10 Questions with Chef Andrew Ferenc of On The Fly Sandwiches & Stuff
1. Tell us about On The Fly Sandwiches & Stuff.
We're a food truck serving a blackboard style menu of fresh tacos and other items I dream up. We're located at the corner of Adams and Jefferson which is just a block away from the new courthouse downtown. I rent a spot and am there Monday to Friday from 11am-3pm. We also do special events and catering at night and on the weekends.
2. What makes On The Fly special?
Our food is really good, creative and high end (Butterfinger crème brûlée pictured below). And our menu changes weekly. We have some real favorites that are always on the menu but we also have new things to try every week.
3. What sort of food do you serve?
Nothing on my truck is traditional; everything has its own little twist. There's no orientation to where my food comes from. It's just something that comes to my mind and I know the flavors will work well together. For example, my marinated chicken soft tacos have a little bit of Asian flare to them.
I do everything from marinated chicken soft tacos to sesame seared Ahi tuna to blackened tuna tacos. I do an El Diablo sandwich (pictured below) which is a really cool sandwich with hard salami, pepperoni and cheddar cheese then baked and topped with crushed up spicy Doritos. I add my own sweet chili pickles that I make.
4. What's the "& Stuff" part of your name?
When I started I wanted to be able to take the menu in any direction. I didn't want to be limited to just BBQ or sandwiches. I wanted to be able to do different things, so I added the "& Stuff" to our name to give me that freedom. It also lets people know that we have different things to try out.
5. What can you recommend to someone new to On The Fly?
I tell people "if it's not good it wouldn't be on the menu." I make sure what I put on my menu has my name written all over it. With food trucks you need to make a good impression the first time people try you out, or they won't be back. They're going to love it or just like it and move on to the next truck. You need them to keep coming back. My marinated chicken soft tacos put me on the map. My sesame seared tuna over wasabi napa slaw is a staple item that I keep on the menu. And my braised pulled pork tacos I keep on the menu. I do a gourmet grilled cheese (pictured below) that I change every week. For a first timer I would definitely steer people towards the chicken soft tacos, seared tuna tacos or pulled pork tacos. But at the same time if there's something on the truck that I know won't be there next week I try to steer people there to try it out while it's available.
6. Tell us about your time working behind The Green Room Brewing in Jax Beach?
I was parked behind the Green Room for about 5 months. It was great. I am very thankful for the time that the owners Mark and Eric gave me. It was right at the beginning of my business and I was able to build the beginning of my following. We thought we were doing the right things, with me being on private property, gated off in the back. You had to be a customer of the Green Room to get to my truck. It wasn't like I was vending to the public. I was really just selling food to the customers of the Green Room. But Jax Beach looked at it differently and that's when I had to move on. When the City made me leave there were a lot of people who weren't happy about it but I had to keep on going. I have a business to run. I have a family to support. I don't have the time to mess with Jax Beach City officials. Of course I'd love to have it work out in Jax Beach, and I think in time it will eventually. We're heading in the right direction but it will just take a little time.
7. You've always had a steady location, yet you're in a truck. Why is that?
Having a regular location is something I really wanted. The number one question I get is "where will you be? How can I find you?". If you have a good product they don't want to have to search you out all the time. I think it's good to have a home and a place to let people know where you'll be. We still use the truck to travel around for different things. People who don't live near by have the opportunity to Like us on Facebook and catch us when we're in their end of town.
8. Do you do all the cooking?
Yes. I have Phyllis who is great with the customers at the window, but I do all the cooking. Sometimes, if I'm prepping for 400, 600 or even 800 people then I'll get some help for that. But I oversee everything. And Monday to Friday when I'm downtown it's me doing the cooking with Phyllis working the window. We put out as much food as a small restaurant does.
9. Can you tell us about your background?
I've been cooking since I was 15 years old. I've worked at a bunch of different restaurants. I worked at a Mexican restaurant when I was younger as a dishwasher and worked my way up, all the way to a 5 star hotel.
I attended the American Culinary Academy in Lakeland, graduating in 2000. That's when I moved to Jacksonville. My sister lived here and went to college at UNF. I visited her frequently when I was in culinary school and fell in love with the town and the Beach. After graduating from culinary school I worked at First Street Grill for about 7 years. After First Street Grill closed, the owners Kathy and Malcom Marvin ended up taking over The Homestead. I went there and worked with them for a while. I also worked at Aqua Grill and then Selva Marina.
10. What did you learn from your experiences working at other restaurants?
At First Street Grill I helped to create daily specials for over 7 years. I learned a lot about how to grab flavors from all over the place. They gave us a free range to do whatever we wanted to. I definitely took a little from each of the restaurants I've worked at over the years.
11. What made you want to be a chef?
It's something I got into early on. My parents made me get a job as a kid. I was a dishwasher and found it super cool watching the guys who worked on the line - how they communicated and how they worked together. Then I worked my way up to cooking and never looked back. I always progressed, and eventually was running a kitchen. I just like seeing people smile and seeing their response to my food. I like to see them enjoying my cooking.
12. Why did you decide to open a food truck?
I had a son 2 1/2 years ago. The hours at a restaurant are very long and the first 2 years of my son's life just flew by. I wanted more time with my family and more control over my time. My wife and I had wanted to have our own business. The idea of a food truck was in the back of my mind for a long time, even before it was popular. Once it became popular I knew I had to pull the trigger and make something happen. The whole purpose was to spend time with my family. When my wife gave me the green light to go for it I pretty much bought the food truck the next day. It was an ice cream truck when I got it. I had to re-do it - put in a kitchen in the back. I got it up to all the health standards and all that sort of stuff. Versus a restaurant it's a whole different business.
13. What's been your biggest challenge owning a food truck?
Chasing the clock. I feel like I've been chasing the clock since the day I started. Time flies when working the truck - maybe it's because I do everything myself. You are always moving. You're prepping - stocking up the truck - cooking - unloading the truck. It's not like a restaurant where everything is there and in one place. You always have to prep and get everything ready for the day.
14. How big a part of your business are the private events?
It's a big part. We're booked up this month every Saturday and we have a few Sundays and a few nights. We've been booking up like crazy. It's been really good.
15. What's been the reception to On The Fly, and food trucks in general?
The perception of food trucks is really changing. There are a lot of educated chefs who are cooking in the backs of the trucks today. I take a lot of pride in my truck and my kitchen. It's very clean. I had a customer who said she wanted to try the tuna but felt iffy about getting tuna out of a truck. But I've worked in a lot of restaurants and my kitchen is equal to or above any restaurant in terms of cleanliness and quality of food. We follow the same laws that restaurants do with the health department. We get visited twice a year. They treat us just as if we were a brick and mortar. Food trucks are not like they used to be - far from it. As people learn more about the trucks they're embracing them more. And it's getting busier and busier every day. We have a growing list of regulars but we also constantly get people who are eating with us for the first time. We're hearing great feedback.
15. When you're not parked outside the courthouse, what's the best way for people to find out where you are?
16. Have you been able to spend more time with your family now that you have your own business?
That definitely came back and bit me in the butt, but in a good way. It's a lot easier working 16 hours for yourself than for someone else. It's nice owning my own business. With our lunch focus I have the opportunity to make it home by 6 and have the evening with my family. We still have nights and weekends where we do special events and parties. But it's working for myself and I like that.