At lunchtime on a street corner on the west side of Manhattan, a spot not typically known for its cuisine, people with palates from East and West line the sidewalk for one thing — falafel.
Customers at the Quick Stop truck, a “Moving Kosher Experience”, hungrily accept their large pita sandwiches stuffed to the brim with falafel balls, fresh vegetables, sauces and a baby pickle from the hands of a jovial fellow with a bushy red beard. It’s easy to infer that Ari Thaler is the owner of the kosher food truck because a caricature of him, complete with a big grin, a rotund figure and a purple-and-white suit, is painted on the side of the truck.
In a city long dominated by halal carts, kosher food vendors are a rare sight, but Thaler is making a bid to remedy that status quo.
Originally from Belgium, the 33-year-old Thaler immigrated to the United States 12 years ago. In addition to using a fresh falafel mix delivered daily from the famed Moshe’s Falafel, a food truck that has been a jewel of New York City’s Diamond District for 30 years, Thaler has brought his own flavor to his business — in more ways than one.
Aside from the falafel sandwiches that go for $5.50 apiece, Thaler’s truck also offers, for the same price, Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and berries.
Customers looking for a convenient and tasty lunch that also meets their kosher dietary requirements have been discovering the Quick Stop, which set up shop about two months ago at the midtown location. Parked outside B&H Photo and Video, a Jewish-owned and operated electronics store on West 33rd Street and Ninth Avenue, Thaler’s truck-based business benefits from its proximity to the store.
“It’s very important to have kosher food close by,” said Elimelech Price, a B&H employee. “In my line of work, you’re so busy that it’s lunchtime before you know it. It’s good to have the cart right across the street. If it’s here, I’ll be coming back.”
Bracha Klein, who was visiting from Jerusalem with her family, said she found it easier to go out with her three children in tow when kosher food was so accessible. “I hope there are more [kosher stands]; it would be great,” Klein said. “In the old days, when we were kids, we always had to pack food and vegetables, but now you can buy out everything.”
The taste of Quick Stop’s remarkably soft pita filled with freshly fried, crispy falafel balls and tahini sauce doesn’t attract only Jewish customers. On a recent weekday, people of various ethnicities lined up for the falafel and other treats, including mango slushies, blintzes and sushi.
“We’re in a place where people have a 20-minute lunch, so the key is fast and fresh — and the best,” Thaler said.
As the orders came in, five men bustled within the steamy truck with a learned dexterity, each in charge of one phase of the cooking as they assembled the ingredients. The falafel is fried seconds before it finds its way into a pita and into the eager hands of hungry patrons craving a taste. Thaler often doles out free falafel balls as customers wait in line for their food to be prepared.
After the stock market decline two years ago, Thaler, then a real estate broker, decided it was time for a career change. He was on a post-Sabbath stroll with his wife in Israel last year when he noticed ice coffee slush stands attracting patrons. “It came to my thoughts that we should have a couple of stands for the summer in New York City,” he said.
The idea became a reality when Thaler contacted Moshe Mizrahi, the owner of Moshe’s Falafel, about a potential business venture. Now, Mizrahi supplies the falafel mix every day under the condition that Thaler refrain from parking his truck within a seven-block radius of Moshe’s Falafel stronghold in Midtown.
Abraham Mizrahi, son of Moshe Mizrahi, helped train the Quick Stop helpers who work beside Thaler in the truck. “It’s very hard to give the best and to expand, but I saw that Ari has a good attitude like us,” he said. “It took us 30 years to find someone like him who we can trust.”
Thaler is also a savvy 21st-century businessman. With a website, www.quickstopkosher.com, a Facebook page and an updated Twitter account, he lets his followers know of his whereabouts and even solicits suggestions for future curbside locations. Though he can usually be found at 33rd Street, he has been experimenting with other locations, including Hanover Square off of Wall Street.
The truck serves breakfast beginning at 8 a.m. and remains open until 5 p.m. The long hours create a very long day for Thaler, who starts his preparations at dawn.
“We take it day by day so we can make sure the customers are happy,” Thaler said. “Make sure the food is fresh and the service is good. That’s what counts.”
Maia Efrem has worked at the Forward since 2010 and currently serves as research editor and assistant to the editor. Maia is the editor of the Assimilator, the Forward’s arts and culture blog and is responsible for the Forward’s annual Salary Survey. Previously she served as the editor of Blognik Beat, a blog written by students who emigrated from or have ties to the Former Soviet Union. Maia is a graduate of Hunter College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.