This is Eva Lokaj, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Old Traditional Polish Cuisine. Beside her are her husband, Grzegorz (Greg) Gryzlak (right) and his best friend, Przemyslaw (Mek) Motyka (left), the co-owners of Old Traditional Polish Cuisine. This 3-person team began brainstorming how they could fill the void they saw in the New York food industry after realizing how underrepresented Polish food was throughout all five boroughs. At the time, Eva was working at Calvin Klein, Greg was working in construction and Mek was running a cafe in Ridgewood but they felt the need to create a solution since there were limited Polish restaurants to begin with and more and more were closing. So after about a year of research into the market and creating recipes for the menu, they decided to open a food truck with a five borough permit to not only re-introduce Polish food to consumers but to also be able to meet demand, whether it was in Manhattan or Brooklyn or Queens. The food truck gave them the ability to service more people by bringing the food to them directly on the street as well as to specific locations for private events, weddings, after parties and catering. The food truck officially launched in April 2013 and after five years of business, their mission is the same: to bring their culture and traditions to the streets of New York City.
Eva, Greg and Mek all felt a connection to Polish food because it’s the food they grew up eating. However, Eva notes, the concept and passion for the food truck really started with Greg and Mek as a way to bring a piece of home to New York. Greg and Mek were both born and raised in Poland and emigrated to the U.S. when they were teenagers. Eva was born and raised in New York and although she speaks Polish fluently, had a more typical “American” upbringing. She went to St. Vincent High School and then Iona College and growing up she says she didn’t have a lot of Polish friends. In fact, she hadn’t dated any Polish guys until she met Greg through a mutual friend. However, her mother made sure that she understood her heritage and growing up her home was constantly full of Polish dishes that her mother created. So when Greg and Mek decided to pursue the food truck full-time, she left her job to help them run the business. She now does all the marketing and PR for the food truck as well as running their catering operations. She also works part-time as an office manager at a jewelry company. Luckily the schedule is flexible with a certain amount of hours that she’s responsible for each week so she’s able to coordinate her work at the jewelry company around marketing outreach, meetings and their catering schedule each week. Eva doesn’t have any formal training in marketing but tries to work every angle to get their name out there. From social media to email marketing to creating doughnuts with the Polish flag on them in celebration of the 100 year anniversary of Polish independence, she knows that the more recognizable their business is, the more customers will be attracted to it.
Although the food truck gives them the ability to meet consumer demand directly, Eva says the logistics of the truck is also the most challenging part of the business. Every morning they load everything onto the truck and get to their spot for the day between 5AM and 7AM, depending on the spot. It’s crucial that you get to the spot you want before construction crews come with their trucks and vans or before the street gets too packed so that you’re ready to serve for lunch time. If you’re late, you’ll lose out on customers in popular areas or you could lose the food that you prepared for that day. However, over the years she says they’ve figured out how much food they’ll need for each day on the truck so that’s usually not an issue for them, especially since they now have a commissary kitchen in Brooklyn. They use the kitchen to prep the food needed for the truck, a majority of which they source from local Polish food vendors throughout New York. Their kielbasa is made by a Polish butcher specifically for them and their bread comes from a Polish bakery in the city. They work with a few different vendors to help create their dishes as they’re not able to prepare all of the food themselves. However, they will create a few dishes on the truck (Hunter’s Stew, grilled chicken, salads) and there’s no one main chef, all three of them contribute to the cooking. Any other items that they can’t get in the U.S. (such as Polish mustard, soda and water), they import from Poland to make sure that every item on their truck is Polish.
Just like their cooking, the inspiration behind their recipes comes from all three of them. Since they all grew up eating Polish food, they wanted to create a menu based off of their family recipes. However, every region in Poland adds their own unique spin on most dishes so they decided to combine each one of their “personal touches” to create their own recipes that they thought everyone would enjoy. They then had Eva’s mother taste test everything and approve it before it was added to the menu. They want customers who try their food to feel like they’re enjoying a traditional Polish lunch or dinner in Poland, so it was vital to them that each recipe was as authentic as possible. And it seems that they’ve succeeded. Customers will come to their food truck with a smile and say “This is how my grandmother used to make it!” or “I miss Polish food so much, I’m so glad that you guys are here!”, which Eva says is the most rewarding part of the business. Being able to bring their food to diverse groups of people all over New York and have them appreciate what it is and the tradition behind it is their passion.
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