From waiting tables at the Rogue Valley's most acclaimed restaurant, Melissa Jones-Hanscom gained a "different perspective on food."
Then she took it to the streets.
Figgy's Food Truck is among the latest mobile food units rolled out in Jackson County, but it's the first to visually suggest a sophisticated street-food scene. No mere trailer or rolling cart, the leaf-green Figgy's with its fresh-fruit logo sprouts from a boxy Grumman Olson Kurbmaster formerly owned by a local plumber. Typically used for deliveries of bread and parcels, it's the quintessential truck featured on Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race."
"I love this particular model," says Jones-Hanscom.
Figgy's takes its name from Jones-Hanscom's signature sauce, inspired by the lamb burger served at New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro in Talent, where the Medford resident worked for about a year. Owner of a construction company for about six years, Jones-Hanscom is well-versed in the building costs that make mobile food units so attractive to fledgling restaurateurs.
"This is how you keep food costs down," she says.
Figgy's prices — $6 per item — align with combo meals at many fast-food restaurants, says Jones-Hanscom, but afford high-quality, fresh ingredients accented with gourmet, from-scratch condiments, such as creme fraiche, balsamic gastrique and Champagne-dill mustard. Jones-Hanscom says she purchases produce from Medford Food Co-op and this summer plans to use organic vegetables that her mother, Jonelle Jones, grows for two local retirement centers.
"You can have this hearty, filling sandwich, and you can still get your veggies in," she says.
Served on rolls locally baked for Figgy's, five types of sandwiches — one vegetarian or vegan — compose the menu, along with two types of soup. Main-dish salads will star on Figgy's warm-weather menu, says Jones-Hanscom, who has worked in a variety of restaurants since high school but has no formal culinary training.
"I'm definitely just cooking food that I would make for my family," says the 35-year-old mother of four. "I'm trying to stick with classic flavor profiles."
Her creativity, however, is evident in the "Buffalo blue" sandwich, which pairs shredded chicken and housemade spicy sauce with blue cheese and a celery slaw that evoke the traditional accompaniments to hot wings. In response to popular demand, Jones-Hanscom can't take it off the menu.
Among Figgy's most loyal customers are construction workers at The Commons project and Lithia Motors corporate employees, owing to the truck's lunchtime location at Medford's Fifth Street and Riverside Avenue in an empty lot owned by Lithia, which allows Jones-Hanscom to park weekdays free of charge. Although she uses social media to advise customers of her location and menu, Jones-Hanscom says the trick to cultivating a steady clientele is consistency, advice she took from Dave Reitz, whose Great Outdoors Grill operates across Barnett Road from Rogue Valley Medical Center.
"You just have to be open every day in one spot," she says.
Location has challenged not a few of the county's 100 mobile food units. Rocco's Amore and Fresco food trailers both spent afternoons at the Medford Armory over the past year, only to abandon the location after several months of slow sales. Rocco's recently started parking Wednesday through Saturday evenings at Medford's Southern Oregon Brewing Co., which doesn't serve its own food.
"Maybe we're not day street food," says owner William Todarello, who serves pasta dishes, meatballs, sandwiches and desserts.
Fresco's menu of handmade pasta and pastries was better suited to advance orders, catering and other special events, says owner Alyssa Warner. She keeps Fresco idle if not asked to deliver multiple meals or invited to sell at wineries and other venues.
"You have to pay a fee for all the locations," she says.
Warner, Todarello and Jones-Hanscom all agree that a critical mass of food trucks in one location likely would ignite the enthusiasm for street cuisine that is so evident in cities like Portland and Los Angeles. The city of Medford recently relaxed a long-standing requirement that vendors set up at least 100 feet apart. The change paves the way for outdoor food courts.
"Medford is ready for a food pod," says Todarello.
"There are so many vacant parking lots everywhere," says Warner, who tried to rally food trucks for one night at the Armory last year with no success.
But judging from the number of people who call her with questions about starting a food truck, says Warner, the trend only looks to keep growing. Jackson County Environmental Public Health Services already has reviewed four new applications for mobile food units this year after reviewing 20 last year and 24 in 2010, says Brian Shelton, environmental health specialist. The country inspects all mobile food units, which are held to sanitation standards similar to restaurants'.
"It seems like they are really taking a lot of pride and ownership," says Shelton of mobile vendors, adding that the Figgy's and Rocco's operations impressed him.
Before hitting the road in November, Jones-Hanscom spent about four months outfitting her truck, setting up a website and sampling other street fare. Figgy's appeal, she says, is her focus on a few seasonal ingredients, fast service from a small menu and a predictable price.
"You know exactly what you're gonna get," she says.
Figgy's is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. See www.figgysfoodtruck.com.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email email@example.com.