Gourmet on wheels: Mission Street North

Kingston is just getting on the food truck bandwagon, following the lead of larger cities such as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Food trucks are making gourmet that much more convenient.

There’s something to be said about the new food truck that popped up on the corner of Princess and Division Streets – a convenient location that catches students on their way to and from class.

Mission Street North is the brainchild of Alex Robinson, Phil Robinson and Mike Barber. The concept for the truck came from Mission Street, an area of San Francisco that has many Latin American-influenced restaurants.

These tacos match the best tacos I’ve had in Toronto, and I’m surprised at how tasteful the chopped onions, lettuce, coriander and lime are with the fish.

I met with Alex Robinson to get the dish on how he got started:

How long has it been since you set up shop?
Since April 25, so it’s our first year and we’re just sort of winding down as it gets colder, but overall it’s been a pretty fun year so far.

Who else works the food truck with you?
My brother, Phil, and one of our friends, Mike, he’s doing his PhD in Economics, and he comes and helps out when he can or otherwise, he’s sort of living that fun sort of student lifestyle where he’s doing a lot of work … so there’s the three of us here most days, and it’s a pretty fun work environment – we have a good time.

Why Kingston?
I’m from Kingston – I live here so all three of us, Mike too, he’s from Kingston.

How do you think first-timers heard about you?
For a lot of people it’s been word of mouth so it’s nice. Some people say, ‘My buddy said I have to have this burrito or I have to have the Cabo Tacos.’

What sets your food truck apart from other ones?
We try to do a Cali-Mexican [cuisine]. So we’re doing fish tacos, big Mission-style burritos and we, you know, try to keep it a fun time when you come here. We get to know our customers; [we] get to know what they have… we try to make it a fun little community here.

Where did you get the concept of owning a food truck?
We got the idea from going to California. There’s a huge food truck culture there and we thought we would try to bring some of it to Kingston because there wasn’t much… variety of food trucks like this in Kingston. I know there are some obviously in bigger cities in Canada like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but we thought there was a market for it so we just went for it.

Do you have regular customers?
For sure, we have tons of regulars, where we just see them and eye contact is made and we know exactly what they want… We have some really loyal customers so far, which we really appreciate.

What were you up to before Mission Street North was founded?
I love to cook and I [thought] I had enough skills to get [the food truck] off the ground. I was working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in South Korea, and then I was working … for an online poker casino for a couple of year. You know, it’s so much online, and it’s not a very personable business – I enjoy communicating … and meeting with people so I thought this would be a fun way of doing that.

I noticed there’s a lot of illustrations and colour on your truck. Did you design it?
My friend of mine, Alex Perlin [who lives in Toronto, designed it]. She’s an artist… The other side [without the service window] has a lot more artwork. We wanted to paint a mural – it’s based on the Mission District in San Francisco. It’s a really eclectic community. They have all these great tapa [restaurants] and burrito trucks …that’s what we’re kind of going for…. They have all these amazing murals like that.

Were you surprised when you first started out?
There was a lot of ups and downs at the start like getting to know how much to prepare and what we need. The learning curve is pretty steep to start, but we’ve slowly started to find our bearings, and it’s been a lot of fun. There would be a pretty big lineup here, which would be pretty intimidating for us at the start.

Who visits the truck?
When I envisioned the truck, I thought it’d be a lot of younger people my age like early [to] mid twenties, but we’ve got quite a mix from Queen’s students … high school … all ages you know. We had a friend bring their grandparents for their 55th wedding anniversary, which was pretty neat.

How long do you foresee you’ll be in the food truck business?
I know some people experience a lot of, you know, truck problems or maybe mechanical issues and, so far, we’ve been luck enough to not have any of that… We’re definitely going to keep going until the people stop coming.

Food trucks may be underrepresented at the moment, but Robinson anticipates the Kingston scene may be teeming with a few more in the coming years.

Though Robinson will be hauling the truck in during the winter months, he’s excited for the spring. With my new appreciation of gourmet food trucks, so am I.

For more information about Mission Street North, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/MissionStNorth

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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