Transcripts

Pinup Panini Navigates The Challenges Of D.C.'s Food Truck Business

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and now that school's back in session we're bringing you an entire hour about learning. We visited Howard University where academic renewal is changing things up, campus wide. We've meet tourist farmers who put in long hours learning to work the land and in just a bit we'll head to D.C.'s only full-service music store for some lessons on music and life.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:35
To kick off this part of the show though, we're going to learn the ropes of a very particular business as we take a little road trip.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:43
Hello.

MS. CORI BRYANT

00:00:44
How are you? Thanks for coming.

SHEIR

00:00:45
Well, thanks for taking me along with you on this adventure.

SHEIR

00:00:50
My fellow adventurer here is Northeast D.C. resident Cori Bryant.

BRYANT

00:00:55
Do you need more room for your stuff?

SHEIR

00:00:56
I'm good, I'm good.

BRYANT

00:00:57
Okay.

SHEIR

00:00:57
And actually, today's adventure was kind of unexpected.

SHEIR

00:01:02
So where are exactly is this place?

BRYANT

00:01:04
All the way in Manassas.

SHEIR

00:01:06
Here's the story. Cori Bryant is about to launch a new business. A breakfast, lunch and late-night food truck, with a vintage/retro/1940s theme, called "Pinup Panini." See, Cori has spent years working in the food industry.

BRYANT

00:01:19
I used to work down here.

SHEIR

00:01:21
Did you really?

BRYANT

00:01:22
Yes, I was the catering manager for a lot of these potbelly sandwich companies through here.

SHEIR

00:01:26
She's also put in time for Disney and Hard Rock Café. These days, she manages and bartends at Open City in Woodley Park. But about a year-and-a-half ago she thought why not take all this expertise and start a food truck. Then last week when Cori was finally driving her tricked out 1988 Chevy Box truck home from East Coast Custom Coaches in Manassas.

BRYANT

00:01:49
I'm listening to like victorious music and I'm so excited and all of a sudden I realize I have flip-flops and my foot is very hot and I literally lick the little, the gauges, so I can see and I cleared the dust out and it's on "H," it's overheating. So I blew a water pump and there's a limited amount of places that you can take it because they have to have bays big enough in order to take a truck that size. So I ended up taking it to a place called Donald Rice Tire.

SHEIR

00:02:20
And this morning, Cori and I arrive at Donald Rice Tire. But her truck, whose walls feature a 1940s pinup girl and whose name, Cori tells me, is Betty.

BRYANT

00:02:32
Betty Grable, Betty Paige.

SHEIR

00:02:34
Isn't ready to come home.

BRYANT

00:02:36
Hey, what's going on? How are you? Do you have any information?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ONE

00:02:39
I don't have it yet. I mean, the parts are ordered, they're coming in today.

BRYANT

00:02:42
Okay, cool.

ONE

00:02:43
I'll get it.

BRYANT

00:02:44
We're just going to go look at the truck then, okay?

ONE

00:02:46
Okay.

BRYANT

00:02:46
Thank you.

SHEIR

00:02:47
Now, again, this is not how this interview was supposed to go. With Pinup Panini's original launch date of October 1st, Cori and I had planned on driving Betty around, noshing on dulce de leche and bacon paninis, but as a newbie to the food-truck biz, Cori Bryant is quickly learning that things don't always go as planned. So after we climb into Betty's compact stainless steel kitchen.

SHEIR

00:03:11
Anyone in here?

BRYANT

00:03:12
Yes, this is where the magic happens.

SHEIR

00:03:14
Wow.

SHEIR

00:03:15
Which is decked out with a cooler, refrigerator, sinks, a flattop.

BRYANT

00:03:19
And then the granddaddy of all panini makers.

SHEIR

00:03:23
The Panini Supremo.

BRYANT

00:03:26
Very special.

SHEIR

00:03:27
Cori talks about the surprising things she's learned so far. like, say, the price of generators.

BRYANT

00:03:33
I just sort of thought, oh you get this big RV generator and that's how your truck works. But it's a dollar a watt. So if you have, you know, 10,000 watts worth of equipment that needs to be run, you have to buy a $10,000 generator. So, you know, you go in, and you have all these wild dreams and then you sort of like scale back a bit.

SHEIR

00:03:52
What generator did you end up going with?

BRYANT

00:03:54
I have an 8,000-watt generator so if I have my two panini makers on and my refrigerator that always has to run, when I brew coffee, I've got to turn down the panini makers. So it's a little bit like, you know, your studio apartment and flushings. You know, you just gotta do what you can with what you have.

SHEIR

00:04:15
So you're going to be breakfast, lunch and then like late night. There's not a whole lot of that going on in Washington.

BRYANT

00:04:19
I know, you know, I've managed restaurants for years, but I've also been a bartender for years. So, I love being out in the mix but there's also regulations about that. I think most of our regulations are pretty fair, and they're there to keep people safe. But I would like to go on record saying that I'm not really sure why we're not allowed to be out on Friday and Saturday nights later than 1:30. Our bars don't close until 3:00 and people get hungry.

SHEIR

00:04:45
Something that I found surprising, I was speaking with you a couple of weeks back because we were planning this interview and you mentioned you share commercial kitchen space?

BRYANT

00:04:53
Yeah, yeah. Bayou Brothers and Stella's Popcorn's in there in Pleasant Pops. I have a freezer and I have a refrigerator and I have prep space. But it's divided like a commissary. You, like, everyone has their own area, but we all share soaps and things to keep clean and then we also share time. One thing is that I got a little bit of a break in the price because I was able to prep at night because everyone else wants morning prep hours.

BRYANT

00:05:19
Well, I'm going to be serving breakfast in the morning so I'm going to prep from 2-6. And they're all going to be gone and so that's why it works. But it's all shared space and every single food truck works out of a commercial kitchen. It's part of the D.C. regulations.

SHEIR

00:05:34
All right, so at this point in your education in the food truck world, what advice would you give someone else who's maybe tossing around the idea of starting a food-truck of his or her own?

BRYANT

00:05:44
Menu development. If you walk into any restaurant whether it's a food truck or a fast food, it's all about your menu. And I had my menu pretty set because you can waste a lot of money not knowing what you want on your truck. If you just put like a flat top and, oh I need a refrigerator and maybe I need a fryer, it adds up really, really quickly.

BRYANT

00:06:04
And then find something you're passionate about. I love breakfast. I'm going to be happy making that and I'm going to feel good about giving that to DC. So I'm hoping that they'll show me some love back, you know?

SHEIR

00:06:17
Cori Bryant is hoping to get Betty up and rolling next month. In the meantime, for more on Pinup Panini and to read about what it takes to start a food-truck in Washington D.C., visit our website, metroconnection.org. And if you're a food truck fan, here's an event that may be up your alley, the Trucktoberfest Curbside Cook off is being held September 22nd, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm at the brand-new Union Market. We have more details over at metroconnection.org.
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