Neal and Samir Idnani should be out flexing their new finance and business degrees at desk jobs in Chicago and Los Angeles. But on any given night on Los Angeles' sprawling grid, you will find them, exhausted from what has already been a hot and draining day, taking your order from the other side of a window of Naan Stop, a food truck serving up contemporary Indian street food. What went wrong? In this case, you're seeing what went right.
Neal already left his post in finance in Chicago for a thankless counter job in a deli (customer research) to learn the ropes of the food business when he came out to join his brother in May of 2010 to start work on Naan Stop. Motivated by a desire to break down food barriers between Indian food and American palates and celebrate their mother's traditional northern Indian-style food, the brothers decided on mobility (lower cost of entry) over a brick and mortar (higher overhead). They spent the next few months pricing trucks, testing recipes, creating a business plan and figuring out the city's permitting maze. In just six short months, they launched their truck at the Santa Anita Food Truck Festival in January, 2011, to an 8,000-strong audience.
The business part, as you can imagine, comes easily for the brothers. On the other hand, the most frustrating thing, Neal says, is hearing people walk up to the truck, look at the menu and say 'Oh, Indian food. I don't like curry' and keep walking. To unravel the idea that Indian food is synonymous with bowls of curry and rice, he spends moments in his 16-hour day standing outside the truck pushing samples of turkey kabobs, dusted with turmeric, cumin and coriander, and "Naanwiches", wraps made with Indian flatbread and filled with a spiced meat or vegetable filling and a yogurt-based sauce into the hands of passersby. "If we just get people try it, they like it, and they want it again."
The evangelizing seems to be paying off. This weekend, they'll be participating in another see-and-be-seen food event, the LA Street Food Festival held at the Rose Bowl's Brookside Park in Pasadena. This year's festival is selling just 4,500 all-inclusive tickets to the event featuring a mix of food trucks and standing tents, an Ice Cream Social with CoolHaus and a street menu from Food & Wine's Best New Chef, Ricardo Zarate, owner of Mo-Chica and Picca restaurants in Los Angeles.
See mom? No need to worry about what the kids are doing outside of the office.
Sheik Kabob Burgers (Perfect for Summer Grilling)
- 2 lbs ground turkey
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 egg
- ½ med. Onion (diced)
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tsp salt
- pinch freshly ground pepper
- 1 tbs cilantro chopped finely
In a large bowl, mix the above ingredients. Do not overwork. Form into 8 1/4 lb patties, and throw them on a hot grill until done, about three minutes a side. Feel free to substitute ground turkey for lamb, chicken, beef, bison, etc. Melt cheese on top and serve with all the burger fixings.