By LEEANNE GRIFFIN, Special to the Courant
The Hartford Courant
October 14, 2013
It's almost impossible to miss the bright red and shiny Toasted truck in Hartford, but if you do, just follow the blasting reggae music. The mobile restaurant selling pressed and toasted sandwiches in Bushnell Park and other greater Hartford stops is a new venture for local restaurateurs Debra and Khen Raviv, who previously owned Mediza in West Hartford Center.
The couple's journey from a full-service eatery to a food truck had several stops along the way. After closing Mediza in 2009, Debra Raviv, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who also formerly owned The Frog and the Peach in Canton, became the director of Hartford Public Schools' Culinary Arts Academy, on the campus of Weaver High School.
A year later, the Raviv family packed up and moved to Khen's native Israel so that the couple's three children could experience their father's culture. While in Israel, the couple began working on the business plan for their truck and finally launched the eatery in May 2013, once they had returned home.
"When we moved back to the U.S., we wanted a concept in the food business that was fun, quick service and sort of the next generation," Debra said. "[Trucks] have been around in big cities and we loved the whole vibe. We thought it was a great way to test-market our product."
At Toasted, the menu is simple but customizable: Sandwiches, at $6.95, start with a base of fresh Mozzicato Bakery bread in white or wheat varieties (Udi's gluten-free bread is available for an extra $2.) Customers choose one or more housemade sauces – chipotle or garlicky mayo, pesto, balsamic glaze, mustards, sweet chili or classic and hot relishes. Next comes a choice of four cheeses and such meats as roasted turkey, pastrami, Genoa salami, corned beef, buffalo chicken, corned beef or Black Forest ham. Tomatoes, spinach and banana peppers are on hand for vegetable additions.
There are also eight pre-designed signature sandwiches for easy ordering. The Hartford, with turkey, fontina, chipotle mayo, tomato and spinach is a best-seller, along with the multi-meat South End: ham, turkey, bacon, garlicky mayo, pepper jack and spinach.
The Garden of Eden, a take on Caprese with the addition of spinach, pesto and balsamic drizzle, is named after one of the couple's two daughters, as is the Queen Izabella grilled cheese that has four cheeses and tomatoes. The Helen of Troy, with pastrami, corned beef, provolone, Russian dressing and sauerkraut, is named for their son.
The signature sandwiches make up 80 percent of the truck's sales, Debra said, with 20 percent of customers choosing to make their own creations. "You're not limited. You can have any meat, cheese, [sauce,]…if we have it, we'll always do it for the customers."
The truck also sells sides of Rick's Picks pickles and bags of chips; fresh-fruit smoothies with yogurt ($3.75); daily baked goods; and even Nathan's hot dogs, served chopped with condiments as a snack ($2.75) or pressed between bread as a "toast" for $4. The pickles have been particularly popular, Debra said, earning a cult following by themselves.
"Our concept is fun, simple," she said, adding that the truck's price point allows customers to get a sandwich, side and drink for less than $10.
The Ravivs have bigger plans for the truck and its associated brand. They're working to find a space for a brick-and-mortar shop in Hartford and would like to eventually expand the business across the state, possibly as franchises. At the moment, they're diversifying their stops, bringing sandwiches to UConn football games at Rentschler Field and soccer games at Central Connecticut State University, and planning ahead for future festivals and other events. The truck is also available for parties and corporate events.
At Bushnell Park, they've developed a "great relationship" with city workers, Debra said, who frequent the truck for lunches and snacks. On "Toasted Tuesdays," they'll give away T-shirts and other merchandise, and on "Wacky Wednesdays," the 25th customer to the truck receives his or her order on the house. Toasted plans to operate through the winter, and may potentially add soup or chili to the menu in the cold months.
Though the truck business has its own unique challenges, including its tight workspace, Debra says she finds it easier to operate than a full restaurant.
"This has less going on, easier to manage and control," she said. "[But] I think it requires a lot of organization. Once you leave wherever you're keeping your truck, you're gone for the day. Everything on board is all you have."
As Toasted moves toward growth and expansion, the business maintains a straightforward philosophy. "We want to show that a simple sandwich can really be great," Debra said.
The Toasted truck parks at various locations throughout the week. To find the truck, at its daily stops, follow the business on Facebook (www.facebook.com/getittoasted) or Twitter (twitter.com/getititoasted.) Information: 855-558-6278, getittoasted.com.
>>Nearly 100 eateries are participating in Connecticut Restaurant Association's Connecticut Restaurant Week running through Oct. 20, offering wine specials and fixed-price multi-course lunches and/or dinners for $20.13 and $30.13.
This year, the Connecticut Restaurant Association will be giving away a $50 gift certificate during each day of Restaurant Week, redeemable to the winner at any of the association's 120 member restaurants.
Participants are encouraged to take a picture of their meal during Restaurant Week and email it to email@example.com, share it on the association's Facebook page or tag #ctrestaurantweek2013 on Instagram. The deadline is 11 p.m. each night of the promotion. Daily winners will be announced on Facebook and Instagram the following morning by 10 a.m. More information: ctrestaurant.org.
>>New Haven Restaurant Week returns Nov. 3 to 8, with 30 city restaurants offering prix-fixe menus for lunch and/or dinner. Information and menus: infonewhaven.com/restaurantweek.
>>Joel Viehland of Community Table and Tyler Anderson of Millwright's, two Connecticut chefs known for a commitment to local, sustainable cuisine have partnered for a special "restaurant swap" project this fall. Following Viehland's event at Millwright's, Anderson will host a dinner at Community Table (223 Litchfield Turnpike, Washington) on Nov. 11 at 6:30 p.m. The six-course menu with wine is $90. Information: communitytablect.com.
>>J. Timothy's, 143 New Britain Ave., Plainville, hosts an Octoberfest party Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. with German food stations, beer and live entertainment, including a band and dancers. Tickets are $50. Information: 860-747-6813 and jtimothys.com.
>>Madison Beach Hotel, 94 West Wharf Road, Madison, hosts an Opus One wine dinner Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $175, all inclusive. Reservations and information: 203-350-0014, madisonbeachhotel.com.
>>Max Fish, 110 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, hosts a Bourbon and Cigar Dinner Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. The dinner features the bourbons of Jim Beam and cigars from The Tobacco Shop of Hartford. Cost is $110, plus tax and gratuity. Information: 860- 652-3474, maxfishct.com.
>>High Rollers Luxury Lanes and Lounge at Foxwoods hosts a fall festival Nov. 10 at 1 p.m., featuring beer sampling, passed appetizers and complimentary bowling. Four Big Night Entertainment Group chefs will also participate in a contest, with each preparing a dish with beer as a main ingredient. Guests will sample dishes and vote on their favorite. Advance tickets are $35. Reservations and information: 860-312-2695 and HighRollersFoxwoods.com.
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