Highlighting immigrant food trucks owners on campus | The Triangle

Highlighting immigrant food trucks owners on campus

Photo by Sam Gregg | The Triangle

Drexel University’s food trucks are a campus staple. Whether it be the halal food trucks on 33rd Street, the breakfast food trucks across from Bentley Hall, or the boba food trucks, Drexel is incomplete without them. 

A lot of these food trucks are run by immigrants who bring their own culture and cuisine to Drexel’s campus. As a way to highlight some of these businesses, I interviewed the owners of three food trucks: the halal food truck by the Mario statue, Pete’s Little Lunch Box and Dos Hermanos Tacos, in order to gain insight into their backgrounds as immigrants and how they influence the food they make.

I interviewed Samir Hassani who runs the halal food truck near the dragon statue. This food truck sells dishes like falafel, gyro, chicken over rice and chicken salad. There are three people who operate the food truck; two of them are from Algeria while the other person is from Pakistan. The menu is heavily influenced by their background as immigrants, and they sell food that relates to their cuisine.

The most popular item on their menu is chicken, but lamb and falafel are also favorites. I asked Hassani what he loves the most about running a food truck, and he said it was the people.

“Our favorite thing here is the customer service. The customers here are good,” Hassani said. “The Drexel students are very polite. We have plenty of other food trucks. We have one on Temple’s campus, which is very busy, and also one on 34th street, but Drexel is our favorite spot.”

In reference to food, the word halal means food that is permitted for consumption under Islamic dietary guidelines. However, in cities and metropolitan areas, halal food has come to refer to Middle Eastern cuisine, typically items like falafel, chicken or lamb served with rice or salad, topped with either red or white sauce.  

Halal meat is prominent in middle eastern countries, especially in Algeria where Hassani is from. This style of halal food was not popularized in the United States until a few decades ago. In the late 20th century, halal carts and food trucks rose in prominence and eventually replaced hot dog trucks in large metropolitan areas. 

Though the halal food in these trucks bears little resemblance to Middle Eastern dishes or street food, Hassani and the other halal cart owners still bring back flavors, style of cooking and of course halal meat from their home countries. 

Drexel’s campus would be incomplete without the breakfast food trucks that line Arch Street. Sandy Tang runs Pete’s Little Lunch Box, known for its breakfast and lunch varieties at a relatively low price, and it can be found parked right outside of Bentley Hall. The most popular breakfast items are bacon, egg and cheese on hash browns, and for lunch it is sausage, egg and cheese. They have other food options too, like hoagies, croissants and bagels. Additionally, they also sell sandwiches, burgers, salads and steaks.

We are from Cambodia, but we make American food,” said Tang. “It’s completely different! We came to the US a while ago and opened our first food truck on Drexel’s campus in January 2008 just across this street. Everyone here is so nice. We have been here for 14 years and we love it!”

Despite the fact that the food she makes is not Cambodian or directly related to her cuisine, Tang’s work ethic reflects her background as an immigrant. The truck operates from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. This means that Sandy reaches campus around 5 a.m. to start setting up, and doesn’t leave until after 4 p.m. once she cleans up and sets everything up for the next day. 

Though their work day is anything but easy, it does not stop them from serving customers with a smile on their faces. This particular food truck has won the hearts of students due to its cheap prices and large portion sizes, as well as their amazing service. 

“This is probably the only place on campus where I can get a large iced coffee for a dollar, and the food is delicious too,” said Deeya Nevatia, a freshman health sciences major at Drexel. “Sandy is the nicest person ever! She always asks me how my day is going whenever I order something.”

Dos Hermanos Tacos is another popular spot on campus. Located by the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building, the food truck sells items like tacos, burritos and quesadillas. Gabriel Lezama De La Rosa, one of the brothers who runs the food truck, is from Mexico. 

This food truck’s menu is heavily influenced by the brothers’ heritage and their background as Mexicans. The most popular items right now are the birria and shrimp tacos, especially due to the weather.

De la Rosa sells typical items from Mexican cuisine, but with a twist. In addition to classic favorites like shrimp and fish tacos, breakfast burritos and quesadillas, the truck also has items like the fall burrito special, which is a spinach flour tortilla stuffed with brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, apples, cheese and hummus. The harvest quesadilla special is also popular, consisting of a tortilla filled with butternut squash, pumpkin, black beans and corn.

Through their menu, Dos Hermanos Tacos pays homage to their Mexican roots, while also introducing new flavors and twists to authentic Mexican food. Not only does de la Rosa introduce Mexican food and his cultural background to students around campus, he also keeps his menu creative and interesting.

“We like to serve the people,” said de la Rosa. “We want people to be happy with the food, and we want them to try different cuisines. That’s why we introduce new, different items to our menu, such as the harvest quesadillas and the fall burrito.”

De la Rosa’s commitment to keeping his customers happy is in line with many of the other food trucks on campus.The truck first opened up around seven years ago on Drexel’s campus in Nov. 2014, and has been keeping customers satisfied ever since. 

“I think that food trucks are one of my favorite parts of campus,” said Pranita Madaka, a biological sciences freshman at Drexel. “It’s really cool to have all of these different cuisines at one spot. Like if I’m craving tacos for breakfast and Korean food for lunch, I can totally do that.”

Food trucks have been a part of campus for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the food truck business. According to the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association, around 25 percent of the food trucks on Drexel’s campus did not return after the pandemic. 

“[The pandemic] definitely affected us. We were closed for 18 months and everyone was online. It was a long break,” said Sandy Tang. 

Most of these food trucks business comes from students and employees of Drexel; with the school going virtual due to the pandemic, the food trucks were without customers for a long period of time. 

“We closed at the end of 2019, and didn’t reopen until the end of 2020. We were closed for almost more than a year,” said Hassani.

Although things have improved since Drexel reopened and students and staff came back on campus, there are still other challenges that food trucks have to deal with. Supply chain issues and difficulties gathering ingredients means that some food trucks have had to hike up their prices.

Gabriel Lezama De La Rosa, who runs the Dos Hermanos Tacos food truck, gets most of his ingredients and spices from Mexico. 

“Right now, in terms of getting the produce it is a little hard to find some of the ingredients, like oregano,” de la Rosa said. 

Despite all of these challenges, these food truck owners persevere in order to bring a smile on their customers’ faces.

“If the customer is happy, I am happy. That is why I do this,” said Hassani.

Food trucks on campus are known for their excellent quality, friendly service, affordable prices and diversity in terms of cuisine. Part of what makes Drexel so vibrant and colorful is the different cultures found on campus, and the food trucks here are one example of that. Each of these food trucks have their own stories and backgrounds that are reflected in the food they make. Despite all of the challenges they have faced, these food trucks are still here and campus would not be the same without them.