Today we get on board the food truck phenomenon and meet with Erin Crist, owner and operator of Deano’s Deli food truck. On any given day you can find this lovely lady and her truck full of fresh deli meats, cheeses and breads always at the ready to provide you with a fantastic meal! We first encountered her delicious sandwiches outside of Warner Bros. Records in Burbank, CA where she can be found most every Tuesday. On Monday, we stopped by Handsome Coffee Roasters in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles to have a chat as Erin started her day and we were surprised to hear how this young entrepreneur first got her start.
Philadelphia born and bred, she also attended college there. After achieving her Bachelor’s Degree in International Business and Marketing, her first job out of University was in Export Management. She gleaned a lot of info about general Business Development and International Sales. Next, following a move to California about 6 years ago, she began working with a PR agency focusing on Tech where she was a Business Development Manager. This eventually led to working with a food package design agency where Erin was Director of Marketing handling everything from branding, communications, photography & copywriting…essentially anything and everything that could go onto a food packaging label!
Surrounded by food developers, food scientists, and so many people who were living out their dreams, it inspired Erin to really concentrate on creating a business plan for her own venture. It was also during this time that she attended a part time culinary program on the West Side of L.A. This program was a hands-on experience that helped hone Erin’s skills working with food & menu building and truly solidified the fact that she wanted to ultimately be working in the food industry.
From there, Deano’s Deli was born. Her primary goal was to create something truly classic & Americana: easy, simple & fulfilling deli sandwiches…the stuff she grew up eating but that didn’t seem to be too readily available in the Los Angeles area. In Philadelphia, you wouldn’t think twice about heading to the corner store and grabbing a turkey sub. She wanted something that reminded her of those experiences but without breaking the bank and allowing her to be price sensitive towards her customers.
We sat with Erin on board her truck to talk a bit about Deano’s Deli:
Where did you come up with the name for Deano’s Deli?
About 3 years ago I went through a pretty bad family tragedy. My parents were in a horrific car accident and my father didn’t make it. He was Deano and this is my tribute to him. We live our daily lives in and out each day and sometimes I think you need to have that inner push to keep this business going. Things happen in your life that you learn from and gain from, you can’t get caught up in the tragedy part but move forward. My Dad wouldn’t want me to feel sorry for myself. Each day I get up and say: “OK Dad, let’s do this!” It’s great as he’s with me in this venture.
What are Deano’s most popular sandwiches?
Definitely the Italian Cold Cut and Roast Beef sandwiches.
The Roast Beef is made with horseradish mayonnaise, sharp cheddar cheese, medium rare roast, raw onions, lettuce, salt and pepper and fried green tomatoes.
From that I created the vegetarian sandwich with fried green tomatoes and can’t keep enough of the green tomatoes in stock! Finding green tomatoes in Los Angeles is no easy feat either. We really have to search high and low.
Another big seller I have is the Roasted Pork special which I based off a recipe from a famous sandwich shop in Philly called Tommy DiNic’s which is located in the Reading Terminal Market. It’s a pork shoulder roasted Italian style which means seasoned with garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Then it’s braised in red wine for 24 hours. I have a portable oven that is on the truck so everything is legit and no need to cook anything at home.
Tell us about your Fried Prosciutto sandwich, was that something you invented?
The PLT is something I created because I don’t carry bacon. When I first started I was told that bacon prices were about to skyrocket so was told not to do anything with bacon! Prices fluctuate so much throughout the year on everything so thankfully with the PLT; we’ve stayed safe, as there haven’t been huge price spikes. For that one i put it in the deep fryer, it’s a light sandwich that the girls love. It’s about 5 slices of prosciutto, which shrinks during frying, so it’s not overboard and then we add a little garlic mayo and tomatoes and you’re good to go. I had a goal with the menu about not wanting to do “gut bombs”. Wanted to keep the menu simple, approachable and affordable. And of course super solid, fresh ingredients. I actually bring in my bread from Philly, I work with a distributor out in the City of Industry and it comes in once a week.
You seem so passionate about this venture, what do you enjoy most about the food truck business?
It’s so fun, honestly, I think about what I was doing before and where I was at before in life…things, interests, and it’s amazing at how enriched things have gotten for me. It’s so hands on to the point where I control everything. I mean nothing goes out that window without me seeing it…for the most part. I know I can’t do EVERYTHING but it’s just been amazing to watch it grow, from where it started to where it is today. I can’t stop. It’s what I do now, this is me.
What are your biggest challenges?
I would say consistency. The availability of products and how prices fluctuate sometimes make it difficult to keep the consistency. Today’s special is a Chicken Cutlet that is supposed to have broccoli rabe but I couldn’t find broccoli rabe all weekend! To order it, it needs to be placed a week in advance, which I should of done but of course, things happen and I didn’t! So today’s sandwich will have spinach instead. That’s the biggest challenge: keeping thing on point and planning. Making sure we don’t run out of things. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned, planning is so important. Then, really, just consistency because we don’t have huge storage, so we buy for the week. Everything is sliced fresh each day. We get all of our prep done before we get to location so the customers can get the attention they deserve.
Tell us about your ‘house made’ potato chips?
We slice the potatoes on a mandolin and then soak in water for a day in advance, which helps pull some of the starch out, to make them really crispy. Then right into the deep fryer. They take about a minute and they are so fresh. It’s so easy I don’t know why every truck doesn’t do them this way.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Wow, that’s a good question. I think I’d really like to have a fleet of trucks. I was talking about some retail spaces for an actual deli but some of the best places to set up are tiny and around $5000 per month! Do you know how many sandwiches I’d have to make just to break even?! No, I like the freedom of the truck and keeping the costs low. It would be great to have a bunch of them around Los Angeles.
Photos by: Devin Sarno