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Tastebuds drive this business

Location counts for a lot, but without really good grub, a food cart won't survive on the street

For most people, the name Italian Stallion will bring to mind images of Sylvester Stallone wearing boxing gloves in his famous Rocky film series.

For local foodies, however, it's more likely to make their mouths water, since this is the name of a popular meat sandwich served up at a local food cart.

Trish Bell, owner and operator of Casalinga Culinary Services in Burnaby, believes she has discovered the perfect combination of ingredients to tickle all the taste buds with this original recipe.

"It's the most ridiculous thing you've ever tried in your life, it's so good," she says. "It's a large French roll topped with homemade ceasar dressing on both sides, and then we put four-cheese spread on both sides of the bun, and then layer on one side pulled pork that we cook overnight with chicken broth till it falls apart.

We layer that on top and then we do spicy capicola, we do Calabrese salami, and we do a spicy salami and a Genovese salami, and then we layer that with caramelized onions, and then we put sliced green olives, and then we garlic butter both sides and put a weight on it on the grill so it's really crispy and delicious. So you've got the salty of the olives, the sweet of the onions, the spicyness of the capicola, the oozing cheese and the garlic butter, and it's pretty crazy."

For the past 20 years, Bell has been sharing her passion for food with the Lower Mainland community, serving up hot lunches and ready made meals.

From her location on Winston Street, she and her 12 employees cater to customers that include the Holiday Inn Metrotown Vancouver and film and TV production companies, as well as hundreds of people walking off the street.

Casalinga - Italian for "housewife" - serves foods like sandwiches, pastas, burgers, soups and salads made from scratch, with no preservatives or additives.

Besides the Iatalian Stallion, the other most popular menu item is the company's signature butter chicken poutine.

"We get lineups, and we sell out every week," says Bell. "We started with four kilos a week of butter chicken poutine, and then we had to go up to eight kilos, and we can't keep it here."

As of October, Casalinga expanded to include a food cart that is regularly parked at the information booth in Stanley Park in downtown Vancouver.

Bell said she wouldn't want to rely solely on the food cart to make a living, but the addition to her business has proven to be a success in its own right this spring, and she is anticipating a good return on her investment this summer.

Parking a food truck or cart in a high-traffic area is what will make or break sales for the day, she says. The best spots are high-traffic pedestrian areas like urban shopping hubs or in front of high schools, and, of course, having dry weather makes a big difference. But, in the end, the most important element is always the product.

"You really have to have good quality food or people just won't come back," Bell says.

With 6,200 pulled pork sliders sold at the recent Eat Vancouver food show at B.C. Place, Casalinga has proven it has at least a few crowd-pleasers on its menu.

Bell said working inside her company's 14-foot food cart is surprisingly easy because it was custom made for her business and is well laid out for two people to work efficiently with lots of room, even with two deep-fryers, a grill, charbroiler, steam table, refrigerator and stainless steel counters.

This summer, Casalinga Carts will be at various venues and events, including three days in downtown Vancouver, at least two events at Hastings Racetrack, and at the Columbia StrEAT food truck festival on Aug. 10 in New Westminster.

Bell says she is especially looking forward to the food truck festival and is excited to see what other vendors will be offering.

"You know, people eat the same thing all the time, and when they eat at a food truck, (the owners) tend to put a twist on things that most normal restaurants wouldn't do," she says.

"It's just really creative. So, food being creative and fun and tasting delicious, it's like a party."

Besides Casalinga Carts, other food trucks confirmed so far for the New Westminster festival are: Guanaco Truck, Beljam's Waffles, Kaboom Box, JJ's Trucketeria, Aussie Pie Guy and Holy Perogy.

For more information on Casalinga Carts, visit www.casalingacarts.com.

mreid@burnabynow.com