In our continuing series of five-question email interviews, I dropped a quintent of queries to Julie Shenkman, co-owner of Sam’s Chowder House and Sam’s ChowderMobile in Half Moon Bay, Calif. This is the Bay Area’s first mobile gourmet seafood truck.
1) A ChowderMobile? Huh? How’d this all get started? Why a truck, and why a truck now?
Well, we’ve actually been working on it for a little over a year now. We opened Sam’s in October of 2006, and we continually hear from customers that they love it, and “man, I wish there was something like this in (my city)” and we thought, well…why not? A truck seemed the perfect solution, and the idea grew from there.
2) Is there anything easier or harder about cooking chowder in a truck? Aren’t liquids dangerous in a moving vehicle?
We actually prepare the chowder in our main restaurant in Half Moon Bay, and then we heat it on the truck. It’s not difficult at all, as we heat it in a large pot, and then transfer it to a large, converted built-in coffee urn
that we had customized for this purpose, and we serve it from that. The coffee urn was designed to be stable during travel, so it works great.
3) What’s your route? How do you determine it? Do you only do private events? And when will you be back in SF, or more importantly, in Oakland, where I live?
During the week we will be at company campuses and large business parks across the Peninsula for lunch and (soon) dinner, such as Robert Haft International, Genentech, Intuit, etc. We are in the midst of expanding our route now based on incoming requests we are getting, so it’s largely based on customer feedback and demand. Customers can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to request to be added to our stops. We also do private events on a scheduled basis, such as we just did a private Lobster Clambake in Atherton, and one for Intuit, as well as a private event for Ideo (SF) and Catholic Healthcare West (SF). We will be back in San Francisco in the coming weeks. Oakland is not part of our regular route, but we’ll be at the Eat Real Fest in Jack London Square in Oakland, on Saturday/Sunday August 29 and 30. Also August 7-9, we’ll be at the San Jose Jazz Festival, and August 15-23 we’ll be at the Santa Clara County Fair, and September 18-20 we’ll be at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
4) What’s the best item on the menu?
Depends on who you ask! I personally love the fish tacos and lobster roll
5) What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned by operating a truck?
One is that it’s important to economize on time – so we are trying to schedule a route that makes sense for our staff and our customers. We are finding that it sometimes makes sense to visit multiple locations within one campus to serve a good part of the customer demand at a particular company. Also to have regular stops at companies, so they can plan to visit the ChowderMobile on that particular day. Second is the response – it’s overwhelming — we can’t believe how jazzed people are by it. It’s sort of its own advertising (being lobster red doesn’t hurt).