In recent years, Champaign-Urbana has witnessed a trend that seems to be on the rise in urban areas around the country — food trucks. The Champaign city council met in early June to discuss the future of this particular branch of the food industry, concluding that trucks would be allowed to operate in four separate downtown areas and four campus zones. This was great news to Daniel Krause and Jeremy Mandell, both 2012 graduates of the University of Illinois. Their concept for a truck serving up breakfast from dusk until dawn had already been in the works for months.
The Cracked Truck will open today, August 1, and those eager to try out the new menu will be able to find Krause and Mandell, both 22, at the corner of Mathews Avenue and Stoughton Street from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in Urbana. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the truck’s late night hours will be in effect from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. at fourth and Green Street in Champaign.
“What we really wanted to do was bring something specifically created for students,” said Krause. “The big trend nowadays is food trucks. They have these smaller menus, but they do those things on the menu perfectly.”
Each sandwich on the Cracked Truck’s menu will be complete with a fried egg and hash browns. Bread will be made daily from Pekara Bakery with the meats and cheeses coming from Old Time Meat and Deli.
“Everyone loves a fried egg and hash browns. It’s a comforting type of food,” Krause said. “Some sandwiches feature chorizo, avocado, and bacon jam. Some have a hot dog and fried salami.”
For Mandell, getting on board with the truck back in December 2011 seemed only logical. “When you look at Champaign, the late night option is going to be pizza or Chinese food,” he said. “The breakfast options are more sit-down establishments. You have to wait. You have to tip. When you get done at the bars at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., it’s literally, ‘Where can we go get food?’ With our truck you can get breakfast and get home.”
The two co-owners are hoping their truck will provide “something Champaign hasn’t seen yet.” Originally, Krause had the idea to open an omelet bar after graduating. He did some research and came to Mandell with a plan to start conceptualizing a food truck. Though hesitant at first, Mandell took the reins for the business end of the operation. By the spring of 2012, the two had found a truck, purchased insurance, crunched numbers and realized there was no turning back.
“When you hear food truck, you might not think it’s that big of an operation,” Mandell said. “I had been doing interviews for other positions at the time this thing first started, and I realized I wanted to be running my own show.”
Both Krause and Mandell have experience in their respective fields. Krause has worked at the Wrigley Field Skyboxes, Wildfire, and Lou Malnati’s of Chicago, and at the University’s student-run restaurant, the Spice Box. Mandell completed a Summer Works Internship and has owned a stringing business repairing tennis rackets for over five years.
The two will not be completely alone operating the Cracked Truck either. There is a third partner, Sean Baird, and there are a few part-time employees. Nevertheless Krause assures that he and Mandell “will be on the truck, basically 24/7 serving the people.”
Another challenge facing the Cracked team will be the undoubtedly inebriated clientele that will flock to the truck during the late night hours.
“You know, we just graduated,” Krause reasoned. “I think we’ll be able to put ourselves in their shoes. We’ve all been a part of that crowd, and I think it will help us relate and not get too frustrated.”
Mandell will bring a business lesson recently learned to deal with any rowdy students. “I’ve talked to a few restaurant owners, and the way it sort of works is that the drunk guy is always right,” he said. “You push him to the front of the line if that’s what he wants. You let him get his food, and then you get him on his way.”
The two don’t foresee vandalism as being an issue and plan to “just deal” with what comes at them in the opening weeks.
“If anything, I think it will be a fun environment late at night,” Krause said.
To help cool down any hot tempers, the Cracked Truck’s menu will feature quite the selection of beverages in addition to their many sandwich options. Sodas will be purchased from the Home Soda Company, meaning Coke, Fanta, Sprite, and specialty sodas like Butterscotch, Root beer, Honey Cream, Blueberry, and Green River will all come in glass bottles and will be made from real cane sugar.
“We’re also going to make our own sweet tea each morning,” Krause said, “and there will be hot and iced coffee as well as hot teas.”
As far as recommendations go, both owners would choose the Sloppy Jose, a sandwich composed of a homemade chorizo patty, avocado, fried egg, hash browns, and bacon jam.
“I’d say my second favorite is the Plan B,” Mandell said. “It comes with spinach, sundried tomatoes, and a garlic basil pesto or spicy chipotle pesto. Again it features the fried egg and hash browns. A side would be the White Cheddar Bacon Tots.”
From left to right: Mandell, Sean Baird, and Krause
Make sure to visit the Cracked Truck’s official website here, and their Facebook page.
All photos by Sean O’Connor. Used with permission.