Vanessa Ghantous says she is not a morning person but you can’t tell from her chipper greetings to her customers at her coffee food truck Gypsy Maui. The truck opens at 7:30am at the Kulamalu Longs and serves a variety of coffee, tea, smoothies and breakfast bites.
“I wanted to start a restaurant business,” says Ghantous. “I consulted with a realtor who told me that I would need $100,000 in the bank for anyone to rent a commercial space to me. I didn’t have that so I was feeling defeated by the whole thing. I couldn’t afford any commercial space. Then I found this truck, the owners were moving and wanted to sell. I considered that there wasn’t a lot of food on the menu so that might be a good way to start. There was less overhead and risk in coffee. I decided to go for it. Once I had it all together and opened up I quickly realized that it is 50 percent food and 50 percent truck. when the truck breaks down you can’t open it ’til it’s fixed!”
She opened Gypsy Maui last September after purchasing the truck from the former owners, who were running it as a hot dogs and coffee truck. She tweaked the concept a bit, but kept it six days a week at the Kulamalu Longs.
“When I first opened I had a lot more food on the menu, but people were just showing up for coffee,” says Ghantous. “I mean that’s really what they were here for. So I pulled back on the menu, to focus on having more variety on the coffee.”
One of Ghantous’ specialties is the Gypsy Coffee, a spin-off of the popular bulletproof coffee trend. She takes two shots of espresso and blends it with coconut oil, buffalo butter, maple syrup and cinnamon. The result is a coffee with the consistency of cocoa. It’s a bit thicker, and it looks like it has cream in it but that’s just the emulsion of coffee, coconut oil and the rich butter. The maple syrup takes the edge off of the bitter, but the coffee isn’t sweet.
“I did a little bit of research to get the general gist of the bulletproof coffee,” says Ghantous. “I never drank it myself. I had a few friends that were following an Ayurvedic diet using ghee and other people following the coconut oil craze, so I was inspired to try both of those concepts in this coffee. I experimented to get the consistency right, and added a touch of maple.”
People are crazy for it, in the short time I was there she had several orders from regulars.
“All the different coffee on my menu are made with fresh ground beans, and made Americano style,” says Ghantous. “I don’t want to have any coffee sitting. First, this style is more consistent. Second, on a truck you have to be really concerned with the amount of stuff you have back here, and how you are going to wash it, and how much of that is going to tax the water tank. We only have a certain number of gallons.”
Her water is filtered five times before it makes it to your coffee. Ghantous likes to experiment with her coffee menu. She offers a Marigold coffee–a dark chocolate mocha coffee with cayenne spices, and a vanilla spice coffee with ginger cloves cinnamon nutmeg, and a Formation coffee with organic chicory.
“In the mornings I have the basics, banana bread, toasted bagels with cream cheese,” she says. “I have a bacon cheddar panini, a chicken pesto panini. I used to have oatmeal, but nobody orders that. The biggest thing I have learned about this is that even though I think it’s a great idea if people aren’t looking for that item there is no point making it. Everything that I have on the menu is because it is what people are asking for. I have a soup. I have a parfait. I use Lebanese yogurt, it’s not as sour as greek. I make a berry puree instead of using whole berries, and I use homemade granola from Katie Caccamo of Katie’s Gourmet Kitchen.”
I sipped on all the specialties coffees but loved the Formation with chicory best, it brought back memories of New Orleans. She gets all her coffee from Maui Grown Coffee in Lahaina, it’s grown on the West Maui Mountains above Ka`anapali. The parfait was incredibly creamy and smooth from the Lebanese yogurt which I had never tried. The homemade granola on top stole the attention with great texture and flavor.
I had drank way to much coffee so it was time to balance it out with a sandwich. The melty hot bacon panini hit the spot with roma tomato and guacamole. Ghantous said she originally kept the truck hours longer past lunch but decided to make a change.
“When I first bought the truck, it was called ‘Surf Dog,'” she says. “The former owners kept it open from 7am to 2pm. I just felt the idea of being here ’til two wasn’t going to serve me. I decided to break up the schedule by doing school lunches at Waldorf and Roots. Waldorf had a food truck doing lunches but the prices were too high, like $12. I could bring it to around $6 or $7. It turns out being a full schedule for the truck and I love the kids.”
She shops at farmers market to get fresh produce for her school lunch menus offering salads, and warm dishes like brown rice and teriyaki chicken, plus smoothies and a few other options for kids. She said surprisingly, salads are a favorite. It’s a pretty modern operation, kids get the menu the week ahead, and text her their orders in and pay with their credit cards. She says they like her food and are really excited about having different options available to them. She goes to Waldorf on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Wednesdays at Roots.
Saturdays at the Kulamalu center are her busiest days with the popular farmer’s market going on. Gypsy Maui serves up their coffees and bites everday but Sunday from 7:30am to 9:30am.
“I drink a lot of coffee and honestly I think our coffee is really good,” she says. “I make everything to order, and I think that makes a difference in our flavor. People really don’t mind the wait and I try to be fast.”
55 Kiopa`a St., Pukalani