Part of what Main Street Magazine has been delivering every month for the past ten – yes, ten! – years, is fresh and interesting local content. If the magazine were a buffet, it would be all kinds of deliciousness. So here’s another addition to the fresh, exciting, local offerings in the delicious and delightful area we call home: Aloha Tacos.
The company was launched in September 2021 by friends Nicole Friedrich and Gwen Menshenfriend. I caught up with the “Aloha Girls” as they call themselves on a sunny late-winter morning to talk about what they do.
How did you meet, and what was the inspiration for the food truck?
“I’ve been in Copake, NY, with my husband for about 19 years now,” Gwen started. “We moved here from Hawaii. We have a son, and I met Nicole through the Taconic Hills School system. We got to know each other and learned we shared a lot of things, including a love for food and cooking. We started talking about what it would be like to have a food truck.”
Nicole elaborated, “I grew up in Dutchess County, which Gwen did too, which is another coincidence. But I traveled through the Southwest before returning to this area. When I met my husband we moved to Columbia County. We started a farm; we had goats. I got involved with the Copake Hillsdale Farmer’s Market, which I’ve been managing for eight years, and when I met Gwen, we found we were always talking about food and this food truck idea. One day my good friend Ron Bixby, owner of Little Apple Cidery, asked what I’d really love to do, and when I mentioned the food truck, he responded, ‘What are you waiting for?’ That was my ‘aha’ moment. When Gwen said okay to actually doing it, we went from there.”
Why a food truck?
“We thought it would be fun,” they shared. “But food trucks are expensive. We had a lead on one that wasn’t being used so much, so we reached out to the owner, and she agreed to sell it. We were shocked by that. Both of our families came with us to take a look at it, and our husbands agreed to help us fix it up. Everything started happening, ‘boom, boom, boom.’ While the truck was being prepared, we did some pop-ups to get our food in front of people and gauge responses, see what they liked or didn’t.”
Why Aloha Tacos?
“The Aloha spirit brought it to us!” they exclaimed, laughing together. “From the beginning the goal was Asian/Hawaiian-style foods,” they said.
“My time in Hawaii exposed me to the experiences and foods of the many diverse cultures on the island,” Gwen explained.
“We wanted to do something a bit different, too,” Nicole added. “Our tacos and other foods are lighter than traditional tacos. There’s no cheese; in fact, there’s little dairy. We feel it’s fresher and more flavorful and a little different from what’s out there. But don’t get us wrong,” she noted emphatically, “We love traditional tacos, too!”
What are some of Aloha Tacos’ offerings?
Aloha Tacos’ menu typically features their “signature” tacos, which include Korean short rib tacos topped with 2 Girls & a Cookshop’s slaw, pickled cucumber, and garlic sesame aioli; Aloha shrimp tacos with 2 Girls’ slaw, sweet chili mayo, and mango habanero drizzle; and Kalua pork tacos with the slaw, pickled onions, and homemade barbeque drizzle.
“Our Korean cauliflower is very popular,” they shared. “We change up the menu frequently, and we cater it to the type of event we’re doing so that we can be sure we’re able to serve enough people in a timely way and still bring out lots of flavors. But we’re always experimenting to add something different.”
What’s it like to work together in a food truck?
“We really had no idea what we were getting into!” they laughed. “We knew each other,” Nicole said, “but we didn’t really know each other deeply.” They start laughing again in earnest.
“Gwen is the best to work with and be partnered with in this business,” Nicole jumped in. “I tend to get anxious when I see a line forming or when we’re in the thick of preparations. It’s a small space! Gwen is always calm. We’re wonderful friends and partners.”
“We have a great working relationship,” Gwen echoed. “Our families are also close. And our children help us, so they’re experiencing this as well. When you’re working with the public, not everyone is so nice,” she shared, “and our kids have learned a lot about being in front of the public and making things happen in the best way. We couldn’t do it without them, too.”
(Kudos to Sebastian Tamburrino, 15, Claire Friedrich, 14, Hailyn Friedrich, 24, and Hailyn’s helpful friends).
Thoughts on starting a business?
“It’s hard!” they are quick to point out. “There’s so much more to it than just preparing and making the food and getting the truck to the venues. That’s what we’ve learned. There’s the social media, the upkeep, all the details.”
They’re equally quick to point out how much they enjoy what they’re up to, and how supportive everyone is. “We are both creative people,” they add, “and this has allowed us both to think creatively and try different foods. A whole world opened up to us when we got going. We’re still trying to figure a lot of it out. When we make mistakes, we talk about it, try to make it better, and move on. The whole process brings us a lot of joy.”
Has there been a stand-out day or event?
After some deliberation and reflection, they replied, quite sincerely, “They’re all great.”
“What’s an amazing feeling,” Gwen said, “is how much people really enjoy the food. We get so many compliments! And people love the fact that it’s (mostly) just us in the truck, with our kids occasionally.”
Nicole added, “People who are really taco people, who’ve eaten tacos in places around the country and world come up and say these are the best. We have so many people who come over and over.”
“We get silly in the truck, too. We have a good time. We were playing disco music one day and dancing, and Claire took a video. I posted it on Instagram,” Nicole said, “and someone from the Food Network contacted us about participating in a program called the Great Food Truck Race. We thought about it for a while, but the timing wasn’t right. But that was funny!”
Where can you find Aloha Tacos?
“Our venues are all so welcoming and so wonderful; we love the truly collaborative experiences we have,” they say, as I can almost hear them thinking about where they’ve been in the past and where they’ll be coming up. The Aloha Girls proudly declared that they are booked through 2023. They are regulars at some of the great craft beverage businesses in Columbia County, including Little Apple Cidery, Cooper’s Daughter Distillery, Vosburgh Brewing Company, Old Klaverack Brewery, Rose Hill Winery & Cidery, and community events. (Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to see where they’ll be and when).
Is there anything I missed that you’d like to share?
I’m glad I asked because after another reflective moment they said, “We named the food truck ‘Ohana,’ which means ‘family’ in Hawaiian. This is very important to us. We make everything ourselves, and we put a lot of love into our food. We also love the intimacy of private parties and catering.”
With longer days and warmer weather just around the corner, you can be sure Aloha Tacos will be pulling up to share their delightful and delicious foods at their favorite venues. Let them know you read about them in Main Street Magazine. And wish them a happy second anniversary in September. Aloha hui hou! •
Learn more at www.facebook.com/people/Aloha-Tacos and @aloha_taco_girls on Instagram. See you in line this summer!