That’s what happens when a pop-up sandwich shop opens a food truck.
On a hot Sunday in late August, the new Fidel Gastro’s sandwich truck was parked at the CNE. Inside, the vehicle felt like a cramped stainless-steel sauna that smelled of pulled pork. Seventeen other trucks were parked nearby. Some were flashier, with stereos and neon lights, but it was Fidel Gastro’s owner, Matt Basile, that the Food Network focused on.
There’s been a lot of interest in 28-year-old Basile this summer. In addition to the Food Network filming him for a show on food trucks, another camera crew is following him over the next few months for his own reality show, Rebel Without a Kitchen.
When the Fidel Gastro’s truck debuted last month, hundreds of Bay Streeters stood under the sun waiting for pad-Thai fries and kimchi with root beer–braised short-rib sandwiches. In the pile of cooks vying to be the next street-food star, Basile has risen to the top.
Before launching Fidel Gastro’s, he was a bored copywriter for a stock-brokerage firm. His food-industry experience amounted to working at several butcher shops and Mark McEwan’s supermarket. Spurred on by a former boss who told him he always brought in the best sandwiches for lunch, Basile left his day job and began plotting. He set up his first pop-up stall last October at his old boss’s studio. Relying on Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, he sold out of 250 sandwiches in two hours.
Basile took any gig he could get to become a familiar face, sometimes selling out in 90 minutes at a pop-up, other times making 500 sandwiches only to have 60 people show. “Food trucks are a numbers game. If I’m not selling 200 sandwiches a day, I’m losing money,” he says. “If you buy things that are less per pound, cook them properly, and sell a ton of them, you’ll make money.” That formula has served Basile well. By late afternoon that day at the CNE, he had sold 650 sandwiches.
It helps that Basile’s a five-foot-four ball of energy, constantly shouting catchphrases like “Olé” and “Viva la Revolución!” to rev up the crowd. Plus, his dozen or so sandwiches (all around $7) are unlike any others. The Gorgeous Jorge (the first to sell out at the CNE) is a porky take on a PB&J, with peanut butter–braised pork shoulder and bacon jam. There’s also the El Paisano, an ingenious spaghetti-and-meatball sandwich—the pasta is cooked with egg, almost like an omelet, so it holds together. A cola-braised brisket sandwich, the Sloppy Jose, is topped with baked beans, like a barbecue platter on a toasted Cobs Bread bun.
Despite his quick success, Basile knows that he’s still new at this. “I’m the most thankful person in the food industry right now,” he said while looking out at the crowd in front of his truck at the CNE. “My job is to not disappoint them.”
i) Fidel Gastro’s truck will be parked outside the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor St. W.) on Sept. 13 and 16 from 7 p.m. to midnight.