Taking It To The Streets

CHRISTOPHER LENNEY / NNY BUSINESS
Even before opening her bakery in Madrid, Anastasia Cote had away wanted to have a food truck and she never let go of the dream.

BY: Doug Buchanan
What could be better than sitting down in one of your favorite eateries and enjoying a great meal? Having that restaurant come to you, of course! And that’s possible more and more due to a recent trend here in the north country: the food truck.

                Food trucks are nothing new, especially in urban areas. Take a walk in New York City and you’re never far from a hot dog vendor or a cart offering roasted peanuts or a knish. In the north country, though, food trucks have not typically been very common. But that is starting to change as folks are fixing up or repurposing old vehicles and taking their food creations to the streets.

                In some cases, food trucks are an expansion of an existing business, such as Anastasia’s Bakery in Madrid, which rolled out a food truck for the first time this past summer. In other cases, the food truck came first and a restaurant followed, as is the case with Johnny D.’s in Watertown, which has been operating food trucks for around 15 years and now has a small fleet of vehicles serving up food throughout the 1000 Islands region – at public and private events alike.

                These food truck operators, and others like them, are finding out that sometimes it’s better to go where your customers are than to wait for them to come to you.

                Dave Bartlett and his wife Robyn began their food truck operation as something for Robyn to do once their kids had finished up high school and were moving out of the house. Dave already had a thriving plumbing and heating business – D.P. Bartlett and Sons Plumbing and Heating in Adams – but he knew about a mothballed food truck that John DeVito had operated after World War II and thought fixing up that vehicle – a retrofitted 1941 Plymouth Super Deluxe – would be a great project.

                “John DeVito Jr. is our insurance agent for the plumbing and heating business,” said Dave. “I asked him about it, had to push him a bit, but finally he let me into the garage to have a look. He sold it to me for $750. It had been in that garage so long that the wheels were locked up – we had to drag it out of there. But I took it to our shop in Adams and started working on it. Got it up and running, passed all inspections, and opened for business.”

                The Bartletts unveiled the classic Plymouth at the Fuccillo 500 race in Adams. The truck was instantly embraced by the crowd, many of whom recognized it as the one operated by John Devito years earlier.

                “It was pretty nostalgic,” said Dave. “So, with a vehicle like that, we kept the name: Johnny D.’s.”

                The truck grew in popularity as bookings for specific events began pouring in.

                “When we started double-booking dates, we knew we needed to expand,” said Dave. “We needed another trailer.” And so the Bartletts added to that single 1941 Plymouth – probably one of the oldest operating food trucks in the country, Dave noted – another food trailer and lemonade stand that they use primarily in the Watertown area and a trailer that handles bookings in the 1000 Islands area.

                Finally, when the Bartletts needed a new base of operations for their fleet of mobile food units, they opened up their own restaurant in Public Square in Watertown, naming it Johnny D.’s, of course.

                “We’ve got so much going on,” said Dave. “It’s almost overwhelming sometimes.”

                Not bad for a business idea that started simply as a way for an empty nester to keep busy.

                While Johnny D.’s may be paving the way in food trucks in the north country, one of the newest operations to catch that wave is Anastasia’s Bakery, owned and operated by Anastasia Cote, a young baker with creativity, a strong work ethic, and a keen eye for business.

                Opening her bakery four years ago at the age of 21, Anastasia’s reputation as a skilled baker has continued to grow. But Anastasia’s business has always been bigger than the bakery in Madrid, a small hamlet about 10 miles north of Canton. Anastasia has provided many a happy couple their wedding cake. As for hitting the open road with her wares, that idea had been brewing for a while.

                “For at least two or three years, it’s kind of been on my mind,” said Anastasia. “Then last summer I went to my dad and said, ‘I think that we could do this.’ So we were looking on Craigslist and found an old mail truck for a pretty decent price. We had to redo the whole thing.”

                After buying the truck, work began in April to transform it into a “bakery on wheels,” as Anastasia describes it. She built out her original plan for just a cupcake truck to make it something like a mobile version of the bakery case at the shop.

                “It seems to be going really well,” she said. “People love it.”

                So far, the truck schedule is somewhat fluid, but Anastasia recommends that people check her Facebook page for updates on where and when to find it.

                In addition to getting her products to more people, the truck has proved to be a savvy fiscal decision.

                “It potentially doubles our business on good months,” she said.

                Currently, Anastasia is working on designing a second kitchen in Madrid designated solely to stocking the food truck. Who knows … maybe by next summer the business will expand to include a second truck – and that would be welcome news to anyone who’s tasted anything that comes out of Anastasia’s Bakery.