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full speed ahead

CHARLESTON, WV - Luscious lunch offerings are moving about as food trucks and outdoor carts pop up beneath spring sunshine.

“This is a restaurant on wheels,” said Donna Sales, as she worked out of a truck tagged Sistah’s on the Go. “I go out year-round but it’s slower in the winter. Now it’s picking up. The weather is getting better. The snow about killed me. I’ll do good. I feel it coming.”

Sales has most recently parked her food truck at the intersection of YMCA Driveand Hillcrest, where she serves a steady stream of customers. She figures it’s a good spot and she will be there at lunch time as long as business is brisk.

Sales said food trucks and vendor carts are popular in bigger cities but are just now gaining steam in Charleston.

She opened Sistah’s Rib Shack in 2010 on Seventh Avenue on the West Sidebut closed it late last year due to a lack of business. She believes the location, tucked away on a one-way street, was a drawback. With her food truck, she can have her choice of visible sites.

“I like doing what I do,” she said. “My partner, Clint Arnold, bought the food truck. I cook and move around. This is my dream.”

When there is a big event, Arnold has been known to pitch in. However, he has another full-time business.

Her regular full-time assistant right now is her cousin, Kenneth Foye, who is visiting from Indiana where he also works in the food business.

“I am trying to get him to stay,” she said. “He’s teaching me little things.”

The Sistah’s on the Go truck runs a chalkboard menu that varies from day to day. Among offerings are ribs, chicken, fish, Polish sausage, hot dogs, hot bologna, French fries, onion rings, mac ‘n cheese, green beans, baked beans, fried green tomatoes and peach cobbler. Not everything is offered every day and she is open to requests. As the weather gets warmer, plans call for offering free lemonade.

To place a call-ahead order or inquire about catering, call 304-346-RIBS.

Meanwhile, in downtown Charleston on the corner of Capitol and Lee streets, mouthwatering aromas drift from a cart at lunch time where Mark Gomez andTim Johnson prepare steak kabobs, pulled pork, Philly cheese steak, hot dogs with homemade chili, and corned beef. The business, called All American Capitol, has been rolling around the area since last June.

“We come every day as weather permits,” Gomez said. “We’re here Monday through Friday from 11 to 2. On Friday and Saturday nights we’re at Chase across from Blue Parrot on Capitol Street.”

Gomez has two more carts ready to go when the time comes to expand and he can find adequate help with the enthusiasm he and Johnson have for the business.

“It’s like being a bartender without the alcohol,” Gomez said. “We talk to everybody. We enjoy it.”

He said a license and insurance are among requirements for running the business that must meet the standards of the state Health Department. He believes customers enjoy seeing their food prepared right before their eyes.

He and Sales both have commissary sites for doing the prep work before heading out to their mobile locations.

However, another entrepreneur runs a restaurant in addition to a food truck.

Adrian “Bay” Wright is owner of Dem 2 Brothers and A Grill, 426 Virginia St. W.

In 2011, he set up a grill at the corner of Virginia Street West and Central Avenue where he sold to-go fare. Late last year he moved into the building across the way where customers could enjoy indoor dining. However, he also purchased a food truck a few months ago in order to take his offerings on the road to fairs, festivals or just downtown for the lunch crowd.

“I got the truck last year,” he said. “I started with a cart and then the food truck and then the building. I’ll do downtown and a little bit of everywhere with the food truck.”

Sometimes customers are in the mood to grab a quick bite from outdoor vendors and sit in the sun instead of a restaurant, he said.

He sometimes hires extra help but generally one of his six brothers is around to assist.

“I’ll probably start next month taking the truck out in Charleston to Capitol Street and different places,” said Wright, who plans to make it convenient for the lunch crowd.

The menu includes mouthwatering items such as pulled pork, ribs, Italian sausage, Philly cheese steak, fish, bratwurst, chicken breast, hot beef bologna and hot dogs.

The telephone number for the restaurant is 304-550-4431

There is a sense of camaraderie among those who sell food outdoors, the vendors say. Wright said discussion is swirling around holding an event where they can all meet in one area and sell their specialties. Sales said there is no sense of competition because a customer may buy one item at one stop and a different food from another vendor.

She predicts once the food truck business gets rolling in Charleston that it will continue to pick up speed.

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