Blazing Salads on Wheels Launches Today
Update, October 16, 11:40 a.m.
Blazing Salads on Wheels is offering its entire menu is for free today, in honor of its first day on the road.
A new food truck hits Boston’s streets today, but Blazing Salads on Wheels is no stranger to Boston’s lunch crowd. Well, maybe it’s no stranger to Boston’s lunch crowd’s parents.
Blazing Salads debuted as a brick-and-mortar in Quincy Center in 1974, and at its peak, the brand had six restaurants, a couple dozen pushcarts, a bakery, and a commissary, founder Vicki (Thomas) Poppe said. The local chain was a joint effort of Poppe, her two sisters, and a cousin, rooted in their parents’ and grandparents’ careers as Lebanese bakers.
“We just had fun doing everything together,” Poppe said. “Our whole family jumped in. The [Downtown Crossing] store had seven aunts, uncles, and cousins out of the 24 staff. It made it fun, and fun for our customers. It always felt like you belonged to the family.”
At its peak, Blazing Salads was hawking 1,500 pita pocket sandwiches and rollups every weekday lunch hour at its downtown shop, and 700 units at a pushcart on City Hall Plaza. A Liberty Square store was a spin-off called Rainbow Rollers, specializing in prototypical rollup sandwiches, and two other shops, including a seafood-focused offshoot called Blazing Seas, were on Martha’s Vineyard.
But by the mid-1990s, Poppe and her sisters decided to call it quits and focus on raising their families.
“Now, we’re doing [the food truck] for the kids,” Poppe said.
It was her sister, Debbie (Thomas) Cheney’s four adult children who got the wheels rolling to bring Blazing Salads back. While they have all embarked on their own careers, “They enjoyed the restaurants when they were children, and they liked that we did everything together. And they have that spirit of service.”
“Service is our life,” Poppe said.
A food truck was the most economic way to get back into the service industry, she said. And it came together very quickly. “To tell you the truth, it was all a miracle,” said Poppe, who became an ordained interfaith minister in the years since opening the first Blazing Salads.
Once the Cheney family shared their new idea, a commissary kitchen in Abington and a pristine, road-ready food truck—the former Green Bean Mobile Cafe—were secured within a few weeks. Once again, the whole extended family is on board.
“For us, it’s really fun. We were born into a food family,” Poppe said.
Her grandparents, George and Nora Thomas, opened what Poppe believes was the area’s first pita bread bakery, called Quincy Syrian Bakery. Her father, Louie, invented a machine that automated the bread’s production, eventually paving the way for the family’s company to be purchased by Sahara Bakery, she said. Louie and his wife, Rose, also operated a series of bakeshops on their own.
One day, the price for the sugar her parents used for their wholesale baklava orders increased 10-fold overnight, Poppe said. That was the day she decided to open a sandwich shop. Citing God for inspiration, she said she drove into Quincy Center, saw a nice space, and pitched her idea for a Mediterranean sandwich concept to the landlord as a tenant-at-will. A year later, she brought a surrey-topped pushcart to Government Center and helped the city’s Department of Health draft regulations around the then-novel mobile shop. When her sister Cheney got out of college, Poppe passed on the Quincy shop to her, took an extra piece of equipment, and opened in Downtown Crossing.
“I automatically put everything in pita bread, not thinking it was so exceptional. But at the time, it was the only pita bread restaurant in the Boston area,” Poppe said. “People didn’t know about the food: The first week I was out in City Hall, I gave away free sandwiches until everyone got the taste [for hummus]. But we grew up making pita bread; it was my dad’s life and passion. It’s our way to give. None of us are fancy cooks. We make very simple, healthy food: good tunafish, good turkey, fresh ingredients.”
The menu available from Blazing Salads on Wheels today is the same as it was in the 1970s: a few different salad pockets, with lightly-dressed greens and tabbouleh served in a pita; marinated chicken and steak pockets with rice pilaf; veggie “rollers;” seasonal soups, baklava. The food truck will serve the brand’s classic Blazing Salad pocket for the original price of $2—indefinitely. For the family, it’s more about sharing the fun than it is about making money, Poppe said.
In that vein, there are no plans to grow the brand the way she did back in the 1970s and 80s. But franchising Blazing Salads on Wheels may be a possibility. Debbie and her husband, Chris Cheney, now own the commissary kitchen. “If someone wants to franchise a truck, we’ll make that happen and get their supplies from our commissary,” Poppe said.
For now, the truck will be around Boston every weekday for lunch, and Blazing Salads on Wheels will be available to cater parties and event.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., by the Hurley Building on New Chardon Street; Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 2 Boylston St. in Chinatown, 617-230-7819, blazingsaladsonwheels.com.