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Monday, March 31, 2014

Crowds turn out for Flying Stove food truck

By Denise Neil
The Wichita Eagle

A food trend gaining traction across the country finally has rolled into Wichita, bringing delicious results.

The Flying Stove is a restaurant on wheels that started its ignition in December and now parks in different spots around the city, selling an always changing menu of gourmet sandwiches, tacos and other hand-held foods. It’s owned by Jeff Schauf and his brother, Rob, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Austin, Texas.

If you’ve been to Austin or Chicago or Los Angeles recently, you’re familiar with the food truck concept. In those towns, gourmet food trucks are everywhere. The trend has been well documented on shows such as Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” and on the ABC comedy “Happy Endings,” which features a character who runs a fictional Chicago food truck called “Steak Me Home Tonight.”

Although Wichita is familiar with street food vendors – the city has been home to fleets of taco trailers and hot dog stands over the years – The Flying Stove’s mobility, visibility and growing reputation for fabulous food is earning it a strong local following.

“We’re so new that I feel Wichita is still reacting, but we’re very grateful to everyone who comes out and tries the food,” Jeff said. “The feedback has been very positive. Wichitans have been open-minded to our concept and supportive.”

On a recent sunny Friday afternoon, a group of about 25 downtown workers gathered around the massive orange-and-red truck, parked in Old Town at the corner of First and Mosley. As they waited their turn at the window, customers talked over hipster tunes blaring from the truck and tried to decide between the mouth-watering offerings listed on the colorful menu board: Korean bulgogi lettuce wraps stuffed with steak, toasted garlic and shallots, sushi rice, red chiles and Asian pear sauce; a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, featuring crusty French bread piled with Asian pork, miso chili mayo, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon and fresh herbs; and fish tacos made with grilled tilapia and topped with red cabbage, a lemony sauce and crushed pistachios.

Jason Gregory, executive vice president at the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., walked to the truck with two coworkers from their offices near Douglas and St. Francis. They’d been hearing about the truck for weeks, and Gregory said he loved the idea that it was attracting big crowds of pedestrians to a downtown location.

“Any time you can get a mass of people on a sidewalk in Wichita, it’s a good thing,” he said.

The brothers advertise on Facebook and Twitter what they’ll serve and where they’ll be each day, but customers must be patient. Sometimes they don’t post until the last minute. Some days, they don’t open at all. And it’s not uncommon for the truck to sell out of food within an hour and a half.

The truck goes where the people are, and its most regular stops besides Old Town are the parking lot at the Central Riverside Park playground, at Wilson Estates on the east side, and at the Reflection Ridge Office Park at 7570 W. 21st St. Jeff says the truck’s busiest regular stop is outside the Royal Caribbean International offices at 4729 S. Palisade.

The truck also operates at parties and events and has recently parked outside the Cotillion to cater to concert crowds and outside Abode Venue and Naked City Gallery to serve people going to events there.

On Saturday, the brothers will park in the lot of Junk in the Trunk clothing store at 728 W. Douglas to take advantage of crowds at the Delano St. Patrick’s Day parade, and on Sunday evening, they’ll be outside the annual Pat Bash at The Boulevard, 900 George Washington Blvd.

The brothers, who grew up in Wichita, got the idea for their food truck while living in Venice, Calif. The neighborhood they lived in was full of them.

They thought about moving to Australia to open their business. But ultimately, they decided Wichita needed them more.

At an average lunch or dinner, the truck serves more than 100 people, Jeff said. The brothers hope to start daily lunch and dinner service during the spring and summer and continue to collaborate more with businesses and promoters putting on events and parties.

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