During our recent Springtime Road Trip And Tour Of A Few Southern States to visit and meet food trucks, we spent a day in Atlanta. Well one day, as it turned out, was just not enough! Atlanta has way too much of a vibrant food truck scene for me to have made the mistake of only planning a single day there. Then, in addition to that poor planning, my time in Atlanta was slowed down and hampered by bad weather. One of the people I had hoped to visit while in town was Giovanna of A Movable Feast – The French Truck but, unfortunately, my path did not cross with Giovanna as she was heading out of town as I was arriving. She did, however, arrange for me to meet her right hand woman, Kara, at their commissary which was, happily, really more of a showroom. Quite a set up!
Anyway, until I can get back to Atlanta in person, I wanted to learn more about the food truck scene in Atlanta, so after I returned to Providence I decided to contact Giovanna. And, I was able to get her to sneak away from the food truck, and from planning her daughter’s high school graduation celebration, to share some thoughts and feelings about her truck and the Atlanta food truck community.
Eric: Tell me about A Movable Feast – The French Truck, it is an unusual name.
Giovanna: I am a Francophile, and I love Hemingway - The name is taken from the novel of the same name about Hemingway's exploits in Paris - "Everyone should live in Paris, for Paris is a Movable Feast..."I have people tell me all the time we spelled it incorrectly, it's not - I don't want to be rude and tell them to go Google it - but it's the original correct spelling of the word. (Editor's note: both 'moveable" and "movable" are accepted spellings)
Eric: Do you work on the truck yourself?
Giovanna: Yes, Unless I am out of town or ill, etc...
Eric: During my last road trip I visited your truck at your facility outside of Atlanta. It seemed like so much more than a commissary. How would you describe your "location"?
Giovanna: Our location is more of a "Kitchen Studio." We do our prep there and teach classes when the season is over (November-March). We have tried to make it comfortable and functional. We have a little living room & dining area for guests, and we also do tastings there and hope to one day do a small Supper Club.
Eric: Your facility is just about 25 minutes outside Atlanta. Is it a strategic location? Does your truck go into Atlanta primarily?
Giovanna: We go to Atlanta and all the suburbs. I live in Atlanta, driving to the kitchen is "against" traffic (so it's easy to get there and go home at the end of the day), My landlord is fantastic, we not only have a kitchen but a drive-in garage to lock our truck in with a plug in for power. It's affordable, about as much as a shared kitchen, and I have all this space to myself. It's strategic in the sense of overhead; lower overhead = higher profit margin.
Eric: Unfortunately, we did not meet in person. You were traveling and I met Kara who was great. Is it easy for you to leave your business in the hands of someone else?
Giovanna: Kara has worked for me from the beginning of our business (before we even had our truck!) She has evolved into my right hand. It's basically about trust. Also Kara has an investment in our business. My hope is to only do the truck for five more years and then hand it down to her. My kids are not interested in the business; she is. When I am not in town she runs the show.
Eric: Kara was great. How long has she been with you? How did you find her?
Giovanna: Kara is great, like family. She's worked for me for about a year and a half. I found her on Craigslist and I am lucky. I advertised for a "Food Truck Personality." I got exactly what I wanted. A funny side note about hiring! I do this little trick when hiring to see how detail oriented a person is. I ask this instead of a resume, etc. In the subject line of the response email I ask the person to put a favorite musical artist and favorite song. It weeds out mass responders, and about 90% of responses go right in the trash. I get some really unique responses, but it really tells me a lot about a person initially, luckily Kara had a great response to the question.
Eric: I understand you are a trained chef. What was your experience before opening the food truck?
Giovanna: I grew up in the industry. My family has owned Italian restaurants in California since 1942. I wanted to do something more classical than that so I attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in the 90's and I've worked for some amazing chefs (I apprenticed with French Laundry Alum Matt Carter and Chef Michael DeMaria in Scottsdale). I've worked with celebrity chefs (Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay). I've traveled everywhere cooking - France, UK, here in the states. I eventually opened my own French bistro in Tupelo Mississippi (long story) and we were there for six years. I was voted best female chef in Mississippi and we were written up in Southern Living and Food and Wine, so we were lucky to get good publicity. Which is where I met my husband, and we eventually moved to Georgia.
Eric: Is there a memorable story about the moment that you decided to start the food truck?
Giovanna: We were in Yountville at the French Laundry having dinner after a fantastic day of wine and lunch at a Taco Truck. I just had a vision about bringing fresh French cuisine to the masses via a truck. That's really how the whole thing started. I am definitely no Thomas Keller (owner of the French Laundry and well known French chef and restaurateur) but I try to improve every day.
Eric: What date did the first truck initially go on the road to serve customers? Do you remember your very first customer?
Giovanna: We were supposed to start in April of last year, but due to "issues" with the truck, we didn't actually get rolling until June. Our first customer, she was a sweet lady (I still have the first dollar) - and we still see her from time to time!
Eric: I was able to see your truck when I visited your facility. It has a pretty classic look to it!
Giovanna: The wrap we have is "stolen" from my favorite wine bottle. We designed it ourselves because we wanted something clean and understated.
Eric: How different is the food truck scene in Atlanta now from when you opened?
Giovanna: The permitting process was a nightmare when I first started this three years ago and it is still difficult but so much easier than before. Therefore the amount of trucks has tripled in Atlanta. It's great because it makes the scene more visible - which entices people who have never thought of eating at a food truck to follow all of us around.
Eric: What do you expect the food truck scene to look like in Atlanta in 3 years?
Giovanna: I think it will be amazing, like Los Angles or Seattle. The City of Atlanta has really worked hard to try to make public vending possible. They are working to re-write legislation to make it a reality. and at the moment there is a pilot program to take it for a test drive. I see great things food wise here. Atlanta is a little slow to get going but we're getting there.
Eric: How far will you travel to do an event with the food truck?
Giovanna: As long as someone pays a travel fee, we will go anywhere.
Eric: Were you a customer of food trucks before you opened yours?
Giovanna: I am from California; I've been eating at food trucks my whole life.
Eric: What percentage of time does your truck do street service, catering, and events?
Giovanna: 50% of time we're street service - 25% of the time is events and 25% to catering.
Eric: I know you do Crepes but you also do much more. How would you describe your menu?
Giovanna: We offer roaming French Bistro Cuisine - we have Brunch, Lunch and Dinner menus.
Eric: One of the great advantages of doing crepes in my opinion is that you can do both sweet or savory items very easily. Do you see that as a real benefit for you?
Giovanna: Yes, we are more versatile than a lot of trucks. It's a specialty item and we realize that it doesn't appeal to everyone, but we are usually the last truck serving and being busy at an event because we also serve dessert.
Eric: Do you have a unique menu item?
Giovanna: The Elvis - Dark Belgian Chocolate, Maple Bourbon Candied Bacon, Peanut Butter and Banana - it sounds weird, but it is delicious.
Eric: How often do you offer specials or change your menu?
Giovanna: We change our menu's seasonally. We will offer specials on occasion .
Eric: Do you have a particularly memorable story about a reaction a customer had to your food, or special experience someone had at your truck, or a celebrity or high profile customer?
Giovanna: We catered the Show Ressurection and Frances Fisher and Kurtwood Smith (Red on the 70's show) were the sweetest and most gracious people. We would have fed them for free! My daughter hopes every day that "The Walking Dead" will call us!
Eric: Is there a food truck in another city you would most like to visit someday?
Giovanna: The Kogi Truck in LA
You can learn more about A Movable Feast - The French Truck and where they will be Serving Now at http://www.foodtrucksin.com/movable-feast-french-truck