"Maybe we're all most vulnerable when we first wake up," muses Joe DeMato while philosophizing about the role breakfast plays in our lives. It’s a subject that’s come to preoccupy much of DeMato’s day after he launched the Breakfast Shack food truck last summer. Situated in Queens, New York City, just off the 30th Avenue subway station, the food truck is decorated like a Holstein Friesian dairy cow and showcases the slogan, “We believe in breakfast!”
The weekday menu consists of seasonal takes on standards like bacon and egg sandwiches, oatmeal and pancakes, before introducing more adventurous fare for weekend brunch. ”There's something comforting about breakfast,” he says. “It acts as some kind of assurance of wellness for the rest of the day.”
DeMato's path to the breakfast world involved toiling away in fine-dining restaurants and luxury hotels for eight years. This included a stint at the Carlyle Hotel, where he brainstormed what would later become the Breakfast Shack's signature dish, shack bites, which are like an entire bite of breakfast—homefries, eggs and bacon topped with maple syrup formed the basis for the first shack bite—in one snack-friendly fritter. When a plan to acquire a "small prospering breakfast cart" in midtown Manhattan failed to pan out, DeMato expanded the concept into his own breakfast-themed truck—which eventually opened for business after navigating a “roadblock”-filled permit application process.
Formulating a seasonal and locally-sourced menu was important to DeMato, although he adds that an early attempt to include fresh truffles was a little too ambitious. "On weekdays people are really in a hurry and want to grab a sandwich or oatmeal and be on their way,” he explains. “But there’s more time at the weekend and we recently served a homemade duck ravioli—definitely not your grab-and-go commuting to work on the train breakfast.” Other hangover-quashing brunch dishes have included pancake sandwiches stuffed with kale, gruyere and over-easy eggs, maple-braised short ribs paired with jalapeño cheese grits, and an oversized Cuban sandwich. While getting through up to 30 pounds of bacon and 120 dozen eggs each week, DeMato and his crew sizzle up orders on the truck’s flat-top griddle while finishing omelets on a Salamander broiler, which he calls the “ultimate addition” to the truck’s kitchen.
Being faced with a line of hungry, pre-caffeinated customers looking for their early morning fix might not be the most serene way to start the day, but for DeMato it’s all about remembering why he’s in the breakfast game. “Everyone has a memory of breakfast at home, what their mother or father made them on weekend mornings,” he says. “Breakfast touches people more so than any other meal.”