Q & A with Eco-Friendly Food Truck On the Fly: If It's Good Enough for Obama and DiCaprio, It's Good Enough for Us
After looking in vain for delicious, natural, and healthy food on the streets in Washington, D.C., friends Michel Heitstuman, Christopher Lynch, and Gabe Klein decided to create their own street-food vending company, On the Fly.
On the Fly is an eco-friendly, fast, and convenient food vendor serving great-tasting alternatives to the usual unhealthy food you find on city streets. Consumers want to eat more natural and healthy food -- but they also want it to taste great and be convenient and affordable. On the Fly provides an accessible way to do so in D.C. by being at tourist locations like the National Mall, the National Zoo, the Washington Nationals' stadium, and the National Arboretum, as well as in downtown locations such as 22nd and H streets (on George Washington University's campus) and in Chinatown (at 7th and F). We chatted with On the Fly co-founder Heitstuman (pictured in the white shirt with sunglasses) about the popularity of food trucks, organic ingredients, and what Leonardo DiCaprio asked before he ordered.
MindBodyGreen: Food trucks seem to be all the rage these days. Why do you think that is?
Michel Heitstuman: Consumers are demanding convenience and, at the same time, craving high-quality products. There's nothing more convenient than a food truck, and with the cost of starting and running a brick-and-mortar restaurant being so high, food trucks offer an attractive way to enter the industry. Food trucks that offer consumers high-quality organic, natural foods on the go from a convenient location will win. (Extra points if the truck is environmentally friendly.)
MBG: Why organic, why local, why eco-friendly?
MH: Because it's better for the earth, it's better for the local community, and better for the consumer. But the bottom line is that fresh, local food just tastes better. Period.
MBG: What's your most popular or favorite dish?
MH: One of our most popular dishes, and a personal favorite of mine, is the chicken estofado taco -- a delicious chicken taco made with organic locally sourced chicken (from within 100 miles) that has been slow-cooked at low temperature for a long time, with five different kinds of chili peppers and spices, apples, and beer. It is served with a cabbage and carrot coleslaw made with vinegar and no mayonnaise in a soft flour taco, topped with salsa, a fat-free crema chipotle sauce, and a lime.
MBG: You were chosen by the presidential inaugural committee to be the food vendor along the inaugural parade route. Please tell us more about that experience.
MH: It was the chance and experience of a lifetime -- literally! It was great to be able to help out and serve the more than one million inauguration attendees with the local vending partners we assembled. The weather definitely didn't make things easier (it was below freezing and windy for most of the day), but it couldn't dampen the spirit of the attendees, or our enthusiasm for providing them with natural and healthy food. We served scones, muffins, and pastries from local bakers, and all-natural, preservative-free hot dogs and "Barack-Wursts" (an all-natural, preservative-free combination of a Chicago Red Hot sausage and a D.C. half-smoke sausage made by a regional sausage maker to celebrate Obama's dual D.C. and Chicago identities); award-winning turkey chili; locally sourced empanadas; and of course, hot coffee (from a local coffee company, Chesapeake Bay Coffee Roasters).
MBG: Leonardo DiCaprio is a fan. What did he order when he visited?
MH: He ordered two chicken estofado tacos, but only after asking whether the chicken is organic (it is), and whether we source our chicken locally (we do-we source it from a local Alexandria, Virginia company that gets all of its chicken from farmers within 100 miles).
MBG: Where do you go grocery shopping? Do you have any favorite ingredients, foods, or desserts?
MH: Whole Foods is great, the Eastern Market in D.C. is great, and local farmer's markets are the best-the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market is one of my favorites. Many of our friends have tables there-including our favorite local winery, Boxwood (selling my favorite ingredient-wine!).
MBG: Have any books (food-related or not) been particularly inspiring lately?
MH: Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammad Yunus is probably the latest most inspiring book I've read. It really highlighted the power of what just one person, or a small number of people, can do with a small amount of resources, ingenuity, and the power of the human spirit. Also Food, Inc. is obviously a very enlightening documentary, about the state of food production in the U.S. It highlights the need to get back to locally sourced foods, grown and harvested as organically and naturally as possible.
MBG: If it was your Last Supper, what would your last meal be? Where would it be? Who would be there (from the past, present, or future)?
MH: The setting is an outdoor courtyard overlooking a vineyard in Tuscany in the spring. Bob Dylan is playing live acoustically. The food is simple and locally sourced-salads, freshly baked breads, and tapenades . The dinner guests would be an eclectic group of (dead and alive) luminaries, philosophers, world leaders, authors, and the intelligentsia including: Nietzsche, Pedro Almodóvar, Shaka Zulu, Einstein, President Obama, Toni Morrison, Cher, Virginia Woolf, and Penélope Cruz and James Dean (for the eye-candy appeal!).
MBG: What can we expect to see in the next few years from you? Future expansion to other cities?
MH: We are developing a franchising program and look forward to franchising across the country, starting with local D.C.-area franchisees and then moving out regionally and nationally. We are also using partnerships with local restaurants to give them another way to reach consumers in a convenient, eye-catching way. So far we have agreements with D.C. restaurants Comet Ping Pong Pizza and Chix Chicken for them to operate SmartKarts and serve their food to consumers using a combination of fixed locations and roaming SmartKarts.
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