A Food Truck With a Cause

By Svetlana Farinha

Hungry customers wait for Mac & Cheese in Flatiron. Photo by Svetlana Farinha
Hungry customers wait for mac & cheese in Midtown.
Photo by Svetlana Farinha

Perched on 47th Street between Park and Madison avenues on most days, sits what its owners said is New York’s first and only macaroni & cheese food truck: Mac Truck. Founder Dominic Tesoriero and partner Steven Lee head into Manhattan every morning from Staten Island to serve up, or as Tesoriero phrases it, “sling” generous portions of mac & cheese to their loyal macheads.

Mac Truck was established in New York City in September 2012 after a summer launch in July at Saratoga Race Course and now 47th Street is usually its home. On some days it parks elsewhere, including 23rd Street and Park Avenue, but Macheads can keep up by following it on Twitter and Facebook to know where to grab their creamy lunch treat.

When customers step up to the Mac Truck, they are greeted with a smile and the sounds of Nina Simone and Otis Redding bumping from the radio. After receiving an order, Tesoriero and Lee artfully swish and swirl a meal complete with toasted breadcrumbs and a bright smooth cheese sauce on top.

The menu includes crispy mac bites, little square deep-fried portions of mac & cheese, cheeseburger mac loaded with beef, pulled pork mac topped with pickled onions and buffalo chicken mac, a spicy mac & cheese blend with buffalo chicken. All this is available topped with a poached egg or sliced apple with honey drizzle. A small meal costs $6 and a large one $8, while macbites are $5.

Among the specials are lobster mac, a favorite of many customers. “When are you bringing back the lobster mac, man?” one customer asked as he stepped up.  Tesoriero engaged in an animated conversation with the man about the tedious process of preparing the lobsters but vowed its return. He said that over the years he has learned to value his customers’ opinions.

“Having had the opportunity to go different places and experience different cultures has 100 percent influenced the way I approach our business,” Tesoriero said. He was schooled at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and worked in restaurants in Italy; he also worked at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with Framboise Catering of New York.

Besides serving up meals, the Mac Truck partners are interested in good works and have plans to launch a charity project called Mac & Cheese Save the World. They are currently partnering with Lucky Ant, a crowd-funding platform that helps small businesses raise money and connect with the community by allowing residents to donate to causes.

The project will consist of two animated characters Mac, an elbow macaroni, and Cheese, a wedge of cheese, who will raise money to provide supplies and computers to Staten Island schools.  The characters will show and share where exactly the funds are going.

Tesoriero said he wanted people to know they didn’t necessarily have to donate, only buy their lunch and a portion will go to a good cause. He said he didn’t really realize the power of the truck until late last year after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.

In October, after the storm left Staten Island devastated, Tesoriero and Lee drove to South Beach, Staten Island, to provide Sandy victims with warm meals. For four days, they functioned out of pocket but finally needed more funds, so they turned to their 1,000-plus fans on Facebook for assistance and raised $6,000 to continue to feed Sandy victims. They also received some money from the Mayor’s Fund.

“This was what made me realize the charitable power of the truck. Knowing that people support you and what you can do for others. Feels like I have super powers,” Tesoriero said.

With his charity project and a new truck coming from Texas, Tesoriero is looking forward to an exciting year. “We’re having fun and having success with it,” he said. “People just smile at the sight of the truck, even if they don’t stop to eat. “Things are looking good for us! But don’t think it’s all good. Sometimes it can be challenging, looking for a spot, trying to beat traffic and the permits are expensive.”

Typically a food truck permit costs $200, but the city capped the number of carts and trucks at 3,000, which caused a number of permits to be sold on the black market. Technically, a permit for a food cart or truck is nontransferable, but truck operators regularly pay permit holders around $15,000 to $20,000 to lease their certificates for two years. Legally, the permit holder becomes a junior partner in the new business.

“Small restaurants say that food trucks take away their business,” Tesoriero said, “but when you think about it, food trucks are the smallest businesses out here. But no matter, me and Steve we’re having fun. We’re doing what we want to do, what we love and people see that.”