The Night Truck: An Icon Attempts a Comeback

 

Sarah Rose Sanders

It’s strange to me to think that there is an entire generation of students here at Hampshire who have not gotten to experience The Night Truck. Some of my favorite memories from my first spring semester were made standing in the Dakin loading dock. The Truck ensured the lot was filled with the smell of fried food and hungry students all night. The warm glow of the lights and the heat that emanated from the truck were perfect for those brisk spring evenings. There was always the soft sound of the radio playing over the clamor that came from the small kitchen, as Oliver and his crew churned out orders. The Greasers, a grilled cheese with bacon, mozzarella sticks and guacamole, were the best especially when you added marinara sauce. My best friend would do anything for their Fried Brussels Sprouts. It was always a good time when The Night Truck was open.

As some people may know the truck has been out of commission as it undergoes extensive renovations by Oliver with the help of friends and family. In the time that it has taken the renovations to be made Hampshire has begun a discussion on the status of night time food services that suggest the future of the truck is in jeopardy. After speaking with Oliver, the owner of the truck, it is clear that his goal is to “bring the truck back this semester to prove to the school that it’s a functional, viable option”.

During this interview Oliver told me all about his history with the Night Truck and how it all started with the potential that he saw in it. This was a time before the truck that we know and love today came about. Back when it was a purple beast with yellow stars painted on it, under the ownership of a student named Jake Hawkesworth. It had been a part of campus for five years before Oliver applied for a manager position with the hopes of getting to help remake the image of the truck. It was clear to him that there was so much opportunity and potential for the truck even back then. “I don’t want it to just be the truck itself,” he said to me, “I have a vision of it being a pocket of food culture. An oasis in the food desert that is Hampshire College at night.”

Oliver was given the Truck after workign there for just one semester, after Jake moved to Colorado. Jake wanted it to remain a facet of Hampshire College campus. But it was a complicated, dramatic process that involved lawyers between Jake and the school over a significant amount of seedfund money that he had been loaned to put towards the truck and was expected to pay back. He couldn’t pay it back, and the college didn’t think it was fair to expect Oliver to take on the debt. So it was dropped.

Eventually the title and the business licence were moved into Oliver’s name and he began building his vision on the night of Hampshire Halloween 2015. He only had time to make small renovations before opening, but that didn’t keep people from coming in waves. When Oliver compared his notes to that of Jake’s, his success was clear. Even on slow nights he was pulling in more money then Jake had while serving at special events. This didn’t mean that everything was hunky-dory though. The truck had a lot of problems whether it be interior, exterior or mechanical. In-fact it often had to be towed due to mechanical failures. It got to the point where the truck could no longer be driven but Oliver needed to stay in business just to afford the expenses of owning a business.

Not all of the setbacks Oliver faced came as a result of the truck itself: some came as the result of Hampshire College failing to follow through on part of their signed agreement. It had been agreed that Oliver and his crew would have access to the Prescott Tavern’s kitchen to use as prep-space and storage. Then, near the end of the semester, Oliver went over after class to conduct inventory to find the Tavern under construction: it was being turned into a bakery for the Kern. When Oliver walked in the sinks were torn out and the counters were covered in debris, ruining his prep-space. He had been given no prior warning that this renovation was occurring. Within a week, he says, the room had been demolished and the supplies that Oliver had been storing there were left in piles outside. Worse than that, there was over one thousand dollars worth of inventory and appliances missing. All of this happened without any notice on a day that the truck was scheduled to be open. His storage space had been moved across campus to a spot in Enfield, where Mixed Nuts once was, and the prep-space was deleted. “So you know shit got harder,” Oliver told me.

As time went on more and more problems kept arising. Appliances were breaking, and Oliver was dumping loads of personal resources into keeping the truck running.

But then, Spring Jam happened. Just hours before it started, the fridge started leaking coolant and had to be thrown out. He improvised and bought a cooler that he kept refilling with ice. It turned out to be their highest revenue night ever. Oliver remembers all the enthusiastic customers and all the positive interactions he had. People telling him how amazing their food was and how happy the truck made them, it made it all worth it.

So Oliver was inspired to keep working towards his vision, though he had not anticipated the outrageous amount of blood, sweat, money and tears it would take. He applied for seedfund money to help with the renovations that he had begun with his own savings. Over the summer he was forced to leave the truck with a mechanic, so he had to wait till september to completely gut the truck the way it needed to be: water damage from holes in the roof had caused all the wood to rot and lose its integrity. So starting from scratch, Oliver had to rebuild the interior of the truck with new walls, cabinets and all new appliances. As he worked through this winter he kept the vision of potential he saw from the beginning.

His eventual goal is to be able to step back as owner of the truck and let it remain a student run facet of the campus. He sees the truck as an opportunity for learning and hands on application of a number of different skills from food sourcing to advertising to menu design to management positions. He hopes that the truck will be able to grow and exist as a part of Hampshire College, adding to the opportunities that it could offer students. But he needs help completing his vision, due to the series of unforeseen expenses that arose during the renovation. The seedfund money has run out, and there is still much to be done, but Oliver says that the  “administration continues to reiterate that they are looking towards other late night food options and now they also will not provide us with any kitchen on campus to use for prep / cleanup, which we would have needed to pass code. Basically they are going beyond just not cooperating… The night truck is now completely on its own.”

Oliver has set up a gofundme page, and is accepting any and all cash donations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: