These meals really do have wheels

Customers follow Mangia! on Facebook and send orders by phone

October 11 at 9:51 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

A customer pays Raphael Pinero for his lunch.
A customer pays Raphael Pinero for his lunch.
From the window of the food truck where Raphael Pinero works, the world changes every day - and he loves it.

On Friday, the trailer bearing the brightly colored name “Mangia!” painted is parked in the old Cash & Carry convenience store on River Road. It’s a brilliant sunny day in St. Rose and it’s warming up fast in the trailer, but Pinero along with his aunt to serving the equivalent of a flash mob from 11 a.m. to around 1 p.m. pulling into the parking lot.

Pinero’s wife, who is Italian, named the business. Mangia means “eat,” a fitting name for a rolling restaurant with its comfort food fare that changes with the cook’s mood.

Kirby Bergeron of Thibodaux, accompanied by his black lab, Gypsy, in the back seat of his truck and his little aged Chihuahua sitting nervously in the front seat, is the first to show up for a lunch.

Bergeron, an oil contractor who works in the area, is a regular.

“He makes a darn good hamburger,” he said with a big grin. As he grabs his favorite dish, he notes that he routinely eats on the road.

Minutes later, the parking lot fills up with a rush of vehicles, a mixture of newcomers and regulars. Both are ready to partake of homemade burgers, chicken club sandwiches or fried bacon-wrapped hotdogs on today’s menu written on a menu resting against the trailer.

Many of them have learned to look for the food truck, which Pinero’s aunt says is the only one she knows of operating in St. Charles Parish.

Their crowd isn’t solely by luck either.

They also use social media to keep the crowd keeping, which means they can make orders on Facebook. Right about the time vehicles start appearing in the parking lot, their smart phones starting dinging with orders. Paper trays are lined up on the counter, the popping of frozen fries hitting hot grease can be heard and the customers are at the window.

“It’s awesome,” Pinero said of his life on a food truck. “You close down whenever you have to. You’re your own boss. The freedom of doing whatever I want cooking wise – that’s all a plus.”

On Wednesday, Pinero and his aunt were at the German Coast Farmers Market for the first time on Paul Maillard Road. And it went well.

On Friday, Saturday and Monday nights, they drive the business to Whitey’s Fishing Hole Bar in Marrero where they asked to serve food as an addition to the bar.

“The only thing that stays on the menu everyday is burgers,” said the Ama resident. “Everybody loves burgers, but we also do specialty burgers.”

They are tasty homemade creations.

His Surf and Turf burger is topped with grilled shrimp, The Ragin’Cajun’ is topped with a spicy sausage link, the Steakhouse burger includes crispy bacon in the hamburger and has sautéed onions, and his Frito Bandito is topped with chili and corn chips.

Pinero’s menu can extend to Cuban sandwiches and even Puerto Rican dishes if he thinks the customers at that location might like them. Customers haven’t really warmed up to them yet but he still hopes to cultivate a taste for them.

Pinero’s always been “the guy who did most of the cooking.”

In his family, his sisters cooked because they had to. But Pinero said he did it out of pure enjoyment.

“I love experimenting with the different kinds of good and going with my own thing with the food,” he said of daily menus with Mangia! His creativity also extends to cooking breakfast if it works for their location.

Nearly three years ago, Pinero discovered he loved this business when his aunt invited him to help her with making plate lunches for workers on a chemical plant project near Ama on River Road. He turned his aunt’s trailer into a real business with licensing and a permit or what he called the “The whole shebang.”

“We got it going and trying to keep it going,” he said of the business. “We’re trying to find different venues.”

He left his job in the medical industry, which allowed him to spend more time with his children. As it turned out, Pinero also enjoyed talking to his customers and getting to know his regulars. It was a natural extension from the customer relations he’d learned in his former job.

“I talk to them like I’ve known them forever,” he said.

Additionally, the whole mobile scene makes perfect sense to Pinero, who felt comfortable leaving a job where it was the same thing all the time for something that constantly changes.

“You never get tired of going to work because it’s always fun,” he said. “I get to have fun with everyone I talk to.”

View other articles written Anna Thibodeaux

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