Ayr Muir ’00 tastes a forkful of potato salad, savoring the bite. “More olive oil,” he suggests to the cook. After more oil has been added, Muir takes another bite. “Much better,” he confirms.
Muir is the owner of the Clover Food Lab, a vegetarian food truck parked in front of MIT Medical that serves a variety of vegetarian food, from $3 soups and original drinks to $5 sandwiches.
Since it opened last October, the truck’s business has grown immensely. Once operated by just Muir and his chef Rolando Robledo, Clover now has fourteen staff members. The amount of food Clover prepares each day has tripled since its kickoff, and Muir is still experimenting with extended lunch hours and weekend brunches. Though the food truck has only been operating for less than a year, Clover has already received press from the Boston Globe.
Muir started the food truck to help develop the menu for a chain of restaurants he hopes to start. Already, Muir is looking to open Clover’s first permanent location in a few months and is in the process of building two more trucks.
Muir credits Clover’s success to its open-mindedness. With an online blog, a Twitter page, and a menu that changes every day, the Clover food truck is ready for constant feedback and adjustment. “We don’t have a lot of ego,” Muir explains. “People give us feedback about what they like and what they didn’t like and we change accordingly. Food works because people tell us what they like.”
Additionally, Clover makes an effort to remember customers’ names and build community relationships.
Muir says that one of the biggest challenges he faces in operating the food truck is finding the right employees. His team includes chef Robledo, who worked at California’s French Laundry, and Chris Anderson, who was once a personal chef for famed actor/wrestler Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson.
“We don’t call ourselves the ‘vegetarian truck.’ Our goal is to serve good, accessible, everyday food,” Muir says. His purpose in serving vegetarian food comes from an environmental standpoint. “The livestock industry is one of the big sources of carbon footprint,” Muir explains. “What food you eat is a personal choice you can make every day to reduce your environmental footprint.”
As a graduate from MIT with a degree in Materials Science and Engineering, Muir also believes that his science education has helped him understand food. Muir explains the reason their coffee is cold-brewed: “Caffeine and other water soluble chemicals in coffee are fragile molecules. After they are heated up and cooled down, they give a sour and bitter taste.”
Customers express trust and satisfaction in Clover’s food. “I would make a special trip to come to Clover,” customer Brian Dols says.
Mary Beth Mills-Curran G is not vegetarian but visits Clover occasionally. “The food tastes good,” she says, although she does think it can get a little pricey.
However, Muir suggests that, perhaps because of its location, the majority of Clover’s customers are not MIT students.
In a survey Clover ran last May, around 8 percent of their customers were MIT undergraduate students, and a little less than 20 percent were MIT graduate students.
Has Clover’s growing success affected neighboring food trucks? Jerusalem Falafel food truck owner Fawaz Aburubieh says it is hard to know how business has changed since Clover arrived, since there are so many variables such as the weather and the time of year.
However, he appreciates Clover’s presence on the street. “People try different things; they can’t eat Middle Eastern food every day” he said.