Like the regular mafia, the Falafel Mafia is a family affair. Originally a Rhode Island vegetarian restaurant started by David Gardner in the '90's, the Falafel Mafia now operates a food truck serving up some of the best vegetarian food in the Portland area. Dylan and Cam Gardner, David's sons, have taken the helm of the family business and, along with their business partner Samantha Duggan, are taking the food truck scene by storm. They chatted with us about the unique food business they're running and how it all came about.
What was your first job?
Dylan: Making falafel and portioning dough for pita. I was probably 8.
Cam: Making falafel, or washing lettuce. I would say I was 7. It was whenever we could convince our parents to take us with them instead of leaving us with the babysitter.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in food?
D: No, when I was a teenager my dad said he would teach me how to cook because it was valuable, but he wanted me to go to college and get a “real” job. According to him, I never had a real job, but he’s the one that taught me how to work the line!
Your business was originally started by your dad, who was making falafel in the 80’s. That seems ahead of the curve!
C: He was ahead of the curve with a lot of things.
D: They were using flowers as garnish in the ‘80s. His restaurant was in Providence, a vegetarian restaurant, and it was also ahead of the curve. The menu was incredible - vegetarian wellington, things like that.
What motivates you to continue and grow your business?
D: Being here at Fork! Working with a community and seeing how businesses can grow and put the food scene in the hands of the local community, seeing more power in the hands of young cooks. It’s about giving people a taste of what real Maine food can be like, not just lobster and seafood. There’s so much more to it than that.
C: For me, the motivation comes from the reaction that we get. People are like, ‘this is so good!’
D: We get a lot of people who say it’s the best sandwich they’ve ever had.
Who are some food entrepreneurs that you admire?
D: Yotam Ottolenghi. I love his work. I wanna say MOFGA, even though they’re more of an organization, because I think what they’re doing for food is really incredible. I think the food community needs to be more sustainable. Another is Taim Falafel in New York and Falasophy in L.A. - we’ve been watching them for years.
What’s your go-to weeknight dinner?
D: It’s falafel, but I’m not going to say that. I eat a lot of Micucci’s pizza.
C: For me, it’s probably tacos.
Where do you like to eat in Maine?
D: Red’s Eats. I mean, come on. Saeng Thai, I eat so much of that. The Otherside Deli. I like simple, easy food.
What’s your food philosophy?
D: I think street food is really important because it gives people more of a connection to what they’re eating. I’m tired of fine dining - I think it disconnects people from food. There are some restaurants where that isn’t true but I think that we should go back to an older, more simple form of eating.
C: Making everything that we sell because it’s just how we were shown to do it.
D: And obviously going local, sustainable, organic.