On a typical weekday at lunchtime, a crowd of lively students can be found in line for food trucks across the Claremont Colleges. Others are sprawled out on the grass while they eat and socialize amongst background music playing from the speakers. These food trucks offer a plethora of cuisines; SUGO Italiano, Savage Tacos and StopBye Café are just three from the multitude of trucks students have been able to try this semester.
Food trucks are not a novelty this semester: The program has been operational since September 2021. Matt Geller, CEO of Best Food Trucks, has been collaborating with the colleges to connect them to some of the best food trucks in Los Angeles. The number of food trucks has expanded at all of the 5Cs, with three lunch and three dinner food trucks per weekday at Claremont McKenna College. Other schools, like Pomona College and Scripps College, have also been offering them throughout the week.
Many students appreciate that the food trucks provide more variety and vegetarian options, as compared to the dining hall meals. Kara Mickas PO ’25 is a regular at the food trucks and tries to go as often as possible when the lines aren’t too long.
“I think they’re a really great addition because you never know who you are going to run into in line,” Mickas said. “It’s a great social environment.”
Isabel Fajardo PO ’23 has also enjoyed her experience at the trucks.
“I definitely prefer going to the food trucks instead of Frary, especially during lunchtime when Frary gets busy,” she said.
By connecting various food trucks to the 5Cs, Geller allows these businesses to gather predictable profit due to the consistently high demand of hungry students. John Ou — the owner of Fix on Wheels, a gourmet burger truck — says that his truck can collect up to 90 tickets per hour during lunch, which is equivalent to one and a half tickets per minute.
“It’s great when you have a guaranteed crowd like Claremont, where we know we can reasonably make a certain amount of money,” Ou said. “It’s reliable and people are happy to see you.”
When Ou is not at the Claremont Colleges, he works 12-18 hours daily at other venues, such as the Santa Monica Brew Works, private residences and other catering gigs.
After leaving his job as a Wall Street trader, Ou partnered with his friend to expand his burger franchise to a food truck five years ago in Los Angeles. He describes the food truck business as a “tough grind” where many things can go wrong, such as blown out tires, refrigeration problems, engine failures and broken windshields and gas lines.
“You name it and it’s happened, so you just have to be nimble and flexible and working when things go wrong,” Ou said. “My Wall Street trading was good practice for this.”
Antonio Sugo, the owner of SUGO Italian Food Truck, has also faced setbacks when building his food truck franchise.
“At the beginning, it wasn’t easy because people are used to eating other types of cuisines for street food,” Sugo said. “In the U.S., the street food is almost all Mexican, Asian, American.”
Sugo moved from Milan to Los Angeles in 2017, with the intention of bringing his family’s Italian cooking to street cuisine. On his first day, he ended up parked on a random street in Hollywood, where he made 50 dollars in six hours. After lots of experimentation, he learned to combine his grandmother’s flavors with a menu based on what Italian food Americans would like.
Sugo loves the atmosphere of working in the Claremont Colleges.
“Everyone is always polite and we try to make them feel at home, by talking to them and playing some music so they can have a pleasant wait,” he said.
Among all the food trucks, a common dilemma is serving meals with efficiency while preserving the high quality of food. Many food trucks have made changes to their usual setup by limiting their menu offerings. StopBye Café, a family-owned food truck serving Asian fusion, changed their menu to offer combos that come with a drink and one side.
“A very positive difference from our regular setup is we can serve 250-300 meals to students at lunch, co-owner Tom Tee said. “Students, staff and faculty we serve are patient and cooperative, so it’s really fun to serve them.”
“L.A.’s the food truck capital of the country. This is as good as it gets.”—Winston Ou
Five years ago, Tee and Chef Justin Tulus initially started their business as a restaurant in the South Bay of LA but moved to a food truck after their lease expired. Tulus is from Indonesia and has spent the last six years learning from various chefs, while Tee spent over 15 years in student residence life. Similar to other food trucks, StopBye is focused on maintaining the same quality as food found in restaurants by making sauces and marinades fresh.
Not only do students have the opportunity to try a handful of cuisines, but they’re also getting a crafted selection of some of the best food trucks in L.A.
“L.A.’s the food truck capital of the country,” Ou said. “This is as good as it gets.”