Eat the Hub
Healthy food carts come to South U
by Jacob Axelrad
From the December, 2013 issue
Each day legions of students dash back and forth along South U. Some are heading to class. Others seek the warmth of coffee shops, anxious for their next caffeine fix. Still, they all need to eat.
In March 2012, Alex Perlman started a food cart called the Beet Box with fellow students Dan Morse and Kay Feker. Inspired by the healthy cuisine Feker, the head chef, grew up with in Laguna Beach, it's operated at Mark's Carts for the past two summers.
All three founders have since graduated. Morse and Feker left Ann Arbor, though they remain involved in the business. But Perlman chose to devote his post-grad year to creating his own food cart yard, working with current U-M student Noah Hoffman. They're calling it Eat the Hub. And they're doing it in the winter.
"In Ann Arbor the season for food carts, ironically, is at the same time as Ann Arbor's population is smallest," Perlman points out. "From a business perspective it's actually quite illogical."
Perlman said they didn't need to think hard about where the food carts should go. "As a college student who lived on Washtenaw and Observatory for three years, I had to go down South U every day," he says. "There was no choice. I also had to eat on South U every single day."
The Beet Box, which sells vegetarian-friendly fast food, grew out of a U-M sustainability class. Through the same class, Perlman met a broker who's a member of the South University Area Association. When Perlman wanted a space closer to campus for the Beet Box and Cheese Dream, a grilled cheese food truck he also co-owns, the broker introduced him to the owner of the vacant lot at 1215 South University, next door to University Towers. The house that originally stood there, still remembered by many as the former home of Pinball Pete's video arcade, burned down in 2009. Now the Beet Box and Cheese Dream carts are parked there on
a layer of fresh gravel, and Perlman hopes to attract as many as four more.
The goal of Eat the Hub, he says, is high-quality food and fast service. "Not many other types of food establishments can do slow food so fast," Perlman says of the carts. "We're going to be pushing off food in to-go containers so people can take it into group meetings, into class, as well as take it home."
To persuade customers to brave the elements, he'll be providing heaters, free coffee, and music. When Eat the Hub closes at the end of the school year in May, Perlman will hit the road, touring Michigan in a renovated school bus that doubles as a kitchen. He'll be back in the fall to enter a master's program in entrepreneurship offered jointly through the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering.
He doesn't know if his culinary career will extend beyond that, but he hopes to set a precedent for future food-cart installations in Ann Arbor.
"You make sacrifices to eat good food," he said. "Especially when it's fun and it's fast and it's fresh."
[Originally published in December, 2013.]