By Stephanie Manley
SEA BRIGHT – It’s “on your mark, get set, go” for three area residents as they begin competing Sunday on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.”
Joanne Garelli is one of thousands who was devastatingly affected by Super Storm Sandy. She and two good friends, Ilene Winters and Timothy Boulous, have landed a spot on the hit reality show that takes contestants across country on a quest to win their very own food truck.
Garelli and her husband Steve, both from Monmouth Beach, owned Steve’s Breakfast and Lunch in Sea Bright. Steve owned the restaurant for 37 years and his wife, Joanne, married into the business 25 years ago. Garelli says she “did a little bit of everything” for the restaurant with lots of help from Steve.
When Sandy hit Sea Bright, Steve’s Breakfast and Lunch flooded with 5 1/2 feet of water. The storm “sucked everything out of my restaurant,” Garelli says, “with the exception of a coffee machine and a few coffee mugs.”
“We were despondent,” Garelli says. She and her husband were well aware of the grueling process that would take place if they decided to rebuild; Garelli placed heavy emphasis on the “if.”
After hearing about Garelli’s hardships and her inability to reopen Steve’s Breakfast and Lunch, a Food Network casting representative contacted her about the reality show “The Great Food Truck Race.”
The show, described as a “cross-country culinary road trip,” gives eight teams their own custom-designed vehicle for the seven-week trip. The teams, none with prior food truck experience, are challenged to put their skills to the test. The winner of the race keeps their truck and gets a $50,000 cash prize.
Once she was contacted, Garelli jumped at the idea and reached out to pals, Boulous of Sea Bright and Winters of Long Branch, to join her on the adventure. Boulous, who grew up in the restaurant business, said he was “happy to be a part of the team.” Winters, who has a master’s degree in nutrition and considers herself a foodie, was also thrilled to appear on her favorite TV channel.
Boulous, Garelli and Winters have been friends for the past 20 years so when it came to running a food truck, Garelli says, they “worked well together.”
Once they were on the road, the team members fell into distinct roles, though Boulous says, they “never made decisions without each other.” Boulous was primarily in charge of the cooking, Winters managed the logistics and Garelli took responsibility of sales outside the truck. “We used our resources and split up into the areas where we had expertise,” Winters says.
Boardwalk Breakfast Empire – the team name – focused on “breakfast food with flair.” They served up such meals as scrambled eggs made with Gruyere cheese, jumbo lump crab and caviar served over toasted brioche with a side of tricolored home fries. We “kept the integrity of breakfast but we elevated it,” Winters says.
While viewers have to tune in to see how far the Sea Bright food truck made it in the race, Boulous, Garelli and Winters say their work was arduous. The three members were responsible for driving and maintaining and cleaning their truck, on top of cooking food for their customers. We “came to the show not knowing a single thing about running a food truck,” Winters says.
While they ran into some setbacks throughout their course, they learned to adapt.
Garelli says there were many differences between running Steve’s Breakfast and Lunch and managing a food truck. Space was “limited and we had to be extremely cohesive as a team,” she says. The team was missing a few key pieces of equipment on the truck, including an open flame grill and a method of boiling water. They overcame obstacles regardless, constantly reminding themselves of their hometowns.
Being from Sea Bright and representing a community suffering such tragedy was a driving force behind the team. It “empowered us,” Garelli says. The experience was “bittersweet,” Boulous adds.
The Great Food Truck Race premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, on the Food Network. Boulous, Garelli and Winters can be seen in the first episode meeting up with host Tyler Florence in Los Angeles under the iconic Hollywood sign. Fans can also vote for Boardwalk Breakfast Empire on the show’s website at www.foodnetwork.com and searching for “The Great Food Truck Race” and then clicking on “fan vote.”