Food trucks have a come a long way since the days of roving ice cream peddlers and corner hot dog stands.
Now south Charlotte can boast about a trio of entrepreneurs entering the volatile food scene to capitalize on the trend of gourmet food trucks, as seen on Food Network's "Great Food Truck Race."
In fact, that show inspired hair stylist Helen Kathy Budiyasa (who goes by Kathy), 32, and office manager Grant Luckey, 28, of the Steele Creek area to market food they already enjoyed and made at home, Asian tacos. They created Maki Taco, in partnership with Budiyasa's chef husband, Gede, 36, to bring locally- sourced, gourmet food to the community.
Luckey explained: "I've known Kathy for 11 years and, I think, our friendship strengthens the business. I'm a Gemini and I like to do multiple things. (Owning my own business) appealed because I don't like to be micromanaged or work in an office. I want to be my own boss."
Budiyasa added: Gede "has been a chef for over 17 years and he always wanted to open his own restaurant. With the food truck craze sweeping over the nation, we thought it would be a fun way to break into the business without as much (financial) overhead."
Despite not being trained chefs, it was Budiyasa and Luckey who developed most of the menu. They knew what flavors they wanted to combine, and they also wanted the ingredients to be interchangeable so that customers could customize their tacos.
"We want Maki Taco to be fun, and Kathy and I knew what we liked to eat. We just didn't know how to prepare it - but Gede does," said Luckey.
While a food truck is smaller in scale than a stationary restaurant, the business falls under the same sanitary and food management guidelines. All the ingredient prep work is handled in a full-size, commissary kitchen so that temperatures and hygiene regulations can be met.
The truck is regularly inspected and has mandatory, professional-grade equipment on board.
But beyond the care taken with the food, Luckey is also responsible for finding service locations.
"One of the most challenging parts is promoting a business that moves around," said Luckey. "You also need to contract with locations and there is a lot of pre-planning. You can't just drive somewhere and park."
Maki Taco opened for business just a few months ago and their tacos can be found at regular spots, such as every Wednesday at the Whitehall Business Park (off South Tryon Street) and at the monthly Chow Down Uptown food truck events, usually at the N.C. Music Factory or Atherton Mills in South End.
"I love the idea of being able to provide the opportunity for people to have healthy food on the road," Luckey said. "Already, we're serving lunch about four times a week and I hope to add two dinner services soon. It's turning into a full-time job."
Although he's busy with Maki Taco, in his free time, Luckey jogs, goes out with friends and hangs out with his Welsh terrier at McDowell Park.
Budiyasa works at the 90° Salon in Piper Glen and, she and Gede are raising their son, Danu'G, 15 months.
Budiyasa is proud of the business they've started.
"We were nervous about starting a truck in this economy, but the response has actually been very good," she said. "Our mission is stay true to real food. We don't add chemicals, hormones or fillers. Even our sauces are made from scratch, so they do not contain MSG, additives or high fructose corn syrup."