Jim Chamoff's entry into Portland's young food truck scene this winter has taught him a few lessons.
"We've learned how to keep the water from freezing and learned how to operate in sub-zero temperatures," Chamoff says.
Chamoff's Gusto's of Maine food truck — which serves up Italian food and pizza cones, a new spin on the food — is just the third to register in the city, alongside Love Cupcakes and Bite Into Maine, but he thinks the market is likely to grow more crowded as his new venture gears up for the spring and summer ahead.
According to the Portland city clerk's office, one other application is pending for a business called The Squeeze.
At the very least, Chamoff says his new company plans to expand to six trucks, though he's not sure how fast that growth will happen.
The food truck business is a change of direction for the former owner of the Westbrook-based UBIQ Imaging Solutions, which Chamoff sold to Symquest in 2008. For five years, Chamoff stayed on with that company before turning his thoughts to Portland's relatively new food industry.
"I was looking for something to do and food trucks seemed to be it," Chamoff says.
With an investment of just under $200,000 for the new mobile kitchen, four employees, marketing primarily on social media and some trial and error with public parking limitations in the Old Port, Chamoff got his start in December.
The pizza cone idea Chamoff imported from New York City, where he said the doughy cone of traditional pizza toppings is taking off.
"We wanted to be the first here," Chamoff says.
Pat Voisine, a customer who turned out to the truck's curbside Spring Street plot on a chilly Friday afternoon, says that novelty and convenience (she works across the street) are what attract her to food trucks over bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
"It has to be something different and unique because Portland has such a wide range of places to eat," Voisine says.
Kevin Gough, who passed by Friday to ask about the truck but didn't give the pizza cone a try, says he thinks changing culinary expectations for the city will provide receptive customers for food trucks in the city.
"When I moved here 10 years ago, the food culture was not like this," Gough says. "Everybody I know would be into it."
Chamoff says there are challenges — notably, abiding by public parking restrictions as he seeks a suitable spot — but he's finding solutions.
"They've come up and ticketed my truck while I'm working," Chamoff says. "I try to avoid the public parking thing."
Later this month, Chamoff says he has leased space for the truck at the Top of the Old Port parking lot, where he plans to serve breakfast and capture a regular commuter clientele.
"We're basically like a car trying to find a parking space," Chamoff says.