NORTHWOODS - When you go out to eat, you usually think of typical brick and mortar restaurants, but a few local businesses might be turning the tide right here in the Northwoods just by working out of a truck.
"It's actually a growing community," says Chumpot Ratanawong, owner and operator of the Hanuman Express food truck. "It's nice because we talk to each other, we bounce ideas off each other."
You might see them on street corners or in other business's parking lots.
But one thing's for sure: you're going to get a delicious, made-from-scratch meal from passionate people like Ratanawong.
"I was in Chicago," says Ratanawong. "I was working an advertising job, and I just kind of got sick of that world. I've always loved cooking, so even when I was working that other job, I was always cooking and having Sunday dinners and that kind of thing, so I kind of just translated that into my food truck, because that's what I really love to do."
There aren't many places to get Thai food in northcentral Wisconsin, which makes the Hanuman Express that much more unique.
"I've always grown up with Thai food," says Ratanawong. "I've learned a lot from my mother, because she's a great cook. I've also kind of experimented on my own as well."
Those experiments turn into some of the best foods on the menu, and that's good, considering the lines can run as long as the truck itself.
"The main thing is just being prepared for it," says Ratanawong. "Sometimes we over-prepare, sometimes we under-prepare, depending on whatever. But we like to be ready for the crowds that come, and the better prepared we are, the better we're able to handle the long lines."
Though the work might be tougher, being in a food truck makes it well worth it.
"It's easier in the fact that there's less overhead," says Ratanawong. "You don't have to pay as much staff, I guess. So the costs of actually running it are better. Plus the advantage is that, they always talk about location being key. Well, if you're in a food truck, if you're in a bad spot, then you just move. It's as easy as that."
One food truck that seems to have found their perfect spot is Lola's Lunchbox in Phillips.
Settled into the parking lot of the R-Store gas station, they're now a staple in the small town.
"We started four years ago actually, with seven items on our menu, and three of them were dessert," says Lola's Co-Owner Mitch Adams. "It just kind of grew from there. We found a niche. We decided that we were going to cook the food that we liked."
Mitch and Stephanie Adams moved back to Phillips to be closer to family.
Steph had always been a great cook, and the two decided to give the business a shot.
"We kind of knew it was a coming trend," says Adams. "We didn't know how it was going to work in a small town, but we jumped in, and we've been able to make it work."
Lola's got started with what they call 'stacker' meat â€" a combination of pulled beef and pork, but it's their signature garlic smashies that bring the people in droves.
"I don't even really know how that started," says Adams. "We don't deep fry anything in here, just because it's so small and tight, but people kept asking for sides, so [Steph] did the potatoes. She said 'I think I can do this. I'll just smash them on the grill.' She hard-boils them, smashes them on the grill, and bastes them in garlic butter. We started serving those, and then pretty soon, 'Hey I want those potato things,' you know."
Don't think for one second that just because these food trucks are in northern Wisconsin that they're not open year round, because they are. As it turns out, they might actually be more popular during the winter time.
"We set up a couple of days during the winter, the first big snowstorm we set up," says Adams. "We set up before it was snowing, it started snowing like crazy. I was ready to go home, [Steph] said 'just wait.' And that was our busiest day to date with all the people, the Northwoods people coming out in the snow. They didn't care. I had a line out front, just making food."
It just proves that people anywhere will turn out to get a great meal close to home.