Necessity is the mother of invention.
We’ve all had those nights, getting home late from work, hungry, nothing specific planned, survey the fridge and a wee bit later have a meal that is one to remember. Now imagine being in a similar situation but instead of creating dinner, the result was a business concept that steamrollered over all preconceived ideas about the humble baked potato. That’s Hunger Construction.
First appearing on Montclair streets earlier this summer, Hunger Construction is the brainchild of Aaron Rosenzweig. After an unplanned career change Rosenzweig gathered his thoughts and dreams, realized one of his greatest skills was that of an entrepreneur, and the rest is becoming history.
Construction theme is carried throughout the concept, the logo is a stylized construction sign, the menu features stylized road signs, there are even “road closed” signs to slap over the menu when something sells out. The theme even carries through to the menu where the signature stuffed potatoes are called “cement mixers.” Upon first hearing the name customers might be a bit baffled, but once they catch sight of them they realize that they bear a striking resemblance to the cement mixers that were a part of our hot wheels collection. The big different between the cement mixers of childhood and these is that the “cement” is actually vegetables, and cheese, and bacon instead of Barbie’s shoes or whatever else we stole from our sisters as kids.
I recently caught up with Hunger Construction at the Farmer’s Market on Walnut Street on a recent Saturday and was in spud heaven. I arrived too late for the breakfast menu, but had the chance to sample the daytime menu. Exclamation of the day came from a customer who drove buy with her purchase exclaiming “it’s like a burrito in a potato.” That is perhaps the best way to describe “cement mixers” to anyone who has not seen one, yet. But they’re so much better than that!
Mornings feature Stuffed Baked Breakfast Potatoes. With Breakfast potatoes there are full sides and bottoms, making them the ideal container for one handed eating without the worry of fillings falling out the bottom or the side unrolling as is the case with burritos. (don’t make that face, you know you’ve done it, burrito fillings everywhere except you mouth). Currently there are two breakfast options : Cheesy Street, which has Cheddar-Jack cheese and scrambled eggs and Western Way that adds starts on Cheesy Street and adds ham, peppers, and onions. The crowd over at Mountainside Hospital are quite fond of Western Way on Friday mornings.
At lunch and dinner the options get even better with offerings like “Cordon Court” which is inspired by the French Classic: sliced chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, and Swiss all stuffed into a potato. How about a Border Run: Taco style meat with taco fixings. There’s even a Rueben style potato as well as vegetarian options. It gets better, Hunger Construction has been inspired by SoTastyVegan’s Sally Owens to offer Vegan choices as well. The full menu is available at http://www.hungerconstruction.com/
The potatoes are great, but the other filling part of the story is about the business itself. The Hunger Construction truck is a California Style food truck from the mid 1980’s. Most of the trucks in Montclair have the appearance of delivery trucks, with a small service window and a door in the rear of the truck that result in work areas going along the sides of the truck limiting window areas. California style trucks have a solid back which is where the main cooking area is. That means that the service windows on the right side of the truck can be huge. At present only one of the windows on Hunger Construction is used, but once the business grows its completely possible that both windows will be opened to better serve customers. Another cool thing: Square. Hunger Construction accepts credit cards using the mobile phone compatible Square system. I cannot begin to detail how many times I spotted the truck, was tempted to stop, thinking I could not get a cement mixer because I didn’t have cash – ARGH!
On Saturday I was surprised at the incredible volume that was served: 60 potatoes by the time I left the Farmer’s Market. In speaking to Aaron I discovered that what kept them from doing 70, or 80, or 120 cement mixers was the equipment on the truck. The original goal of selling 30 spuds a day was surpassed this summer – Hunger Construction is now operating at capacity. There have even been early closings because of sell outs (pretty cool problem, eh?). Great food is great, but when there is a great story behind the food it’s so much better. Being an older truck, that didn’t have a real need for an oven, the essential equipment on board is limiting. The electrical systems are less than accommodating as well. (Everyone who has had a cement mixer outside the Wellmont on performance night knows things could be a bit brighter)
I had to pry, just had to, how does a business that has reached all of its goals earlier than expected take that next leap in a market where traditional financing is not available for start-ups? This is where I was schooled on some of the new tools available for small business (pay attention class!).
Aaron Rosenzweig is using Kickstarter.com to obtain funding for new electrification for the Hunger Construction. Kickstarter is an online grassroots funding tool that allows small businesses to obtain funding from their supporters, fans, and friends. The Hunger Construction project is called “Operation Electrification” and can be found here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/786090769/operation-electrification. What’s brilliant about Kickstarter is that supporters receive rewards but even better, support can be as little as $1. Here’s my guilt trip : if you love the cement mixers and think everyone should have the experience why not kick in $5, or $20, or heck got for it and kick in $500. Regardless of what people kick in, they’ll know they were the part of starting something really cool.
Summary: The Potatoes are great; Square is cool; Kickstarter can help small businesses grow. And since I focused so much attention on the cool stuff this week I think I might have to go back and do a full menu tasting and write about it real soon.
Unlike fixed location eateries, Hunger Construction is on four wheels, follow the truck on twitter at https://twitter.com/hungerconstruct