Appraising Medford's food-cart landscape, Alyssa Warner saw plenty of potential among numerous taco trucks, a few hotdog stands and the odd bento barbecue.
"I just wanted to provide a healthy alternative to Burger King, McDonald's," says the 41-year-old Medford resident.
So the former real-estate appraiser christened her new mobile kitchen "Fresco," a term she doesn't use loosely. Warner makes pasta from scratch every day, bakes all her own desserts and even roasts her own coffee beans. For all that time and effort, she charges $7 for pasta with a choice of homemade sauce, a green salad and garlic bread; $1 for a cherry turnover and $1.25 for 12 ounces of java.
"I'm not a restaurant; I can't charge restaurant prices," says Warner.
Restaurants are something Warner knows plenty about. Her parents, Ron and Barbara McHugh, founded Green Springs Inn near Ashland 1981.
Warner started cooking at age 14 in the inn's kitchen, where she learned the northern Italian recipes of her immigrant grandmother, Louise Tappero. She later honed her baking skills with older sister Angela Harris, who owned Angelina's Pizza & Pasta in Talent.
"She's just developed into a great cook," says Barbara McHugh of her younger daughter.
Despite no formal culinary training, Warner developed a reputation over the past decade for cakes baked for family, friends and her husband's co-workers at Providence Medford Medical Center. With chocolate her specialty, Warner also is well-versed in decorative fondant, transforming cakes into ballgown-clad Barbie dolls, a giant Oreo cookie, even the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
"At least once a week, someone orders a cake," she says.
And after helping her mom with catering gigs over the years, Warner recently started testing those waters on her own.
When Fresco isn't parked for lunch Mondays and Fridays at the Medford Armory, it's available for on-site catering jobs, as well as deliveries. Warner's trailer — certified as a commercial kitchen — was built in Portland, purchased for about $11,000 and hit the road the first week in March.
"The trailer is just sort of a way to recession-proof myself," says Warner.
Her dinner menus are addressing similar concerns for customers. For about $15 per person, Warner produced a Valentine's Day meal of handmade, heart-shaped, chicken-filled ravioli, butternut-squash soup, rolls, green salad and mini, heart-shaped, raspberry cheesecakes for Medford resident Bubba Richmond.
"That's delivered — you can't beat that," says Richmond, 69, who dropped by Fresco for lunch last week.
Other entrees, available with 24 hours notice, are vegetarian and meat lasagnas and ricotta gnocchi with pesto. The lunch menu of pasta, sandwiches and risotto bowls is available daily, even when Warner's not at the Armory. She says she's up for special orders with enough lead time and refers customers to her blogs — with photos — of past specials.
"People can order anything anytime," says Warner.
So far Warner's business hasn't extended beyond Medford, and she's relied on word-of-mouth from friends and family. But borrowing a tactic from food-truck fleets in Portland and Los Angeles, she's started notifying customers by Twitter of Fresco's whereabouts.
She'll be stationed near the Rogue Valley Family YMCA for Medford's Pear Blossom Festival, April 9, and plans to rally other mobile kitchens at the Armory for a few hours the evening of May 13.
Summer will bring lighter fare, including more salads, homemade ice cream and popsicles, says Warner. A new garden at Green Springs Inn will grow much of her produce. Until the harvest, Warners says she's using as many locally grown vegetables as possible.
View Fresco menus at http://alsfresco.com. Call Warner at 541-601-5137 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or e-mail email@example.com.