The first food truck I ever bought a meal from on Main Campus was The Creperie. My older sister Nicole, a 2004 biology and Spanish alumna, went to the red-white-and-blue truck when it first opened in 2003. Now, 14 years later, the truck — which sells dozens of sweet and savory crepes with funky names like Alexander the Crepe and Mango Mania — is still one of my favorite places to eat on campus.
Since The Creperie first opened, Temple has rapidly expanded as a university. There are many more brick-and-mortar franchise restaurants that have popped up during the three years I’ve lived in North Philadelphia. This year, with the switch from Sodexo to Aramark as our university food provider, the Student Center has been completely redone and now includes big names like Chick-fil-A and BurgerFi for students to choose from.
But even with the multitude of what are sometimes overwhelming options, I still find students, faculty and North Philadelphia residents flocking to food trucks and other campus staples, like The Wall, which hosts some of the longest standing food vendors at Temple, like Richie’s. The pizza and deli stand began as a cart owned by Richie Jr.’s grandfather and father in the 1960s. They’ve since added the food truck, Richie’s Lunch Box, at 12th and Norris streets. Today, there are still new food vendors opening on campus that are owned by families, like Honey, which we will feature in this issue.
For this year’s Lunchies, we looked at food vendors new and old on campus. Even as Temple grows as a large, globally known institution, small business owners are still successfully competing with the increased presence of corporate franchises, and I think that resiliency defines the university community above anything else.
– Emily Scott, Features Editor
Honey truck: a day in the life of a food vendor Jennifer Paek owns both Honey food truck and Champ’s Diner on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 16th street.
BY BILIN LIN
At 5:30 a.m., Jennifer Paek wakes up and gets ready for her 12-hour day. She hugs and kisses her two cats and prepares their food, but she doesn’t have enough time to make herself breakfast.
She then hurries from her home to Champ’s Diner on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 16th Street. The restaurant serves American breakfast and lunch dishes, like egg sandwiches, waffles, wraps and burgers. She arrives before 7 a.m. and begins kitchen preparation for the day, breading chicken and washing fruits and vegetables.
At 8 a.m., she opens her food truck Honey on 12th Street near Norris. With a Korean inspiration, Honey serves typical lunch dishes like burgers and fried chicken. The truck’s rush hour starts around 11 a.m., and Paek and her father Hyeil Kim work through rush hour until early afternoon.
Paek, 37, immigrated to the United States 20 years ago from Busan, South Korea with her parents and brother. Now, she owns Honey and Champ’s Diner. Both sell similar food: American breakfast and comfort food, with a focus on chicken.
“All the chicken is fresh,” Paek said. “A lot of people love our chicken burger, chicken wrap.”
On Main Campus, there are more than 40 food trucks that serve thousands of students every day. These vendors often wake up at the crack of dawn to get to campus on time before classes begin at 8 a.m.
The vendors and food truck owners cook and sell dishes or drinks often originating from their own faraway communities, whether it’s Korean meals like “bibimbap,” or “halal,” which is meat specifically prepared as determined by Muslim law.
It’s easy to ignore, during the hustle-and-bustle of one’s day, the long hours food vendors spend preparing food and serving members of the Temple community. One of these food vendors is Honey.
Since opening Honey, Paek said she now sells 60 to 70 meals per day at the truck.
“A lot of customers support our [truck] business after going to our diner,” Paek said.
She works at the food truck with her father during the week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., while her husband Ki and her mother work at the diner during the day. On weekends, the truck is closed, and Paek helps out at the diner with her husband.
The couple used to work at a family-owned breakfast shop and in their time spent there, Paek and her husband doubled the profits of the business, she said.
“So why don’t we open our own store?” she said.
And that’s when the couple opened Champ’s in 2014. Last October, Paek’s brother gave her the food truck, which is now Honey. Her brother formerly ran it as a sushi truck.
On a typical afternoon in the food truck, crispy chicken patties sizzle on the grill and oil drips from fries. Paek and her father intermittently take breaks, stepping outside to escape the overwhelming heat. It’s an estimated 100 degrees inside the gas-powered truck because the electricity, which powers the air conditioning, has been down since October 2016.
Last Tuesday, electricians finally came to address the issue, and Paek was told the electricity should be back on in the next three weeks.
Lately, Paek has been thinking about renovating the truck’s interior and changing the whole look of the truck. She also wants to get new appliances, like a waffle maker. Paek hopes to have the renovations done by next semester.
“Now that we’ll have electricity, we can bring chicken and waffles to Honey soon,” Paek said.
Nick Lukow, a second-year doctorate physics student ordered a chicken burger from Honey.
“I heard great things about this truck,” Lukow said. “They don’t open in summer, so now I’ve gotta come here and try it.”
At around 4 p.m., Paek prepares to close the truck.
Her workday, however, is not done. Paek walks back to the diner, takes a short break for dinner and then does some kitchen work for the following day, like marinating chicken breasts.
Paek leaves the diner and heads to a grocery store around 5 p.m. She shops two to three times a week for fresh produce like tomatoes, avocados, strawberries and bananas.
After her purchase, she drives about 20 minutes home to Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Paek gets home around 7:30 p.m. and relaxes for the rest of the night, first with a hot shower and then by watching some Korean dramas on TV. She goes to bed at 9 p.m.
Paek said she and her husband work hard.
“When we get old, we can relax,” Paek said.
The only long break for Paek is summer vacation, when most students are not on campus. That’s when she has time for some traveling. Paek and her husband visit Cancun, Mexico every year.
Paek added that she’s thinking about adding more Korean food options to Honey with help from her mother. She wants to introduce Korean food to more Temple students.
“I’m getting old and I see all those young people, and they make me feel young,” Paek said. “I’m not tired at all.”
Farmers market: ‘Healthy choices’ on main campus The Cecil B. Moore Farmers Market sells fruits and vegetables every Thursday.
BY ALLEH NAQVI
Every Thursday morning, Gilles Rule drives about 50 miles from Honey Brook, Pennsylvania — a 306-acre borough in Chester County — to the corner of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
His passengers, members of the Amish family-owned farm Mount Pleasant Organics, can’t drive themselves because of their religious practices.
On a windy afternoon last Thursday, Rule, a family driver at Mount Pleasant Organics, rang up credit card purchases as students and community residents stood in line beneath a rippling canopy to buy the farm’s locally grown produce.
A weekly presence on Main Campus since its creation in 2009, the Cecil B. Moore Farmers Market sells organic fruits and vegetables, flowers, cheese and baked goods on Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m.
The market is partnered with The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based food access nonprofit. The organization provides Philadelphians with “affordable, nutritious food and information to make healthy decisions,” according to its website. The Food Trust operates 22 farmers markets throughout the city.
“[We want] to have people make healthy choices,” said Katy Wich, The Food Trust’s senior associate for the Farmers Market Program.
It’s wholesome food. We believe that they either made it, planted it...farmed it themselves. KIM ZIAH
NORTH PHILADELPHIA RESIDENT
In addition to their efforts to bring local food into underserved Philadelphia neighborhoods, The Food Trust also helps recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps, through its Philly Food Bucks program.
SNAP provides assistance to low-income families who meet eligibility requirements. Each time a customer spends $5 in SNAP benefits at a farmers market, they earn a $2 Philly Food Bucks coupon for fresh fruits and vegetables.
In 2010, the city’s public health department and The Food Trust launched the Philly Food Bucks program to encourage SNAP recipients to use their benefits to buy local foods at farmers markets.
Asiyah Bhallo, a freshman university studies major, visited the market for the first time last Thursday. For her, the experience was “fantastic,” but she wishes it was closer to where she lived.
“It is not as convenient since I live in White Hall, but it is still great,” Bhallo said.
Another newcomer, Emily Nice, a sophomore engineering major, said the baked goods reminded her of her grandparent’s cooking. Although she attended the market to complete an assignment for her urban planning class, she picked up a few items and said she plans to come back again.
One routine customer, Kim Ziah, 59, who lives in North Philadelphia, said she appreciates the market for offering local food.
Around 35 percent of the North Philadelphia population live in high-poverty areas with little to no access to healthy foods, according to the city’s 2016 Community Health Assessment.
“It’s wholesome food,” Ziah said. “We believe that they either made it, planted it and you know, farmed it themselves.”
In recent years, Rule said buying organic food has become a trendy choice.
“Now it’s a fad,” Rule said. “But it’s never been a fad for them to produce [organic food] for that many years.”
Despite this increased interest in organic food, Rule said food marketing often distorts people’s view of what fresh produce should look like. He often has to explain to customers why the produce at the market is occasionally flecked with insect bite marks. The marks aren’t defects, he said, but rather the consequence of abstaining from spraying the crops with any kind of pesticide.
“You can either have insecticides or bite marks,” Rule said.
Rule said most “organic” food available at grocery stores is not fully organic, but contains certain pesticides that adhere to the USDA’s organic standards. He said imperfections like bite marks show the product’s organic origins.
“They’ve been [growing organic food] for many, many years,” Rule said. “Anyone that’s been doing it for a length of a year knows what organically grown means.”
Bubble tea's increased presence on campus On Norris Street near 12th, two trucks serving bubble tea opened this year.
BY COURTNEY REDMON
Jack Berdolt used to get his bubble tea from Tai’s Vietnamese at The Wall on 12th Street. But lately, he said he’s been going to Royal Tea.
“They have ‘matcha,’” said Berdolt, a junior education major, referring to tea made from powdered green tea leaves. “This is one of the only places with ‘matcha.’”
Royal Tea joins Little Lulu as two new food trucks to pop up along Norris Street near Tomlinson Theater. Both have a focus on tea and coffee drinks, like bubble tea.
Bubble tea is a cold dessert drink made from iced tea, sweetened milk or fruit syrup, and “boba,” small balls made from tapioca starch.
Jung Kim, a cashier and food prep worker at Royal Tea and a sophomore accounting major, said the truck opened after this past spring break. There is another truck in West Philadelphia at 40th and Locust streets.
The truck offers a variety of milk and fruit teas, including flavors like jasmine, coffee, mango and passion fruit. They also serve teriyaki combos — beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu served over white rice — and “baos,” steamed white buns filled with either pork belly, stir-fry steak or fried fish.
Kim said Royal Tea’s owner, Stephen Ngo, originally founded Teassert Bar, a rolled ice cream shop in Chinatown on 10th Street near Spring Street in July 2016, before expanding to trucks.
“He realized the market potential for food trucks on college campuses was pretty substantial,” Kim said. “So he started trucks at Drexel, and then UPenn and now this one here.”
Working on both Main Campus and in University City, Kim said he has noticed different flavor preferences between the two student bodies.
“A lot of people are into the mango flavor here at Temple,” he said. “It’s different at Drexel, a lot of people like the passion tea there.”
But Royal Tea isn’t the only new tea vendor on campus. Lulu Cafe, a brick-and-mortar Taiwanese cafe in University City, launched its first food truck, Little Lulu, a few steps away from Royal Tea at the end of last semester.
The bright turquoise truck has a large, cream-colored silhouette of Lulu, the owner’s French bulldog from which the business gained its name, painted on its side.
Lulu’s menu boasts an array of bubble teas, milk tea lattes and blended drinks, alongside authentic Taiwanese food, like deep-fried squid balls and bomgel, a dessert-like dish made with a fried bagel drizzled in either chocolate, coconut milk or caramel sauce.
“Matcha boba milk latte is really popular,” said Oliver Tsai, a Little Lulu employee and junior ceramics major. “It’s not as sweet as milk tea.”
“It’s not as sweet as other bubble tea shops,” added Stacy Lin, a junior international business major and Tsai’s co-worker. “The sweetest tea is probably the Jin’s Rose, that’s a rose honey milk tea.”
While the lavender milk tea is Tsai and Lin’s favorite drink on the menu, Tsai said he likes to go off the menu and mix his own drinks.
He takes any leftover tea liquids and blends them together, creating new flavor combinations.
“It really depends on my mood,” Tsai said. “I usually use the tea that is not allowed to be ordered, it’s usually a bit older. I try to figure out a way that I would like to drink the tea.”
Kim added that bubble tea is growing in popularity, which explains the increase in its presence on campus.
“You see it all over the place now, everybody seems to be drinking it,” Kim said.
Bubble tea: A 'customizable' option on Main Campus Bubble tea has been served on Main Campus for 10 years.
BY EMILY TRINH
On any given weekday, Linda Tran can be found standing underneath a weathered red-and-white awning, yelling out orders for bubble tea and Vietnamese food, like “pho tai,” a beef broth with meat and rice noodle.
Tran is the owner of Tai’s Vietnamese Food, one of the vendors at The Wall on 12th Street next to Anderson and Gladfelter halls since 2002. Tai’s was one of the first places on campus to serve bubble tea to students. On a sign taped to the glass window, Tran showcases Tai’s 10 bubble tea flavors.
Bubble tea, also known as pearl milk tea, made its way to the United States from Southeast Asia in the early 2000s. Recently, more vendors on Main Campus are selling the drink.
Bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink made from combining brewed tea, condensed milk, creamer and a flavoring powder, like matcha, which is made from green tea leaves. The bubbles, also known as “boba,” are sweet, chewy tapioca balls that are nearly black in color. The bubbles sink to the bottom when added to the milk tea. There are different types of brewed tea that can also contribute to the flavor, like black, green or oolong.
Some bubble tea drinks also come with “popping boba,” which is made from lychee, a small fleshy fruit native to China and Taiwan. The lychee balls — which explode juice when chewed on — are much sweeter than the tapioca.
At Tai’s, Tran offers both lychee and tapioca balls.
Tran came to the U.S. in 1979 after she finished school in Vietnam. She started serving bubble tea on campus in the summer of 2007, five years after she first opened the stand.
“It’s a refreshing drink for the students,” Tran said. “On hot days, they can cool down with the bubble tea.”
Since then, she has accumulated a list of different flavors, like coconut, mango, jasmine milk and “taro,” a tropical root popular in Asia that gives the taro milk tea its purple color.
Tran said that even though she feels bubble tea has become more popular on campus, she doesn’t feel like there is a need to compete with new trucks offering the drink.
“I have always stayed here, and I have never tried the other trucks,” Tran said. “There is no competition.”
Tran added that the drinks at Tai’s are more “customizable,” since customers can pair any of the milk tea drinks with either the tapioca or the “popping” bubbles, which are a recent addition to Tai’s menu.
“In the cold weather, we can make it hot too,” Tran said. “The bubbles, when you drink it with the milk, you don’t feel hungry anymore.”
Some of the milk and bubble flavors offered at Tai’s, like lychee and papaya, are native fruits of Taiwan, and other flavors like taro and green tea, are native to Southeast Asian countries.
Chi-Wei Huang grew up in Taiwan while bubble tea was growing in popularity and making its way to the U.S.
Huang, a strategic management and Asian studies adjunct instructor, moved to the U.S. in 1999 from Taiwan, after finishing her law degree there.
In the 1980s, most people believed bubble tea was invented by a Taiwanese woman who worked at a tea house, Huang said. But today, people still argue about whether the drink originated in Thailand or Taiwan.
The current Taiwanese phrase for bubble tea translates to “real pearl milk tea,” but Huang said that it wasn’t always called that.
“The previous version of bubble tea, ‘pào mò hóng chá,’ actually translates to ‘bubble tea’ in Mandarin, and it was made by shaking the tea,” Huang said. “Eventually, it would create a lot of air bubbles inside, but now when we say bubble tea in Taiwan, we actually call it ‘pearl tea’ because the tapioca balls look like pearls inside.”
Huang said that other than the difference in names, the bubble tea shops in the U.S. are quite similar to those in Taiwan.
She added that the drink is popular with both younger and older generations, but that shop owners’ target market seems to be younger people.
Tran said she has also seen an increase in bubble tea popularity with students.
Hailey Child, a freshman speech, language and hearing science major, lived in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, for four years while her father worked in airplane production.
Child said she has become an avid customer of Tai’s in the short time she’s been living on Main Campus.
“Bubble tea is just really refreshing,” said Child, who moved back to the U.S. in 2010. “I usually get the peach flavor with the peach bubble. It’s fun to drink because of the bubbles when they pop in your mouth.”
Child added that some bubble tea shops in the U.S. are as good as the shops she went to in Taiwan.
“Tai’s has pretty authentic bubble tea,” Child said. “I like it because it’s not as sugary as some of the other places on campus.”
The authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Words by Emily Scott, Bilin Lin, Alleh Naqvi, Courtney Redmon and Emily Trinh.
Photos by Bilin Lin, Isaak Griggs and Sydney Schaefer.
Video by Ian Schobel.
Graphics by Julie Christie.
Produced and designed by Julie Christie and Emily Scott.
First published Oct. 3, 2017.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article previously misstated Gilles Rule’s name, which has been corrected.