Curry Up Now truck. Photo: Rana & Akash Kapoor
As one of the first food trucks to hit the Bay Area culinary scene, Curry Up Now has seen all the trials and tribulations that come with this niche business. They specialize in authentic Indian street food with some fusion elements thrown in for good measure.
Their menu items and locations change regularly so it’s always a good idea to check their website, Facebook or Twitter posts for daily updates. But they usually have a few regulars on the menu that stay constant, including their made-to-order Chicken or Paneer Kathi Roll and creamy Chicken Tikka Masala Burrito, mixed with fragrant saffron basmati rice and then wrapped in a tortilla. But my personal favorite is the Deconstructed Samosa, which is their homemade potato and pea stuffed pastry pocket, fried and then topped with mini-samosas, spicy chickpea curry (chana), tomatoes, red onions, tamarind sauce, their secret green sauce and your choice of ground beef (keema), chicken or paneer (vegetarian option). Their food is so good, it’s now become a weekly craving for me. And I’m obviously not the only one because their fourth truck is expected to hit the East Bay soon.
Deconstructed Samosa. Photo: Elaine Wu
I sat down with husband and wife team, Rana and Akash Kapoor, to ask them what they’ve learned, what’s next, and why it’s all worth it.
Where did the inspiration to start a food truck come from? You were one of the first ones on the scene.
AKASH: The idea started in early 2009. Then we got serious in the summer and launched on September 26th, 2009. It was a trend in Southern California and in Portland and we kind of took inspiration from everyone else’s ideas and threw ours in there and that’s how we started.
With weekly appearances in San Francisco, the Peninsula, the South Bay and now the East Bay, is your Bay Area wide domination complete?
AKASH: We’ve always wanted to serve our food to people all across the Bay Area. So now we’ve got 4 trucks hitting all the major areas, and we’d like one or two more as a “backup” or roving truck.
What are your plans for the future? I’d heard speculation at one point about franchising.
AKASH: Right now we’re very serious about opening a brick and mortar restaurant. In fact, it’ll hopefully happen within the next 90 days or so. That’s where we see the growth potential. We’re hoping eventually to start franchising and perhaps grow to multiple locations all over the country. A bit like a Chipotle or Panda Express, but with quality Indian food. The food quality is still and always will be the number one priority for us. But the restaurant will serve everything we do on the truck with perhaps 10 or 15 more items. Some things we’ve always wanted to serve but are impossible to make on the truck, like desserts and more entrées. As far as the trucks are concerned, we’ll keep them as is and maybe add a couple more. They all have to go through health inspections and the permit process. It takes a while.
What do you think the future is for street food in the Bay Area? Is it just a fad?
AKASH: I think the U.S., in general, adopted street food quite late and Northern California, in particular. There’s street food everywhere, especially on the East Coast. I think it’s here to stay.
RANA: It’s an alternative food movement for those who want to experience the food and culture of a region and the Bay Area street food scene is no different.
AKASH: I think because there seems to be a new truck on the scene almost every week, there’s gonna be consolidation and bigger players will take over because it’s hard to survive and grow and make money. Because if you don’t grow, you’re gonna go away.
We’re hearing a lot lately about brick and mortar merchants complaining that food trucks who park in their neighborhoods are stealing business from them. What are your thoughts around that?
AKASH: I believe some of these mom and pop places need to step up their game! Whether you’re a food truck or a sandwich shop, people have to like your food and you have to offer something different that you can’t get everywhere else.
RANA: We still go through it everyday with restaurants in the neighborhoods we visit. We went through it in Burlingame, but the city and the people have been great. One merchant came and cussed us out early on when we were out there. But you also have to be sensitive to the merchants around you. We try to stay away from restaurants that serve food similar to ours. If we park right in front of a coffee shop, we don’t serve chai because it’s probably on their menu, too. You have to be supportive. I mean, why not work together? There was one instance where the merchant came out and gave our customers samples! When you want to work together, something good can come out of it.
What is your opinion of other street food trucks? Are they competition or is it a community.
AKASH: People should respect when someone’s been in a location for a long time and not show up at the same time with the intent of stealing business. And it’s important for all of us food trucks to obey the parking rules. Everyone will get kicked out if someone steals 5 parking spaces. That doesn’t help anyone in the long run.
RANA: For example, if we want to go to a location that someone’s been at for a while, we call them directly and ask if it’s okay. Just call us! We’d love to build a community.
AKASH: I’ve actually been talking to the folks who run Off the Grid about starting an association for street food vendors and food trucks, especially in San Francisco. When traditional small businesses start bullying a food truck, whose going to advocate for us? We need a collective voice to represent this growing community.
You currently have over 4700 followers on Twitter and over 3600 Likes on Facebook. You’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, but your customers seem to be very loyal.
AKASH: They’re amazing. We listen to them and make changes all the time. When someone says that our food quality’s gone down, we listen. We call people who take the time to tell us how we’re doing. We make changes immediately.
What sort of wisdom can you impart to newer trucks going through it all?
AKASH: People need to do their homework before they go out. We didn’t and we’re still learning.
If it’s so much trouble, why keep doing it?
RANA: The passion. It’s always been there and it’s been a dream for both Akash and I. We’ve always loved to cook and entertain. And I love people. For me, I want people to tell me how they feel about the food and communicate with them. When people care, something good always comes out of that.