When Aiman Saad and his wife, Manal, first opened Munchies four and a half years ago, the Connecticut food truck scene was in its infancy, and that posed some unexpected challenges.
"When we started, we couldn't find anywhere to park. People didn't want us here or there. It was foreign around here," he says. "We used to have to go to Boston to get a food truck festival."
But in the following years, food trucks became enough of a rising trend that their business grew rapidly. Munchies earned a following for its burgers, fries and chicken sandwiches in southeastern Connecticut, with regular stops at office buildings and farmers' markets.
"Business has really kicked off in the past couple of years," Saad says. "We saw the national scene was improving so we knew it was going to get better here, but it took a little longer."
The menu at Munchies is simple but appealing, following a "real food, real fresh, real good" mantra with its flattop-seared burgers; marinated, grilled and fried chicken; fries finished with sea salt; and pita wraps stuffed with hummus or freshly-made falafel. Saad's culinary career follows that of his Lebanese parents, who owned restaurants in West Africa and Lebanon before opening Diana Restaurant in Groton. He borrows elements from his family's experience, using a habanero-sesame sauce for sandwiches and chicken marinades and a lemon garlic potato sauce on chicken pita wraps.
"It's classic American food, done really fresh and to order, with a little bit of ethnic flair," Saad says.
Before Saad and his wife decided to go into business with the food truck, he was a chef de cuisine at Mohegan Sun's restaurants. When the two had children, he was inspired to make a move that would offer more opportunities to spend more family time at home. "With casino life, you can't do that," he says.
The truck was a lower-cost and potentially less risky option than a full restaurant, and he says it's given him flexibility and independence to enjoy his family life.
On weekdays, Munchies normally parks at Electric Boat, Pfizer and branches of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital for office lunches, and you'll also find the truck at the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market every Sunday, along with other markets in Ledyard and Voluntown. The truck also has a contract to vend at concerts and events at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford. Saad says he'd like to increase Munchies' presence at local breweries and wineries and hopes to boost the catering end of the business.
Look for a profile of a new food truck each week through summer in Thursday's CTNow section, and follow the series, with photos and video, at ctnow.com/foodtrucks.