By Lori DeBoer, Co-Owner
Just when we thought we were putting the final touches on the truck, Louise floored us. Her little surprise has put The French Twist Food Truck’s grand opening behind schedule, although my husband Michael has pulled off a miracle in the meantime, doing six weeks of work in two.
The last week of May, Michael was installing new serving windows in Louise when a bunch of crumbly rust fell out of the support rail that runs the length of the truck. He thought that was odd, so he took off the stainless steel decorative plate that covered the rail. The support rail was, in places, crumbled completely away.
No worries. Michael contacted the welder in Longmont, Rob Hinde of Iron Artisan, who was already online for installing our new French crepe griddle and building a bumper-mounted carrier for our new propane tank. It looked like it would be a two-day project to replace the railing.
While he was at the shop, he and Rob took a look at Louise’s floor. When you stepped on the truck, it sagged a bit in the front and there was a big hole. When they pulled up the diamond-plate aluminum, they were in for a shock. The floor was one big mass of crumbling rust. The floor beneath the driver’s seat was completely rusted away.
Here’s what it looked like:
I have to say, my father—an Iowa farmer—had left an old combine and some pieces of horse-drawn equipment in the grove for decades that did not have that much rust. Louise spent some time in California before moving to Arizona, and we can only deduce that the salty air must have taken its toll. Lucky for us, the frame isn’t rusted. We’d passed on another truck that had a rusted frame. We knew Louise was a little rusty, but not to this extent. The rusted-away floor was definitely something we needed to fix to make her roadworthy; one doesn’t want to lose an expensive piece of kitchen equipment going down the road. Or the driver.
Michael and Rob made a plan to rebuild the floor. But first they had to take out the entire kitchen to get at the floor. Out came the flattop stove, the fryer and serving counters. While they were at it, they pulled out a couple of pieces that we had hoped to eventually scuttle and replace anyway; including a nonworking coldbox, a coffee dispensary and a holding oven. We were eventually going to build a new frame for our newly-purchased, imported French crepe griddles, so Michael decided to move ahead with that project. Rob also installed the holder for our new generator on the front of Louise. (Sorry that we had to ditch the bench, but the generator is too large and heavy for us to haul around in the truck.)
Here’s what all the pieces looked like once they were torn out of the kitchen. I personally wondered how they were going to put it all back together. Michael called it a “puzzle.”
Onto the floor. Michael and Rob put down a thin steel piece and added a moisture barrier on top of that, so we would be rust-free for at least another ten years. In the middle of all of this, with the side of the truck being open, of course it rained and slowed down work even more. In addition to laying down the floor, they also had to rebuild the wheel well, which was such a complicated procedure that they did not take photos. Then they installed a strong piece of board over the steel floor.
After that, Michael was pretty reluctant to reinstall the old steel floors. He wanted something that was going to be a little more water-proof and better to work on. He’s going to be spending a lot of hours in the kitchen. So he did some research and found some Roppe commercial kitchen rubber flooring that was top of the line. It’s the kind of flooring that the big boys down on Pearl Street would love to have in their kitchen. Since our kitchen is very tiny—measuring just over 124 square feet—we ordered three boxes of it. Michael is very proud of the flooring.
At this point, Louise work on Louise was beginning to look like an episode of “This Old House.” Or “The Moneypit.” (Probably both.) We had to have an electrician come in to rewire the whole thing. He was kind of elusive and it took three weeks before we could get him on the job. Michael ended up doing a lot groundwork for the rewiring himself, including pulling out the nasty old wire. The odd thing about Louise is that whoever did work on her before generally half-assed things, so there were phantom wires leading to nowhere. Michael cleaned all that out and organized everything.
With so much on Louise turning out to need a lot of work, Michael decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and replace the gas lines. He hired a kitchen repair person named Fred West, who had just moved up here from Georgia to start Boulder Commercial Kitchens.
Here’s a photo of the work in progress.
The challenge with working on a food truck is that, the space is so tiny, you can’t have more than one person doing a job at any given time. So, while Fred was working, Rob couldn’t weld. While Rob was welding, Michael couldn’t lay in tile. With opening day looming three days away, Michael needed to get the flooring in.
I called Prosource of Denver, the company we’d purchased the tile from and they gave us the name of Ruben Grado, who is the owner of New Beginnings Floors and Designs, Inc. I told Ruben that we had a tile emergency and he took it pretty well. He asked what we kind of food we made and sounded interested when I said we were making French food. He then said he’d like to talk with my husband about the substrate. Ruben told Michael he could be out the next day at 7 in the morning to lay in the flooring. They would handle everything—Michael was to turn it over to him and his company.
We wholeheartedly recommend Ruben and his company. It was great that such a big company helped out a little startup like ours. His employee, Carlos, came over as promised and poured a couple of coats of a compound on the floor to make it level and give it a good surface for the tile glue to adhere to.
Then Carlos spent a couple of hours installing the tile. It looks sweet!
That was Wednesday. On Thursday morning, I looked at the photos of the truck, made a list of what was left to be done and suggested to Michael that we move our Grand Opening to another date.
We’d originally scheduled our opening for June 12, to coincide with our five-year wedding anniversary. That date was attainable, until we ended up doing a surprise kitchen tear-out and rebuild. Michael has been spending such long days working on the truck he hasn’t had time to set up the commissary and other food-related facets of the business that require his attention before we start cooking. Our truck manager, Austin Elsborg, has been helping out with everything but the chef needs to be in on a little more of the planning and set up. So, with reluctance, we rescheduled for June 26. (For details about that event and to register, click HERE.)
Michael still has to reinstall part of the kitchen, install lights, build and install our concession serving doors, install the driver’s seat, fix the horn and a few other things, which he figures will take him three more days of work. I give my hard-working husband props. I know that when he starts cooking, he’s going to be paying the same attention to the quality of food that we serve, and will be working just as hard to make our customers happy.