It’s 10:45 a.m. Wednesday and already the temperature hovers in the humid 80’s.
I hoist myself up into the Beauty of the Bistro’s gleaming, steaming interior, apron strings trailing behind me, notebook in one hand, phone clutched in the other.
My initiation in working on a food truck is a lunch shift. Rumor has it we could serve nearly 180 people in the next four hours.
Removing my sunglasses I encounter the inner sanctum of one of Johnson County’s most popular lunch-on-wheels spots. It’s dollhouse-small and a quick visual sweep confirms organized military precision of the accouterments necessary to serve the crowd about to descend.
Half a foot — literally, I mean, half of my foot was inside the food truck — I run into owner Sidney Fish.
The ponytailed caterer-food trucker who launched the on-wheels portion of her business in 2012 is decked out in stylish jeans and a Beauty of the Bistro T-shirt.
“Welcome aboard!” Sidney is bustling — you really can shake it in a tiny space — with last-minute preparations. She opens the refrigerator to reveal shelves of neatly stacked homemade sauces, boxes of fresh produce and handmade burgers.
“This is my son Shawn,” she says, nodding toward the young man who I later learn is the “Keeper of the Orders” and the operation’s gregarious front man.
Shawn’s iPad sits on the counter, fired up for the hundreds of credit cards he’ll swipe. Within an arm’s reach of Shawn is a pile of Sidney’s famous desserts. Today it’s a fudgy ganache-covered brownie with a peach-mango filling.
Behind Shawn is fellow K-Stater Mike Schonwetter.
Five inches from Mike is Rachel Price, ready for action, food-service gloves on, game plan in place.
“Everything I need is here,” Rachel points to pans heaped with ingredients for salads, sandwiches and burgers and then opens the door to a small cooler stuffed with plastic boxes. “Chicken salad sandwiches to get started with.”
“Oops, sorry,” I apologize for stepping on Sidney’s foot — someone’s foot, at least. It won’t be the last time I make amends for body-bumping a co-worker.
From the outside, Beauty of the Bistro’s food truck looks sexy-rock-and-roll hip, like it’s the kitchen on wheels for a well-heeled traveling band.
Today the vehicle is parked in its regular weekly temporary 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. storefront, on a patch of gravel at 199th Street and Metcalf Avenue.
That’s the Stilwell community in southern Johnson County for the uninitiated of the pleasures way beyond the state line. It’s not exactly the heart of Johnson County’s bustling suburbs — in fact, it looks pretty quiet.
Peering out the food truck’s expansive front window I see a four-way stop monitored by a traffic light. On one corner is a gas station/convenience store and on the opposite is Beauty of the Bistro.
Park it and they will come?
At exactly 11 a.m. the first customer John Munz, who lives down the road in Bucyrus, Kan., appears at the window.
“Yep, I’m a regular,” he offers, waiting for his roast beef and provolone on marble rye with a smear of artichoke spread.
Soon diehard Beauty of the Bistro-ites, fans of Sidney’s from-scratch food and desserts — many even travel through the snow for Wednesday lunch — trickle into the parking lot, along with lots of newcomers.
Some study the chalkboard menu propped on the ground, others fire off orders to Shawn with confidence.
“Lots of people get the same thing every week,” he says. “But people like to change it up, too.”
The line is constant, never overwhelming, and the mood is festive both inside and outside the truck as Shawn takes orders and handles the money, Sidney flips burgers on the flattop and Mike assembles boxes of freshly made Crawfish Mac-n-Cheese, a truck specialty.
Rachel multitasks: two market salads, four Boom Boom Burgers, two orders of Boom Boom Tacos with pulled pork and three chicken salad sandwiches are laid out on her pristine work surface.
“You’re a clean-as-you-go chef, huh?” I ask.
Rachel acknowledges the question with a smile, never missing a beat as she scoops slaw onto burgers and arranges toasted Farm To Market buns on top, snapping the to-go boxes shut before handing them off to Mike.
Shawn slips an order in front of Rachel.
“Your grandma is here,” he says, “and today she wants two Boom Boom Tacos.”
“Grandma comes every Wednesday,” says Rachel. “And so does my mom.”
Like clockwork, Rachel’s mom approaches the window and orders tacos.
The truck gently sways, cruise-ship style, and the music pumped on speakers outside through Sidney’s iPad creates a party-like vibe.
Patrons of Beauty of the Bistro are a diverse bunch.
There are moms who set up picnics for their kids in the back of SUVs, clusters of construction workers, groups of nurses and a couple of camp leaders.
Steve Chick, EMS chief for Johnson County Fire District #2, ponies up to the window and a tattooed man on a Harley packs his Boom Boom Burger in a side bag and heads back to work.
Becky Carney of the Blue Valley School District Parents as Teachers program places an order for colleagues and Jennifer Becker and her three children queue up for tacos and burgers.
A Little Debbie distributor’s truck rumbles in and the driver jumps out to order lunch — and dessert.
At the end of the four-hour lunch rush Sidney tallies up the dishes she and her crew so deftly executed.
“We had 168 orders,” she says, ticking off the selections. “There were 48 burgers, 52 tacos — two in each order — 20 chicken salads, 10 market salads, 14 roast beef and 24 crawfish mac-and-cheese.”
And that doesn’t include the chocolate brownies, I remark.
Sidney, Shawn, Mike and Rachel slap high-fives, sweat trickling down faces, satisfied smiles all around.
I stumble out of the truck, stepping on multiple feet, resisting one of the brownies left on the counter.
My experience leaves me grateful for pros like Sidney Fish, an integral part of Kansas City’s vibrant food truck scene.
She makes it look so darned easy.
“It’s all in a day’s work,” grins the Beauty, still looking model-fresh even after toiling four hours behind the griddle. “Come back again, okay?”
You betcha. I’m a regular — but next week, I’ll be ordering at the window.
For more information on Beauty of the Bistro, visit its website www.beautyofthebistro.com .
Kimberly Winter Stern—also known as Kim Dishes—is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper's Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.