In a matter of weeks, a 27-foot beast of a food truck named Betty will hit the streets, serving “indie comfort food” at festivals and outdoor events this summer and adding a unique business to the growing landscape of mobile food startups in Akron.
The Square Scullery will serve up an inventive menu and is the brainchild of Highland Square residents Matt and Heather Ulichney. The couple is still putting the finishing touches on the truck (a former Snap-on tool truck) and just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter project.
Some of the remaining work includes converting the stove from natural gas to propane and installing a system for hoods and fans. The couple has basically renovated the entire truck, equipping “Betty” with a full-size kitchen.
“It’s a massive truck,” says Heather, who also runs her own photography business. “Our kitchen is bigger than even some restaurant kitchens; we also have full size equipment.”
They had planned to be road ready by this point, but the truck needed more work than anticipated. For example, they built a new 8-foot window on the passenger side of the truck. And in typical DIY Akron fashion, they’ve done all the work themselves.
“We will be hitting the road as soon as possible,” says Heather.
Another boomerang story
Like many other local business owners, they moved and came back. The Ulichneys moved from Akron to Tennessee for a few years, but Heather says family circumstances brought them back to Akron.
“When we moved back, it was eye-opening,” she says, referring to the recent burst of arts, culture and local businesses in Akron.
Matt got his first executive chef position in Tennessee, where he picked up his signature Southern cooking style, and this got the couple thinking about perhaps having their own food-based business.
While the couple wanted a food truck, the average cost of $30,000 to $50,000 for a furnished truck was prohibitive. But an opportunity fell into their laps when they found Betty, which they purchased from another couple for $16,000. Once operating as a Jibaro food truck in Cleveland, Betty had sat dormant for two years. “They ended up selling it for what they bought it for and they’re letting us make payments on it,” says Heather.
Since purchasing the truck last October, the couple has rolled up their sleeves to refurbish Betty, and Matt says he’s thankful for the help of his dad, who’s a contractor and has been invaluable to this project.
Along with the lessons from Tennessee, Matt attributes working at Akron’s Edgar’s and Crave (his current employer) for contributing to his unique cooking style. For example, when he told people he was launching a food truck, the rote response was, “You serving tacos?” He did add tacos to the menu, but crispy chicken pancake tacos, with maple hot pepper jelly and sweet potato hash.
He’s also working with area farmers to locally source the menu’s ingredients.
“Matt is trying to create menus that are going to be dietary friendly for just about anyone (including some items that will be gluten free, vegan and vegetarian),” says Heather. “He’s trying to do different flavor combinations that technically shouldn’t go together but they do.”
“I like to figure out ways to get different colors and different takes on things,” says Matt, referencing the Scullery’s colorful beet deviled eggs, served over arugula salad with black garlic vinaigrette.
He says the food truck business will give him a chance to meet new people and operate in different locations, something not offered when working for a restaurant kitchen. He playfully calls it “constant chaos,” but chaos in a good way.
While operating a food truck in Akron is much more difficult than in other cities (the permit alone is just shy of $2,000, compared to Cleveland’s fee of $360), the Ulichneys want to stay in Akron and work in Akron
“This is where our roots are; this is where we want to be,” says Heather. “Our hearts are here.”
Matt echoes this sentiment and points out Akron’s eclectic nature. “We seem to really fit in here. We really like the people around us,” he says. “We sit on the front porch and people wave and say hi. It’s a nice place where our boys can grow up and a lot of family and friends are here, too.”
The food truck will make an appearance at The Highland Square PorchRockr Festival Aug. 20, Hudson’s Oddmall Backyard Bash July 8 and 9, the annual Hamburger Festival and at some of the Food Truck Friday events at Child Guidance & Family Services, which runs every Friday through Sept. 2.
Following their community focus, Matt and Heather also plan to use the food truck for good, like feeding people who are homeless and specifically serving targeted populations of public servants like police and fire departments.
Visit the Kickstarter campaign here.