North Texas Daily

UNT alumnus brings Vietnamese street food to Denton

UNT alumnus brings Vietnamese street food to Denton

UNT alumnus brings Vietnamese street food to Denton
December 03
13:28 2013

Christina Ulsh / Senior Staff Writer

On the last day of the Denton Community Market season, while retail vendors fold their goods, their tables and their tents and pack them away, The Pickled Carrot is still serving bánh mi–Vietnamese sandwiches–to hungry customers.

The Pickled Carrot, a mobile food vendor that serves fresh-cooked meals out of a black trailer attached to a Ford F-150 truck, is one of the first Denton-based food trucks. It is also one of two businesses in town that serves Vietnamese food.

“I did bánh mi because it is the street food of Vietnam,” said Cuong “Kong” Mai, 25, founder, owner and UNT alumnus. “I wanted to serve something people weren’t familiar with and introduce them to Vietnamese food.”

The Pickled Carrot began as a food tent at the Saturday community markets in March 2012. It is an important vendor to the market, said Kati Trice, the market’s founder and vendor coordinator.

“They are offering something that is rare to find in Denton,” Trice said. “People come to the market just for bánh mi sandwiches, and they get to stay and enjoy the market.”

As a vendor at the market, The Pickled Carrot had to sign a product authenticity agreement and a green vendor agreement. This ensures the values of the food trailer are aligned with the values of the market.

“Sustainability and local–those are core values for us,” Trice said. “It’s very authentic to what’s being created in this town.”

The food trailer’s bánh mi is the best sandwich in Denton, including burgers, said community market photographer Michael Leza.

“The thing I consistently buy every week [is] The Pickled Carrot’s bánh mi,” he said. “Sometimes, if I can’t wait until Saturday, I’ll stop by in the middle of the week over by Earthwise.”

Although the market is over until next spring, The Pickled Carrot is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays in the Earthwise Gardens & Produce parking lot at 728 N. Elm St.

Mai announces on the company’s Facebook page which bar it will be parked at Thursday through Saturday during the evenings.

“That’s what’s nice about being mobile,” Mai said. “You’re not fixed to one location.”

Mai spends about 12 hours a day with service, transportation, produce pickup and preparation for the mobile eatery. Three of those hours each weekday are dedicated to being open for business.

Mai and Corbin Ball, Mai’s coworker and friend since childhood, travel from the Plano and Richardson area to Denton for each day the truck is open.

“We don’t live in Denton,” Ball said. “That’s the worst thing, that you have to drive 40 minutes and then to turn around and drive back.”

The two are looking to move to Denton, but there isn’t a commissary, the headquarters of food trucks, for the trailer to be parked, cleaned or  the food to be prepped at. Currently, Mai goes to three separate commissaries to do these tasks.

“The investors don’t want to buy a commissary because there’s no food trucks,” Mai said. “But the food trucks aren’t popping up because there’s no commissary.”

Mai has a few goals for the company he hopes to reach by the end of next year. He said he hopes there will be a few more food trucks rolling through the Denton streets soon.

“I’m working with the city to rent this parking lot for a food truck gathering,” Mai said regarding the Denton County Historical Park lot on Carroll Boulevard.

Ball said having more than one food truck option draws in more people to the businesses.

Mai also said he is looking to invest in an actual food truck, as opposed to a trailer hitched to his vehicle. If not, he is considering going the “brick and mortar” route by having a freestanding shop.

The Pickled Carrot uses its business to support the community as well. All tips are donated to the Denton Community Food Center.

“I don’t really care about the tips,” Mai said. “There are a lot of people out there who are hungry.”

Thus far, they have donated more than $4,000 to the center.

The Pickled Carrot has also been recognized by the Keep Denton Beautiful initiative as a leader in the program after it served between 500 to 700 sandwiches at cost for its Great American Cleanup event, Mai said.

“I just want to be able to help as much as I can in the community and be involved in the community as much as I can,” Mai said. “I don’t think you can have a successful business without the support of your community.”

To find out where The Pickled Carrot will be parked next, go to https://www.facebook.com/Thepickledcarrot.

UNT alumnus Cuong Mai stands next to the Pickled Carrot truck after first acquiring it in Aug. 2012. Mai earned a bachelor's degree in hospitality management. Photo courtesy of the Pickled Carrot Facebook page.

UNT alumnus Cuong Mai stands next to the Pickled Carrot truck after first acquiring it in Aug. 2012. Mai earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management. Photo courtesy of the Pickled Carrot Facebook page.

Numbers of Denton community market patrons enjoy lunch from the Pickled Carrot food truck on Saturday afternoon. The community market hosts a variety of food trucks and the Pickled Carrot gains a lot of business on market days. Photo by Kristen Watson / Intern Photographer

Numbers of Denton community market patrons enjoy lunch from the Pickled Carrot food truck on Saturday afternoon. The community market hosts a variety of food trucks and the Pickled Carrot gains a lot of business on market days. Photo by Kristen Watson / Intern Photographer

Feature photo: Pickled Carrot employee Corbin Ball holds a freshly made Vietnamese sandwich ready to be eaten. All of the tips made by the Pickled Carrot are donated to the Denton community food center. The Pickled Carrot has already donated over $4,000. Photo by Kristen Watson / Intern Photographer 

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