By Ladianne Mandel
Photos compliments of Roaming Fork
Kelli Crisan is on a mission to make food trucks as hip, tasty, fun, interesting, creative, and readily available as possible in the Charlotte area – and if her award winning Roaming Fork food truck is any indication, her mission is definitely seeing success!
“I am a big foodie – and I love to travel the world. I love nothing more than eating unique, fun foods that are tasty. When my partner Lenka Bazantova and I moved to charlotte in August 2010 from Orlando, we didn’t see a lot of interesting food in food trucks. I was surprised – - I really thought Charlotte was a bigger foodie place than it was. It’s growing now, obviously. I was surprised that food trucks weren’t big here. When I looked for them, and couldn’t find them, I realized Charlotte was missing out on these retrofitted trucks offering gourmet quality foods,” Kelli says.
She and Lenka, a native of the Czech Republic, put their heads together and came up with a solution to the obvious absence of gourmet food on wheels. ”When we started on this, everything just came together. I cook and serve and do all the day to day stuff. Lenka is behind the scenes, but it has all been a very equal partnership creating the name, developing the business, purchasing the truck – - everything. Everything just fell into place,” Kelli says.
Kelli’s Twenty-two years in real estate and new homes construction gave her a solid head for business and marketing. Add to that her father’s Italian restaurant, and Lenka’s extensive restaurant experience, and voila – Roaming Fork Bistro was born!
Since beginning operations in May 2011, Roaming Fork has garnered armloads of awards and mountains of accolades from every corner of the city. According to the RoamingFork.net website, “We have been voted as: “Food Truck of the Year 2012 by QC Exclusive, “Best Fries & Food Truck in Charlotte by CBS Radio Charlotte “Best Food Truck in Charlotte” by 2013 Readers Choice Awards CharlotteAbout.com “Winner as Peoples Choice” in the Charlotte Food Truck Fight 2013 Chosen as a “Carolina Story” for the DNC Convention Voted “Best on Four Wheels-Dining” by Elevate Magazine 2013.”
Anyone unconvinced by all of those awards should just stand in line at one of Charlotte’s food truck rallies and grab one of Roaming Fork’s myriad richly textured, creatively assembled, and boldly delivered creations. Local ingredients explode with flavor in recipes created especially for Roaming Fork by Kelli using Lenka’s family recipes, recipes from friends, dishes that inspire the couple when they travel, and anything else that catches their attention. ”So, I knew that we wanted to use as many local ingredients as we could and I always entertained and cooked,” Kelly explains. ”My dad had an Italian restaurant growing up and Lenka has a restaurant background. I mean, I’ve been cooking since I was 12. So, I just take the dishes I love and put a spin on them.”
One of Roaming Fork’s secret weapons is H.C. Bell, a talented foodie Kelli noticed while he was still a culinary student. ”H.C. is always smiling and eager. He stood out as a culinary student so I asked him to work with me about a year and a half ago. He has been my right hand man and a godsend since then,” Kelli gushes. ”I’m the full time sales and marketing, shopping, all around girl. H.C. is the prep and line cook, and Lenka is sometimes cashier, sometimes middleman, and always the bookkeeper.”
Roaming Fork’s menu has evolved, Kelli says. ”When we started, and we were deciding what to do, we knew having southern influence in the menu would be a popular thing to do. We are bistro with an eclectic style and we wanted to create a menu that would open the door to a lot of variety,” Kelli says. One of the things they offer is a grilled cheese sandwich with a wild mix of cheeses, smoked pork pulled off the bone the minute a sandwich is being made – and all of that on sourdough bread from Nova’s Bakery. Other incredible offerings include a blackened fish taco that can make even an eleven year old boy swoon (we should know…we watched it happen at a wedding the Roaming Fork food truck was catering…).
Asian influences are beginning to figure prominently in Kelli’s creations as well. “One of the most popular things on our menu right now has a Korean influence. The original recipe came from a friend’s grandmother,” Kelli says. Kelli’s love for her work and the food she creates is obvious. “It’s all about being creative and fun. We are having a ball – and, you know what? I love food, plain and simple. And I love sharing food experiences with others. I think it’s all about that – combined with outstanding customer service at all times is really the key to our success.”