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

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Pinup Panini will roll hot, freshly-made paninis all over D.C., for breakfast, lunch and late-night customers.
Cori Bryant
Pinup Panini will roll hot, freshly-made paninis all over D.C., for breakfast, lunch and late-night customers.

Northeast D.C. resident 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."

Though Bryant has spent years working in the food industry — for everyone from Disney to Hard Rock Café to Potbelly to Open City -- she didn't know the first thing about food trucks when she hatched this plan a year-and-a-half ago.

A major surprise, she says, was the price of generators.

"I just sort of thought, 'oh you get this big RV generator and that's how your truck works!'" Bryant says with a laugh. "But it's a dollar a watt. So if you have 10,000 watts worth of equipment that needs to be run, you have to buy a $10,000 generator.

"So you go in, and you have all these wild dreams and then you sort of like scale back a bit."

Bryant wound up buying an 8,000-watt generator.

"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," she explains. "So it's a little bit like your studio apartment and flushings! You just gotta do what you can with what you have."

Pinup Panini will serve hot, made-to-order Panini sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, and then again late at night.

"I've managed restaurants for years," Bryant says, "but I've also been a bartender for years. So, I love being out [late]."

But something else she's learned is D.C. has special regulations when it comes to food trucks doing business late at night.

"I think most of our regulations are pretty fair, and they're there to keep people safe," Bryant says. "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 'til 3:00 and people get hungry."

Another rope Cori Bryant is learning has to do with rented commercial kitchen space: something D.C. requires all food trucks to have. Pinup Panini is sharing a commercial kitchen with fellow food trucks Bayou Brothers, Stella's Popcorn and Pleasant Pops.

"I have a freezer and I have a refrigerator and I have prep space," Bryant says. "But it's divided like a commissary. Everyone has their own area, but we all share soaps and things to keep clean, and we also share time.

"I got a break in the price because I was able to prep at night. Everyone else wants morning prep hours. 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." Bryant hopes to launch Pinup Panini in October. Til then, she has advice for anyone else out there looking to open a food truck: focus on menu development.

"If you walk into any restaurant whether it's a food truck or a fast food, it's all about your menu," Bryant says. "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 a flat top and a refrigerator and maybe a fryer, it adds up really, really quickly."

Her other piece of advice is this: "find something you're passionate about." In Cori Bryant's case, she loves breakfast, so "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?


[Music: "No Particular Place To Go" by The Toy Dolls from The History 1976-1996: Disk One]

Photos: Pinup Panini

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