In this food-obsessed city, mobile meals are nothing new. Rent-poor, space-saving entrepreneurs have always peddled their chicken kebabs or tongue tacos curbside, mostly to double-parked cabbies and the après-bar crowd. We have roti trucks, halal trucks, juice trucks. A caravan of mobile pizzerias crosses the Verrazano daily, emissaries of an illustrious Staten Island export, the thin-crusted grandma pie. But recently, the city streets have become backdrop to a fleet of latter-day Mister Softees, turning otherwise sensible adults into sidewalk-pacing sugar fiends. The Treats Truck came first, rolling into midtown and Park Slope with its stash of oatmeal jammys and sugar dots. Wafels & Dinges materialized on a bustling Soho stretch, churning out two styles of Belgian waffles topped with strawberries, whipped cream, and maple syrup. And then, on the night before Halloween, like a figment of some calorie-deprived dieter’s fevered imagination, came DessertTruck, quite possibly the first haute confectionery on wheels. The vehicle, parked strategically outside an NYU dorm, dispenses the sort of lavish concoctions you’d have to go to cooking school to learn how to make—as did co-owner Jerome Chang, a French Culinary Institute graduate who left a cushy berth in Le Cirque’s pastry kitchen to sell $5 cups of crème brûlée out of a retrofitted postal truck.
This idea, like all great ones, didn’t spring out of thin air. Rather, it came from a chance snack that Chang and his roommate, Columbia Business School student Chris Chen, whipped up in their Washington Heights apartment one night. A slice of toast, a smear of Nutella, some caramelized bananas and sea salt, et voilà—the notion of upscale sweets for the man on the street (literally!), to be eaten with a plastic spoon, not a silver one. Other than the satisfaction of democratizing dessert (and contributing not insignificantly to Weinstein Hall’s collective freshman fifteen), what exactly do Chen and Chang get from doing business out of a truck? More space than a cart, and lower overhead than a storefront. They spent about $60,000 buying and customizing a truck they found online, and are investing “probably about half what we’d pay for a storefront in a good location,” says Chen.
Chang preps in a midtown catering kitchen by day; by night, the pair slings chocolate bread pudding and cream-stuffed bomboloni on University Place and 8th Street. Eventually, they might like to open a store. But the partners know full well what sets them apart from the gelaterias and the dessert bars is the nostalgia and novelty of the truck, and the Pavlovian response it’s guaranteed to elicit in anyone who grew up chasing the Good Humor man.