Popular Jersey City Food Trucks Lucinda Creperie and The Krave Partnering to Open Storefront Restaurant
For food trucks and pop-up restaurants, 2011 has been a banner year. Bon Appetit just named San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food – a food truck turned pop-up restaurant turned fusion brick-and-mortar eatery – one of the best new restaurants of the year.
The story is much the same locally, with food trucks having become some of the most popular dining options in Downtown Jersey City — not only for the lunchtime work crowd, but now for the after-work dinner crowd as well.
Two seemingly different Jersey City food trucks are riding this wave of success and popularity by partnering to open Kraverie at 24 Mercer Street, the former location of Cuban restaurant Ria’s Café.
Even the most unobservant residents of Downtown Jersey City have probably seen the bright yellow Lucinda Creperie truck parked in locations like Van Vorst Park, the Grove Street PATH Plaza and Harborside.
For many food truck owners, a restaurant is the ultimate goal. Natasha Usher – co-owner of Lucinda Creperie and Lucinda Burrito and Taco Truck with her husband Chris – always wanted to open a creperie.
“I wanted to do crepes, but we bought the taco and burrito truck first so that we could start right away,” she says. “The lady who sold us the truck showed us how to operate the truck and taught us the laws of operations. This gave us the experience we needed to do the crepe truck.”
Within five months, Lucinda Creperie was serving crepes to hungry residents and workers.
Around the same time, a neon green truck known as The Krave began serving Korean BBQ while parked in many of the same locations.
The Krave co-owner Charles Heo and his business partners — all graduates of New York University’s class of 2007 — saw potential in Jersey City.
“The city is still in its beginning stages of development, and we wanted to grow with it,” Heo says. “We could’ve worked in New York, but we chose Jersey City to bring new opportunities here.”
For Heo and his business partner Taejin In, partnering with the Ushers seemed like a natural progression. Both trucks park in the same commercial garage and share utilities.
“We had been looking for a location for a few months,” Heo says. “We were doing a street fair, and the parking lot owner on Montgomery Street stopped by our truck and told us about someone who was looking to sell a restaurant at Grove and Mercer Streets.”
A storefront location will give both The Krave and Lucinda the opportunity to offer customers more reliable and consistent service. In a food truck, they often have to deal with obstacles like parking availability, weather and mechanical problems.
“It hurts to know that someone is craving our food but that something happened to our truck,” says Usher. “Now, we’ll be able to serve lunch, dinner, and hopefully breakfast seven days a week.”
Heo agrees, and says he’s glad the store won’t be as dependent on mother nature as the truck is.
“Even the weather has affected our business,” he says. “One day is lost to rain. In the winter, there are blizzards. The snow covered our parking space so that we couldn’t even park.”
The Mercer Street location seems ideal for the two trucks, since it is close to where they currently operate.
“Telling people that we’re opening a storefront location just two blocks from where we park the truck means that our customers will come there,” Usher says. “If we go somewhere far like Journal Square then we will have to start from scratch.”
The fact that the Mercer Street space already had a kitchen was a major selling point, and Heo says the decor will be “cozy, New York City hip” rather than ultra-modern.
“The store will be able to seat 30-40 people, and there will be outdoor seating,” he says. “We’re also going to do brunch on weekends.”
There will be table service, as well as a bar.
“We can’t sell liquor, but there will be bar seating,” Heo adds.
The Kraverie will feature a menu with favorite items from both trucks, including some dishes – like a crepe with Korean BBQ meat – that fuse the two very different cuisines. It will also serve special new items that aren’t currently available at either truck.
“What I want to do with Kraverie is have a completely new menu but still rotate things at the truck,” Heo says.
Operating both the trucks and the restaurant will mean that all the business partners will be clocking a grueling 70-80 hours per week.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” Usher says of the workload. “I work with my husband all the time so learning how to delegate tasks and let other people help you run your business is going to be a challenge.”
As everyone has worked on renovating the space, Usher and Heo have been spreading word of the new restaurant to current customers.The Krave announced the new spot on Twitter last month, and word quickly spread among Jersey City foodies.
“It’s already spread so fast that people were asking me about it without me having told them,” Usher says. “I’m amazed how quickly it spread. Most of our regular customers already know about it.”
Heo and Usher expect to open the doors of The Kraverie in early November.
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Photo Jennifer Weiss
The Kraverie | 24 Mercer Street