“We just put this counter in yesterday, would you like to sit?” says Ben Latham, general manager/director of operations of Morris Truck, who greets me with a smile and a firm handshake at the newly-opened storefront for the truck, Morris Sandwich Shop in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The shop is tiny – almost indistinguishable from the other storefronts on Lincoln Place, but once you’re inside its charm shines through.
Barely larger than a walk-in closet, with only a couple of stools and the new counter to sit at and eat, the shop feels crowded even with only a few customers inside. Smooth jazz plays in the background as Ben talks about how he found his way to the Morris Truck, the process and challenges of starting a food truck, and plans for the new brick-and-mortar shop.
Spoon: What is your background with food?
Ben: I grew up on the east end of Long Island, and my first job was folding newspapers at a deli, and I eventually moved up from that to making sandwiches and later to being a sort of short-order cook. It was a very modest beginning, but it got me excited about just being busy all day making food for people.
Spoon: But you didn’t have dreams of being a chef or anything?
Ben: Food was something that I knew I would always be passionate about, that I could always come back to. So when I moved to New York after I graduated from Bates College in 2011, right around the time the truck started, I was the first hire. I figured I would do this for a while and then find something else, but I kind of fell in love and here I am.
Spoon: How exactly did you get hired at the Morris Truck?
Ben: Craigslist. And I just started cutting vegetables on the truck as a cook.
Spoon: What do you do now, as ‘Director of Operations?’
Ben: Right now, pretty much everything from dishwashing to menu planning and execution and hiring new staff, training staff, all of our purchasing and receiving for food, a lot of our event coordinating and stuff…for the most part: you name it, I do it.
Spoon: Do you think you’ll still be doing this in 10 years?
Ben: I don’t know. It really depends on where we go with it. We definitely have some plans to expand and that’s something that really excites me.
Spoon: What is involved with opening a food truck: logistically, legally, etc.?
Ben: For the truck itself pretty much any truck will do. There’s a lot of trucks that are old food trucks that you can buy. We bought a paddy wagon that was completely empty that allowed us to outfit it so that it would suit our needs exactly. Once you have your truck, there are places that will build it out for you. That whole process takes can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to six months depending on demand.
Spoon: So you have your truck. What’s next?
Ben: The biggest step is finding someone whose permit you can purchase. It’s very difficult, or in our case almost impossible to get a new one—I think they issue maybe a dozen or so new food truck licenses a year. Once you have the permit, finding a good spot for the truck is the next step.
Spoon: Where was that for you?
Ben: Park Slope, and eventually DUMBO after that, which was great ‘cause there’s not a ton of food, there’s a lot of new businesses and tech startups and people who were looking for a cool place to eat. And that’s exactly what food trucks were for a fleeting moment.
Spoon: We have to ask, what’s your favorite thing on the menu right now?
Ben: I’d definitely say one of my favorites that we’re serving right now—one of the two grilled cheese we serve here—is made with Raclette, with Vadouvan brown butter and pickled pumpkin. It’s one of our more exciting, yet accessible sandwiches.