?
The Jerk Chicken Tacos has to be one of his favorites. Many items have heat added to them, but overall the Jerk Chicken Tacos really turn up the temperature thanks to the Scotch Bonnets. The Pimento Cheese Slider is another, which again has a Habanero Bacon Jam that really keep your taste buds on its toes. I love the light breading on it, thanks to less bread and more egg used in the process.
I’ve bought the Pimento Cheese slider multiple times, which is one my favorites
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