Siblings drive taste of Sicily to St. Louis in Mangia Mobile truck

| Managing Editor

Customers visit Mangia Mobile, an Italian food truck located in the Central West End.

Customers visit Mangia Mobile, an Italian food truck located in the Central West End.

It’s 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Mangia Mobile is perched majestically on Scott Avenue in the Central West End, right underneath an overpass that bridges two buildings of the Washington University School of Medicine. Though it’s a bit late for the lunch rush—the special Italian spring salad has been sold out for at least an hour—customers are still trickling in. Medical students in their scrubs, construction workers in their hardhats and mud-splattered overalls, businessmen in their suits…they all seem to want a taste of fresh, homemade Italian food.

Others walk by and seem a bit confused, staring in awe at the imposing red truck with a skyline façade and the word “EAT” printed over and over around the perimeter. After all, the mobile food trend is still in its infancy stages in St. Louis, having started this past summer. Upon its official launch in January, Mangia became the most recent food truck on the scene, following in the footsteps of Pi On the Spot (the Pi Pizzeria truck), Sarah’s Cupcake Stop and Cha Cha Chow.

The idea for the truck was inspired by the grandmother and great-grandmother of founders Catherine, Alex and Thomas Daake—three siblings who, according to Catherine, “are all different but have the same goal.”

“My great-grandmother came in from Sicily, and she always wanted to sell arancini, which are rice balls,” Catherine explained. “They’re the street food of Sicily. So we kind of thought, ‘What better way to sell the street food of Sicily than from a mobile food truck?’”

After graduating from college, Catherine spent three years working for Inc. Magazine in New York City, where she witnessed the burgeoning gourmet food truck trend. A self-described “not…cubicle kind of girl,” Catherine always knew she’d take after her entrepreneurial parents and branch out to do something on her own. After seeing the street food stigma slowly disappear, she realized that there was an opportunity to bring her grandmother’s dream to reality back in her hometown of St. Louis.

“I think it adds a lot to the downtown culture, and it’ll bring people downtown and just give it some personality and a little taste of St. Louis all year round,” she said.

While specialties inclue the arancini and the MaCaw fried chicken (secret family recipes, of course), Mangia Mobile’s menu also takes a clear hint from St. Louis food tradition with offerings like toasted ravioli.

“We were born and raised in St. Louis, and we just grew up around all that sort of stuff,” Catherine said. “And being Italian, we were just around it. So we feel that connection to St. Louis because we grew up here.”

That’s also why Mangia chooses to support local businesses whenever possible, from sourcing ingredients from places like Fazio’s on The Hill to hiring St. Louis companies to design the website and wrap the truck.

In keeping with Mangia Mobile’s commitment to the St. Louis community, Catherine hopes to collaborate with other food trucks to put on charity events. Whereas other cities might foster more competition, none of the trucks in St. Louis have stepped on each other’s toes—not yet, at least. In fact, you can often find them tweeting back and forth, offering compliments or advice about parking spots. Unfortunately, there’s no help to be given when it comes to Mangia Mobile’s greatest obstacle—the weather.

But as it starts to get warmer, the Daake siblings will start to look to seasonal menu items, offering more salads and paninis. As far as other future plans go, the truck would first like to travel to different counties. Eventually, Catherine said, they hope to use Mangia Mobile as a launching pad for a packaged food line to be sold in specialty stores in other cities. They’d offer their homemade sauces, breadcrumbs and, of course, toasted ravioli.

“You don’t get toasted ravioli anywhere else,” Catherine said. “It’s hard to find in New York. The only place that has it actually—the real version—is from Danny Meyer, who’s from St. Louis. So you can get toasted ravioli from his restaurant, Blue Smoke.”

According to Catherine, Mangia Mobile is still a bit under the radar in the St. Louis community as a whole, but the truck is known very well downtown, and overall reception has been good.

It also helps that the three siblings have a lot of support from their family.

“Sometimes our mom will help out on the truck,” Catherine said, “and people get a kick out of her because she’s like, ‘Oh, try this, oh, try that,’ you know, it’s a typical Sicilian mom—‘Eat. Eat, eat, eat.’”

Follow Mangia Mobile on Twitter for their location @MANGIAMOBILE or visit mangiamobile.com. They are open for lunch, Monday-Friday, and start serving at 11 a.m.

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