I’ve passed Ad Mare many times on the street and being a seafood lover I thought “Ouuu.” But having had food poisoning (several times…) and on more than one occasion being from some questionable seafood, I also thought “UGH, NO.”
But in the name of journalism, I braved it! So off to the intersection of Slater and O'Connor I went.
When I showed up at the truck after Mario Burke has happily obliged to chat and have me sample some food, he has a line. I mean people actually waiting…in the cold (I’m talking -30 C with wind chill type of cold)…with numbered tickets.
As before, I asked the owner to choose whatever they thinks is the best. This time the chef is Mario, who founded and owns Ad Mare with his wife Miriam. He had fresh haddock cheese burgers that day with a side salad and homemade potato chips. Yes please. Once again, I had no shame in eating like I was starving to death (yes, publicly).
When Mario was free from his lunch rush, we got talking. So how did he get started? He was one of a select few, about 25 in Ottawa, who were part of trial program by the city to introduce food trucks. Mario had been running mobile canteens for over 20 years at the time when one of his regular customers mentioned the program.
“I didn’t even tell my wife. I just wrote the business plan,” he says.
It must have been a good one because his plan came in second place in choice selection and Ad Mare opened in 2013. Mario told me about his first day. Apparently word had gotten around before they had even opened.
“It’s gone crazy,” says Mario, “we were prepping and we were going to open at 11:30 a.m. and at 11:15 I just looked outside and there was a line up from here to O'Connor. The city of Ottawa was so ready for a food truck. There was no advertisement other than what the city said.”
All the food trucks in this program supply different types of food so they’re not competing. Mario tells me how they’ve formed an association and meet as regularly as possible, roughly once a month. As a collective they have more power to work together and are hoping to start a small food truck festival in the near future, he says.
But even with such great success it isn’t all glamorous. Some of the difficulties about being in the city’s regulated program are the requirements that must be followed. For example, as Mario tells me, the air in the truck has to be recycled every 15 seconds, even in winter. So no matter how high the heat is cranked, it’s pretty cold.
“You start the dishes and then you see the ice forming on top,” he says.
And as Mario points out, of course, with fresh seafood the menu has to change constantly depending on prices and what’s available. He tries to keep a few staple dishes, like his fish tacos and fish and chips, switching between haddock and cod depending on the day, but it’s not possible with every item.
“Lobster one week can be $5 a pound and the next week $10 a pound,” he says, “I buy my lobster live so sometimes it’s just not worth it, and I don’t want to raise my prices so I just don’t serve it.”
Mario and I get to chatting about the future and if he’d expand because of his popularity. He laughs at that part.
“The first year I was just trying to survive, it was so many hours working,” he says, “ and because it’s winter it’s so cold it just drains all my energy, you know ?”
Maybe he’ll just stick to the one for now, so better get in line!