Sustainable Me

A food truck run by a Friedman School grad on Boston’s City Hall Plaza takes lessons from the locavore movement to heart

As a student in the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program, Asta Schuette, N10, studied companies that seamlessly weave environmental responsibility and local resources into their business models, reducing and recycling their way to a utopia of sustainability.

“You read these case studies and you think ‘This is great; this is awesome!’ ” Schuette said. “To put it into practice, it’s a whole other story.”

Schuette has been puzzling over these issues ever since she and her partners, Alison Fong and Patrick Lynch, won a City of Boston competition last year to operate a food truck on City Hall Plaza. The judges were won over by their plan for Bon Me, a play on both the bánh mì Vietnamese sandwiches that would be the center of their menu and the inherent goodness of the locally grown ingredients they hoped to feature.

But as their April 4 start date drew near, the trio had to face the cold, winter-weary facts of opening a food truck in Boston in the dead of spring, when nary a locally grown carrot, much less a daikon, can be found. “There was nothing left,” Schuette said, “and nothing was growing yet.”

Leaving a dainty environmental footprint takes some work, too. They talked briefly about putting solar panels on their bright yellow truck (a converted DHL van), until they realized it would spend most of its time parked in the shade.

Composting would require hauling scraps back to their commercial kitchen in Malden and hoping to piggyback on someone else’s pick up, since the volume of food scraps they would generate would be so low. And those biodegradable plastic forks that some of the big chain restaurants now feature? Fong was shocked to see that they cost six times the price of garden-variety throwaways, which could decompose their attempts at competitive pricing.

In short, they had some tough discussions around their sustainability goals. The bottom line: “Sometimes you have to realign and rethink things. And I think us all being young and being optimistic has been great for those conversations,” Schuette said, recalling an internship at a smoothie chain where she had limited success persuading set-in-their-ways corporate executives to make changes to their supply chains.

But things fell into place. When they opened in April, Bon Me featured a one-at-a-time napkin dispenser, bags only on request and baking instead of grilling to save energy. They soon committed to those biodegradable utensils, cups and straws. The bread and tofu are made locally, and the liver (for the fresh-made paté) comes from Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds, run by Jennifer Hashley, N05, director of Tufts’ New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. In summer, they added specials that featured local produce, such as corn with miso butter and scallions and bok choy with onion oil and soy drizzle. Their network of local farm suppliers is growing.

With dispositions as sunny as their van, they are confident they will overcome all the other obstacles with experience—and increasing sandwich sales, since placing standing orders with local farms and absorbing the cost of bio-forks become more feasible with volume. Just a few weeks into their run, Bon Me was doing a brisk lunch business, with a line that dwarfed those of the other two food trucks on the plaza. In July, they doubled their hours, serving dinner at a prime stop near Boston University. This fall, they have been a regular at the SoWa Open Market on weekends. A one-truck business? Not for long.

Video by Kelvin Ma.


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