In our “Reporter’s Notebook” series, we feature first-person accounts of News Office writers on life at the Institute.
Customers of Clover Food Lab, the popular food truck that sits on Carleton Street behind MIT Medical, were treated to chocolate cupcakes on Friday in honor of a day-long television shoot for an upcoming show on the American cable television network TLC.
From 5 a.m. until food supplies began to run low around 2 p.m., the camera crew shadowed Clover owner Ayr Muir ’00, SM ’01 for a show tentatively called “American Eats” that will highlight the best food in the country when it is launched sometime in the spring. Clover will appear in a five-minute segment as part of an episode that will presumably feature America’s best food trucks.
As flurries of snow blew through the air at the peak of the lunch hour, Muir used an iPhone to place orders from more than a dozen customers lingering beside the truck, which runs on biodiesel fuel made from used vegetable oil. Muir had hoped for a solid turnout Friday despite the snowy forecast, and Clover’s loyal following did not disappoint as they arrived in groups throughout the day, several sipping spicy carrot soup to keep warm as they waited for the rest of their lunch. “A real community has developed around this,” he explained before waving hello to one of his regular customers.
Clover began during the fall of 2008 when Muir decided that the best way to prepare to open a chain of vegetarian fast food restaurants would be to experiment with an eco-friendly food truck. He hired chef Rolando Robledo, formerly of the French Laundry, the Waldorf-Astoria, and most recently, a professor at Johnson & Wales University, to create the seasonal menu, which features local and seasonal vegetarian fare and changes daily. Standard menus items include the chickpea fritter and BBQ wheat protein sandwiches, as well as fresh-cut French fries, but Clover frequently offers daily specials, too, like Friday’s white bean and butternut squash sandwich. No item costs more than $5. “It’s pretty well-distributed,” Muir said of the menu options. "The sales of each sandwich are pretty close.”
Muir experiments with menu and operational concepts. Last week, he announced that Clover has begun serving breakfast sandwiches now that his team has discovered how to make high-quality eggs using a circulating water bath with a precise temperature control to cook the eggs so they still taste good hours later. Clover will operate throughout the winter — it didn’t do so last year — and Muir said that so far, business has remained steady.
With 16 employees and several investors, Muir’s expansion plans are well under way. He has an ownership stake in the company, which owns the current truck, and hopes to open about 10 permanent Clover posts throughout the Boston area over the next few years, and then more throughout the country. Muir recently found a spot in Harvard Square to open a permanent Clover in the next couple of months, and the City of Boston has invested in a second food truck that is currently being constructed to open in late March.
Follow Clover here at Muir’s blog, where details about the TLC show will appear.