Puddled in a sweet balsamic glaze, Italian sausage sits atop homemade marinara, its base of homemade dough crisping to golden brown in a wood fired oven. Two feet away, the crunch of freshly cut peppers is overshadowed by the roar of a chatty outdoor audience. Hungry bellies and excited taste buds wait in anticipation as three family members work in unison preparing orders.
Through a window, boxes are presented with fanfare, containing variations of freshly prepared pesto, oils, pepperoni and local fruits and vegetables. Rocco’s Old World Pizzeria, a food truck in Suttons Bay, pairs with a warm Leelanau County summer night like none other.
Last June, the Latorre family took a vision and transformed it into reality. “The name [Rocco’s] was my father-in-laws,” says Jan Latorre, owner and creator of Rocco’s Old World Pizzeria, along with her husband Nick Latorre. “My in-laws were from Italy so we were really trying to achieve a sense of authenticity with both our truck and traditional Italian food; that Neapolitan style pizza mimics’ my in laws cooking style.”
Just minutes outside of downtown, Rocco’s home base is the parking lot of Conner Land and Stone business. On board the truck is a 5,000-pound wood-fired oven where the family is able to produce pizzas in 5 minutes made with 100 percent homemade ingredients. “We are fast, unique and authentic Italian,” Rene Dupuis says. Rene is Jan and Nick’s son-in-law and left his position at the Filling Station in Traverse City this season to join in on the family endeavor.
In addition to pizza, the operation also makes pasta, salads and dessert. “We have a cook top on the oven where we make our pasta,” Rene says. “We can make unique pastas in 3 minutes, that’s faster than the amount of time it takes to microwave a frozen burrito.”
Despite Northern Michigan’s unpredictable weather and reliant produce seasons, the family does try and use as many local ingredients as possible. “If I pass a local farm stand I always try to stop,” Jan says. “Our dessert menu is always changing with the seasons, aside from our pizzelle. Right now rhubarb is coming into season so we’ll probably do some sort of fruit pie with good local stuff.”
One of the biggest struggles for the family is working around the regulations determining where they are permitted to operate. Jan and Nick have been to several township meetings in hopes of making changes but for now are limited to commercial areas in two of Leelanau County’s eleven townships (Suttons Bay and Kasson townships allow food trucks).
“I think it’s really a generational thing,” Rene says. “The older generation isn’t comfortable with the idea of food trucks. The food truck thing is kind of hot with the younger generation. The thing is you can’t just start buying a million dollar building, so having the ability to [create a food truck] would give a lot of people the opportunity to take their ideas and do something. It’s about having a combination between the current food scene and something new.”
Due to the struggles presented by these regulations, Rocco’s has turned to local events as their main source of customer traffic. “The beauty of the food truck is that it is mobile,” Jan says. “We pick our events based on past successes but since we’re just in our first full season this summer will be a lot of trial and error.”
Ultimately Jan and Nick are looking to Rene and her son, Robert, to take over and expand the operation. “We would love to have our home base operation as a restaurant that everyone could come to,” Robert says. “Then we could also have the truck so we could travel to events, that would be the ideal.”