Joe and Matet from Crazy Wheel have an obsession – with perfection. One taste of their fresh coffees, hand-made drinks or creative meals will have you asking yourself, “how is this so good?!” My first taste of their mind-blowing chocolate-coconut shake led them to show me the machete they used to scrape the meat out of the coconut. Whoa. Learn more about this interesting truck in this exclusive interview.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background. Who are you?
There’s two of us behind Crazy Wheel, Joe and Matet.
Joe is originally from western Kentucky state, east of Owensboro. He never fit in there or anywhere where they wanna talk about money and careers. He’s lived there, in Japan, and Singapore, and has been cooking for as long as he remembers. Making good food isn’t about money (he’d give it all away for free if he could afford to) and is more of an aesthetic pursuit to get it right. He’s probably autistic and likes pedantic accuracy, books, rock music, and definitely food.
Matet is from Cebu, Philippines and has constantly had trouble eating food or drinking something she, Joe, or her mom did not make. She often finds popular trends to have more hype than substance and does not like ridiculous amounts of sugar, oil, or meat in her meals. She likes to just make the drink perfectly, talk with artists and her best friends, and mostly hide from people unless they give her a reason to come out.
When did your truck open for business?
We started going out on the road last week of June.
Why did you start a food truck?
We got tired of the options available to us – we have done mostly IT work and did not get the sense of fulfillment that’s supposed to come with a “career”. Also, we did not like most of the food that we’ve tried outside except for the ones in Chiang Mai (Thailand), Japan, Cebu (Philippines), and New York.
How would you describe your food?
Handmade and very labor-intensive. All our fruit drinks start with us cutting up actual fruits and not using any premixes; we hand-bag all our teas per serving, and all our chocolates come from tablea (cacao bean paste) which we melt down into an unsweetened syrup. Food-wise, we source some things from farmers markets and mostly from ethnic markets around town which can be very inconvenient especially since they’re often out of stock.
You originally started as a coffee truck, right? Why did you decide to add food?
The coffee was an ill-thought-out way for us to use Crazy Wheel which we think a lot of custom car builders like. Actually, one of them had reserved the crazywheel.com domain and we never thought to use “SD” until it was suggested to us. We’d thought of the concept of a coffeehouse, which historically in a lot of places was a replacement to the pub, and which often did have many things other than just drinks. The idea that people would think we only had coffee really didn’t occur to us.
Adding the food was a natural progression, as we have a lot of ideas in cuisine we’ve gathered from here and there, and we think we have something of value to add to the local options.
How many people work inside the truck at one time? What kind of equipment do you have in there?
So far, we haven’t had more than two in the truck but we could probably fit a couple more. The equipment is mostly drinks-focused which somewhat limits our options as we don’t have a deep fryer for instance, but there’s still a lot of food we can do very well.
What’s your favorite thing about running the truck and what is your biggest challenge?
The favorite thing would be a tossup between autonomy and feeling like we’re doing something of value in that we can bring people options that they don’t otherwise have. We like not having a boss and take issue with any one or any organization who tries to act like one to us. The challenge is mostly financial and not having enough hours during the day to accomplish everything we need to.
What is something about running the truck that is different than you expected it would be?
We didn’t expect that it might be so hard to get people to try something new—one of the draws to the food truck movement, as we see it, is that people would be given alternatives to what they can find everywhere already. As it turns out, those things are so common partly because that’s what sells easily.
I have heard that it can be difficult to find places to park. What are the regulations for that anyway in San Diego? How do you find places to park?
The regulations are confusing at best and can come off as somewhat arbitrary. As far as we’ve seen the reality of it, you can be most places as long as nobody objects and calls the police to get rid of you. If somebody objects, there’s so many laws on the books that they’re sure to find something or other to kick you out.
What would you say is your most popular menu item?
Depends entirely on where we park. Drink-wise, it can either be the buko (young coconut) shake or the mango shake, though at times the familiar strawberry banana takes it. We’ve gotten what to us are odd comments about not being able to taste the coconut in the buko, which always seem to be positive, but we use a lot of young coconut meat and we suspect that there are a lot of people who just don’t know what real young coconut tastes like. Maybe they’re only familiar with the syrup? Also, a lot of people from Golden Hill are really getting into the avocado which is also sometimes referred to as the “guacamole” shake.
Food again depends on spot, but it’s either our pork pineapple BBQ or our chicken afritada. Both Visayan Filipino dishes, the way we do these is likely unfamiliar to even fans of the local Filipino spots here. The culinary traditions there are long and are very distinct from place to place.
What is something “off the wall” that you would love to put on your menu but aren’t sure people would go for?
We think that chicken liver makes the afritada even better and might start adding it as an option soon. Also, we are looking into making sisig that we’re sure people would like flavor-wise, but preparation is difficult and we’re concerned how much we might have to charge for it. If we can find a way to make it right, we’re sure it’ll have a great response both from fans of Filipino food and those who haven’t had it before.
As for the drink, we sorely miss our favorite shake in Singapore, the soursop, which seems to be called a guanabana in Mexico. There was a spot in the basement of Sim Lim Tower which did it to perfection. We haven’t been able to find a supply here, probably because the shelf life on it is so short. If anyone knows where to find it locally, we’d be grateful to hear about it.
Why do you think people get so excited about food trucks?
Well, some seem to be into it as a fashion trend of sorts, but for some I think it’s a chance to try an offering from someone who may have something special to offer but can’t afford the crushing expense of opening a bricks and mortar. We’ve been somewhat surprised how many people we’ve come across who are unfamiliar with any of the new wave style trucks and think we’re the only ones doing this. Pretty high compliment, but food trucks in one form or another have been around for as long as there have been trucks.
What advice would you give to someone trying to start their own mobile food business?
Don’t let people get you down or scare you off if it’s really what you want to do. It’s definitely a lot of work and it’s a tough thing to do, but it has so many great parts to it. Hang in there and remember you have a right to earn your living, too. If you need some useful information, let us know and we’ll try to help! Lisa of Two For The Road and Amanda of Corner Cupcakes have been kind enough to do the same for us when we first started.
What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten or had from any food truck/cart? Which truck was it and where?
While we’d like to acknowledge the superb food we’ve gotten from Two For The Road, MIHO, Delicioso, and Our Daily Cuisine, we should be honest and say it was the California burrito from El Jefecito on Heritage Road down in San Ysidro. Long drive, but it’s absolutely amazing and it changed our ideas of everything a burrito could be. For us, hype is always trumped by real flavors.