A light rain mid-day on a Monday wasn’t keeping Columbia students and staff from joining the lines for the lunch time food trucks near campus.
Offering hearty portions of Mexican, Chinese, Thai and Indian specialties, the trucks are parked every weekday from 11am-3:00pm on the east side of Broadway, between 115th and 117th Streets near the main campus gates. “You get Mexican, I want Thai,” suggested one Columbia student to his companion, as they each took off in opposite directions, agreeing to meet once they had their orders in hand.
Jose Gander and Martin Lucana are brothers in their 20s from Chacham Payas, a mountain city in northern Peru. They proudly wear black t-shirts and baseball caps with their business name, Fogon, printed in orange. Jose and Martin came to New York about ten years ago, and got into the food truck business in August 2019. “It’s going well,” said Lucana, “But, the NYC permits are too expensive…more than $20,000 for two years.”
It’s pretty common to hear members of the Columbia University community ordering lunch in their native languages. Sergio Pichardo works in IT at Columbia. He comes fairly regularly to the Fogon truck. Describing himself as Dominican/Puerto Rican, he ordered in Spanish before running to the ATM to get cash. Ahead of him, two customers picked up bags holding their burrito bowels. “It’s good, but really too much for one person,” commented one man. “I’m getting the same thing. It looks good” said Pichardo.
Ramon Ramirez and Jose Flores are both from Mexico, Ramirez from Puebla and Flores from Mexico City. They work for an owner who does not work on the truck. They also wear black, their zippered tops and caps baring the El Toro Rojo logo. Most of their food is cooked to order with some prepped at an off-site kitchen. Flores said burritos stuffed with beans, chicken or beef, lettuce and guacamole at $10, are their most popular item. What Ramirez particularly enjoys about this work is interacting with the students and other customers. “We have many regulars,” he said.
Getting a warm, satisfying and affordable lunch is what keeps Columbia students coming back to the food trucks. “You really get it very fast” said Aaron, a student at Columbia Business School, who had ordered his Chinese lunch in Chinese. He pointed out the numbered pictures posted on the outside of the truck, illustrating hot spicy shrimp and braised beef and tomato, among other dishes he had ordered. “You can get it with enough time to eat and get back to class.”