Crêpes, grilled cheese, cookies, ice cream sandwiches, and tomatoes. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which one does not match the others. Yet they will all be available for purchase on the streets in food trucks within the next month.
Bell Tower Foods, a new food truck officially hitting the streets of Beantown this fall, will sell groceries to Boston patrons who do not have time to do their own grocery shopping or who have limited access to a grocery store.
“Everyone has a supermarket they love,” said one of the five co-founders and only full-time BTF employee Sevan Chorluyan. “But it can be so hard to get there on a weekly basis.”
Chorluyan, a Boston University School of Public Health graduate, along with fellow SPH graduate Vijeta Limbekar and current SPH students Jeremy Mand, Natasha Neal and Andrew Stewart, who will graduate this May, first came up with this idea for a contest last year. Chorluyan and Limbekar graduated with a concentration in health policy management last May.
Along with three other students, the founders won second place for their Bell Tower Foods idea in the first annual Food for Health Business Plan Competition in April.
From there, the company has created its own website, obtained a truck, and are fresh off last week’s soft opening. According to a recent blog post, the group surveyed various locations around the city to find which times and places would garner the best responses.
Chorluyan believes the soft opening went well, saying that those who did not buy still thought it was a good idea.
“Jamaica Plain did not go well,” the team leader said. “They already have a lot of [grocery] options. They were not as supportive as places that need service.”
Now that the soft open is over, BTF looks to officially open in either October or November, with an appearance from Mayor Thomas M. Menino to promote his food initiatives.
The BTF business model consists of texting customers to come out of their houses and do their grocery shopping.
“Most people don’t walk by and decide to do their grocery shopping,” Chorluyan said, which is why they want to build a relationship with their customers and notify them via text when they will be in the area. With their soft opening, they made contacts and built relationships with possible customers to get a sense of what will work best for them.
While they are technically a food truck, BTF does not see other food trucks as their competitors.
“Why would you go to a burger place over a grocery store?” Chorluyan asked when explaining the difference between BTF and other food trucks. “Our competition is grocery stores.”
He also stated that BTF has developed relationships with organizations to let the truck park in those organizations’ locations. Among those who have agreed thus far are Dimock Health Center in Roxbury, Roxbury Crossing, Boston Medical Campus, SPH, MassArt, and the South End.
Since BTF is classified as a company that hawks and peddles, defined as “any person, either principal or agent, who goes from town to town or place to place in the same town selling or bartering, or carrying for sale or barter or exposing therfor, any goods, wares or merchandise, either on foot on or from any animal or vehicle” by the General Laws of Massachusetts, there are certain laws by which it must abide, including avoiding restricted business zones between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. These zones cover most of downtown and parts of BU and Northeastern University. According to Chorluyan, BU has not been receptive to hosting BTF on its undergraduate campus. Also on the list of no-nos for peddlers are selling artificial flowers and miniature flags.
The inspiration for Bell Tower Foods came when Chorluyan studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland and encountered major differences between how Swiss citizens and Americans treat their grocery shopping.
“There were no middle aisles. They contained produce, cheese, and bread and it was cheaper and more accessible and generally healthier,” Chorluyan said.
Chorluyan hopes it will be one of the first programs to decrease community obesity.
Bell Tower Foods is entering into a bursting food truck culture, but it brings something slightly different from those around it. It brings hope for an increasingly health conscious city that has the ability to set health trends for the rest of the country.