Four years ago, Chef Josh Aronie cooked at Café Moxie in Vineyard Haven. The restaurant had been renovated and then destroyed by a fire — so after their second round of repairs, the café opened its doors once again. They had a sizeable year-round staff, 49 seats, and were one of the few spots with a liquor license in Vineyard Haven. Operations ran smoothly enough for about a year — or so it seemed.
Mr. Aronie came home to his wife, Angela, and his 1-year-old son unemployed a week before Christmas. Management gave him a week’s notice, and Café Moxie closed.
“That was it — that was our income,” Mrs. Aronie said.
Winter is the off-season, so Mrs. Aronie wasn’t working either.
“And Josh is like, Let’s open a food truck in Chilmark,” Mrs. Aronie said.
She thought it sounded insane, but confessed she didn’t have any great ideas to counter, so they did it. “And it was successful, which is so bizarre and random,” she said.
There was nowhere for people to eat hot food in Chilmark — not a year-round spot, at least.
Winter came and everything closed. Except Stanley Larsen, who sold chowder occasionally out of the fish market. Otherwise all the tradespeople working year-round had pretty limited options. So oddly enough, in a place where restaurants across town close for the winter, the Food Truck thrived through all seasons. They’ve been at the same location now for four years.
The Food Truck has expanded, and now they have a truck stationed at the airport industrial park, right across from the gas station. It’s hard to see the truck from the road, but the chef for the Food Truck, James McDonough, says he’s surprised at the variety of people who have come through. The menu lists burgers, chicken sandwiches, rosemary fries, falafel, and more, but a little higher-end. Their burgers are made from three different kinds of ground beef.
“There’s something like 400 employees here in the office park — Josh and Angela went around and took a survey, and people were like, ‘Please come,” Mr. McDonough said.
Similarly to the Chilmark dynamic, the airport sits too far from anywhere to grab a quick bite. As opposed to trying to head into town, people in the office park can just head across the street. But people from all over town have found the truck already, likely from word of mouth — it’s not like food trucks are stationed all over the Island.
Mrs. Aronie says people look at food trucks and think of them as these quick-and-dirty operations. It’s not as simple as it looks, she says. Their food truck has to follow more regulations than the average restaurant.
“The reason we have this food truck is because the guy from whom we bought it — he summers here — he thought he could just pull up to the beach and sell food,” Mrs. Aronie said.
While it looks simple enough, the Food Truck goes through anything and everything another restaurant needs to run — and not only at their commercial kitchen, but on the truck as well.
“We have so many regulations — we have to go through all the board of health processes, we are inspected, our truck is inspected, the commercial kitchen is inspected,” Mrs. Aronie said. “You have to jump through a lot of hoops.” The Food Truck abides by regulations in several towns, because they prep in one and cook in another. There’s not exactly a streamlined process for getting a food truck up and going.
Their chef, Mr. McDonough, has been cooking his entire life. He started cooking at a small spot in New Jersey at age 14, and has been in the kitchen ever since. He came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1996, and spent 16 years as a chef at Beach Plum Inn, and three at Lambert’s Cove. He loves the kitchen, but when you’re a chef, the hours are long and the hours are late.
“My wife wanted me home for dinner,” Mr. McDonough said.
Easter approached, and Mr. McDonough still didn’t have a plan for the summer. While picking up some things for the holiday, he stopped in Chilmark Chocolates and ran into a friend.
“She’s like, Are you going back to Cove? I told her I’m of kind of waiting for another door to open,” Mr. McDonough said.
Mrs. Aronie had been into the store earlier, and her friend asked Mrs. Aronie a similar question.
“’Are you closing down the Food Truck in Chilmark?’ And I told her, no we are actually expanding — I just need to find a chef,” Mrs. Aronie said.
Her friend told her she might have the perfect fit. Mr. McDonough has made the adjustment from high-end kitchens with a staff of 15 to relying on just himself and his assistant, Aveonte Mauslby, in the back of the steaming food truck.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment, but a very pleasant one — I’m kind of back to my roots,” Mr. McDonough said. “Nine to six, I’m home at night, and weekends off? I can do this.”
Despite tight quarters, the Food Truck seems to have found its rhythm. During a recent visit, Mr. McDonough and Mrs. Aronie discussed plans for the food this summer.
“I’m not in love with the salt feta, and I was hoping we could switch to Mermaid feta,” Mrs. Aronie said.
“Yeah? I’d love that,” Mr. McDonough said.
“If I was going to expand the menu, what would you add, James?” she asks.
One of their employees, David Janevski, bops in and out of the truck, and as he passes, Mrs. Aronie awaits his usual high-five, Mr. Mauslby dices vegetables in the corner, and they prep for another day.