SAN JOSE, CA – From crispy California avocado tacos sprinkled with sesame seeds to coconut-raspberry cupcakes and espresso, the food-truck revolution has delightfully messed with American food and culture.
Now, an indelicate — perhaps hilarious — line has been crossed. Are we ready for mobile hot dogs served from the final rest stop, the clutches of death, the lair of vampires? The ghoulish geniuses behind a bit of mobile madness — Dead Dogs Ltd. — believe we are.
So does Priscilla Garcia, who was innocently driving through north San Jose recently when she, like many others, spotted a long, shiny black Cadillac hearse. It was parked at a gritty intersection that looked more like West Texas than Silicon Valley. The funeral coach had flames painted on the side and seemed to have unloaded a coffin on the side of the road.
Curious, Garcia pulled over, and to her surprise, what she saw was a hot dog cart masquerading as a coffin. The novelty made Garcia blurt, “Oh, I think I’ll have a hot dog today!” And gladly the vendor, Jevelyn Lincoln, served the cleaning company employee a steamed jalapeño dog and sent her back to work happy.
“I’m going to tell everyone in the office about this,” Garcia said.
That’s the way most days go for the Dead Dog entrepreneurs. Disbelieving drivers, thinking a hearse has crashed and popped out some poor soul in a casket, stop from sheer curiosity. But then, when they test the proffered franks, they’re hooked. And, as you might imagine, morbid jokes flow around the unusual business as thickly as mustard, relish and onions.
“I told my wife I was going to take her to a special place to eat dead people,” said Gerardo Diaz, an auto dismantler. “She didn’t believe me.” When his wife arrived, she laughed out loud and took pictures of Lincoln behind the hot dog coffin-steamer. Almost every customer does that very same thing.
Diaz asked Lincoln, “Have you ever thought of parking this at a cemetery?” No, she answered.
“That would be the perfect place,” he said. “After they bury the dead guy, they can get a hot dog.”
Lincoln promised, “I’ll mention the idea to the owner.” Actually, the boss, Salvatore La Barbera, already had an idea for serving the morbid franks at a place where bodies move even slower than at graveyards.
“I want to serve them outside every DMV office in the state,” he says. “Think about it. People are there because they are compelled to be there, and there’s no food around.”
Dead Dogs was born about a year ago, when La Barbera, a car collector and shopping center developer, looked up cars for sale on the Internet and noticed a Cadillac hearse for sale. On a lark, he submitted a lowball bid of $12,000 and was surprised to get it. When a friend picked up La Barbera’s new hearse, he phoned with news: The monstrous vehicle came with a real coffin.
“What am I going to do with that thing?” wondered La Barbera. Nothing at first. It wasn’t until he was sitting poolside at a hotel in Manila, the Philippines, that he thought about adapting the hearse for the food-truck revolution.
“It was just another idea that popped into my head.” At 64, the founder of Terracommercial is set for life and semiretired, but he remains a jack-of-all trades with a working-class soul. After learning how to weld and operate machinery on his grandfather’s cherry farm, he earned degrees in math and computer science from San Jose State and Stanford universities.
He started racing go-carts at age 10. These days he flies his own helicopter and an Aero L-39 Albatros jet-fighter training plane. He owns more than a dozen classic cars and tools around San Jose in a beefy Chevrolet SSR pickup. “It’s basically a Corvette,” he quipped, “with the body of a truck.”
Find the entire article by Joe Rodriguez at the Mercury News <here>
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