Editor’s note: There are nearly four dozen food trucks serving this region. Today The Herald is starting an occasional series to highlight these food trucks. If you’d like to be considered for this series, contact Tracy Kimball by email at [email protected]
Behind the windows of a food truck, distinctively devoid of neon food graphics on its sides, two chefs build simple masterpieces with a simple vision.
The food truck’s name is Cibi! Cibi! The truck is permanently stationed at Rock Hill’s Slow Play Brewing. Cibi is the Latin term for food.
It’s a lofty term for most people with a Southern drawl, but its simplicity is what chefs Hunter Newton and Anthony Legatie of Rock Hill were looking for as the searched for a business name.
“With the direction that we were planning on going … we would kind of embrace a variety of food styles and bring them onto one menu” Newton said. “It just kind of summed it up for us, this idea of food. It seemed simple.”
York, Chester and Lancaster counties are home to nearly four dozen food trucks — little trucks full of flavor. Most food truck operators put a unique spin on trucks names.
It’s OK to mispronounce cibi, Newton said, since customers often do. Cibi is pronounced kybee.
The dishes at Cibi! Cibi! fit into simple categories — burgers, chicken wings, noodles and tacos. But there’s nothing ordinary about the artistry of the dishes. The dishes look like pictures from a culinary magazine. The food is piled in aluminum bowls. The burgers, listed first on the menu, are a fan favorite.
“Our approach to burgers is that simple is best,” Newton said. He describes the American staple as a “classic double smash burger.”
“Two patties smashed very thin on the flat top and cooked the majority of the way through on one side to get a really nice crust across the exterior of the meat and then a nice, gooey cheese, caramelized onions and what we call burger sauce, which is just a mixture of dijon ketchup and mayonnaise.”
The chefs try to strike a balance between a classic burger and one with a little more fluff.
“When it comes to the burger, we understand that there’s a balance between simple and overdoing it and we try to strike a medium somewhere in the middle,” Legatie said.
Other dishes on the menu include a spicy chicken sandwich, known as a “sando,” with “four levels of spice,” and a Jasmine rice bowl that includes soy-glazed chicken or bulgogi beef, cabbage, pickled cucumbers and a fried egg. A fan favorite includes brussel sprouts.
Legatie wanted to do a food truck in high school. The 29-year-old went to culinary school at Johnson and Wales and the two chefs met while working at Local Dish in Fort Mill. Newton started as a server then moved up to sous chef. The men started the food truck in June of 2018.
But don’t call them chefs. To them, it’s just a word that describes their education. They prefer to be called cooks.
“What I think of a chef is someone who is inspired to create dishes,” the 31-year-old Newton said. “We don’t tend to be as attracted to the traditional hierarchy of kitchen staffing.”
Like food truck owners throughout York County, many are trained chefs.
And like many food trucks, the chefs felt a gravitational pull to local breweries. They started out stationed at Armor Artis Brewing in downtown Fort Mill and moved to Slow Play Brewing.
“We used to hang out, cook and brew beer and drink beer, so we thought it was a really good combination,” Legatie said. The men set up shop at Food Truck Fridays in Rock Hill, festivals and other events, Legatie said, adding they sometimes would work 14-hour days.
Picnic tables line the patio at Slow Play. Cibi! Cibi! diners many times grab a beer and a meal at the same time. Other dishes they can choose include American-style beef tacos and a Lo Main noodle stir fry. The wings are tossed in house sticky barbecue, valentina hot sauce, a cajun dry rub, soy glaze or a cayenne blend.
The chefs have not seen a downtick in customer orders due to the COVID virus, Newton said. In fact, it’s the opposite, he added. On any given weekend, the men will serve 200-300 customers.
“We have upped our to-go orders a lot more because we started doing online orders and we have seen a lot more people, especially at the beginning of Covid,” Newton said. “It seems people felt more comfortable coming to food trucks, especially because there is a wide-open area and there’s a lot of places to social distance while they’re waiting for food.”
In the neighborhoods
Jasmine Arroyo, another food truck operator, said her business is in full-swing, even during the COVID pandemic. Before the 31-year-old and her husband, 41-year-old chef Paul Arroyo started their food truck, Chickpeasy on Wheels, the two worked in restaurants, she said. They knew how restaurants were faring during the pandemic.
But the pandemic didn’t stop the couple from starting their business in April.
On a cold night in December, the Chickpeasy on Wheels truck is planted in the clubhouse parking lot at Mason’s Bend neighborhood in Fort Mill. On these nights, there’s no dining room table with a fancy chandelier. There’s just a parking lot and a dim spotlight shining on the workings of the Arroyos.
They have a different strategy for their truck than Cibi! Cibi! Chickpeasy on Wheels is traveling to neighborhoods. That strategy has paid off for the Fort Mill couple.
During COVID, “there was a lot of takeout, a lot of deliveries, so the neighborhoods got together and thought ‘why don’t we just have trucks come here’? Which worked out great for us because we got our name out,” Jasmine Arroyo said.
Now customers reach out to the pair on Facebook, Instagram and through their website.
“I would say 90 percent of our bookings came from inquiries from people that were just helping their neighborhood out and so they were messaging, which turned out great in terms of keeping everyone safe,” she said.
Now the food truck has regular customers and neighborhood gigs, she added. They even have repeat customers who follow them to different neighborhoods. The couple averages about 25 events a month and work long hours.
“They’ve been tracking us down, so once we get a guest, more often than not, they just become a repeat guest and you start recognizing all of the names,” Jasmine Arroyo said. “They greet us by our names, which is nice because it gives that close, hometown feel.”
The Arroyo’s serve Mediterranean fusion, with an emphasis on Lebanese cuisine. She is half Lebanese and the couple decided to make food based on things she prepares at home.
That’s how they came up with the name Chickpeasy.
Most of the dishes have chickpeas and hummus, which is made from chickpeas. And many of the dishes are comprised of chicken.
“My husband, being the trained chef that he is, he’s able to turn things that didn’t actually have a recipe, because all of the recipes are in my head,” Jasmine Arroyo said. “A little dab of this here and there, he really turned it into a functioning business.”
The most popular dish is the chicken kabob combo served with cucumber salad, yellow rice and fried pita chips. The chicken sandwich is also a favorite, served on gyro bread with chunks of chicken, hummus spread, and a tahini white sauce, unique to the Arroyos.
Another well-liked dish is kefta, which is a Lebanese-style meatball.
Chef Paul Arroyo butchers all of the meat. He was born in the Philippines, grew up in Queens, N.Y., and attended culinary school in Manhattan. He said he had a dream of opening a restaurant but decided to open a food truck instead because it’s smaller and easier to manage.
He and Jasmine Arroyo, from Florida, met while working at a restaurant in Maryland. Her sister lives in Fort Mill and the pair were visiting often when they decided to stay. They’ve been in Fort Mill for two years.
Customer Codi Garfinkle, a transplant from California, said she heard about Chickpeasy on Wheels from her Fort Mill neighborhood Facebook post.
“I can just grab my food right here in the neighborhood without having to go into a restaurant,” she said. “I ordered a little bit of everything.”
Customer Joshua Jones stood shivering on a sidewalk waiting for his hot food. He said he has explored all of the dishes.
“Every single time Chickpeasy comes to our neighborhood, my wife and I order dinner from them,” Jones said. His favorite is the kefta kabob.
“It’s delicious, it’s full of flavor, a great variety and something for everyone,” he said. “You can’t go wrong, even with the price.”