Finding home cooking on the streets

Ali Aldubaini handing food to Sultan Alanazi from the Happy Shawarma window. Aldubaini opened Happy Shawarma in February 2017 after he noticed a need in the community for the Middle Eastern dish.

Erin Dose, News Contributor

It’s dark and cold. Oregon State University students walk back to their houses and residence halls, ending their long days. Their feet hurt, exhaustion presses down on them and most of all, they’re hungry. The warm light of a food truck spills into the street ahead. Students crowd around, waiting for their inexpensive, yet unique, late-night meals.

Food trucks are gaining popularity in Corvallis, especially among the OSU community. Cheesy Stuffed Burgers, a seasonal food cart, has been in operation for five years and newly-opened Happy Shawarma will be open for business year-round.

Cheesy Stuffed Burgers opened in September 2012, according to owner Mark Encke.

“My wife created these stuffed burgers. I had just built a business in my class at Linn-Benton Community College, so I knew how to build it. And this was a niche,” Encke said.

According to Encke, connecting with customers is a key part of his business.

“I love interacting with guests. I feel like I’m helping enhance the community,” Encke said.

According to Ali Aldubaini, the owner of Happy Shawarma, his establishment was founded in February 2017 after he noticed a need in the community for the Middle Eastern dish.

“Everyone who loves shawarma goes to Portland for the shawarma food trucks,” Aldubaini said. “I made it at home and my friends loved it so much.”

Aldubaini loves providing food, and work, for Corvallis community members.

“I like to see people happy. I like helping people; my employees are helping me and my business is helping them,” Aldubaini said.

According to fourth-year business student Carmen Alzaga-Elizondo, food trucks could also be appealing to students because of the accessibility.

“It is more convenient, and food trucks are open late at night,” Alzaga-Elizondo said. “You can just grab it and go.”

OSU student Sibi Kabilan enjoys eating at food trucks due to the novelty in addition to the accessibility.

“I prefer food trucks; there’s so few of them,” Kabilan said.

Encke believes Cheesy Stuffed Burgers’ success comes down to the unique experience as well as the easy access.

“They want something different. Accessibility is also a big (reason),” Encke said. “We’ve established ourselves as one of a kind.”

Aldubaini has similar thoughts about his own establishment.

“The cuisine is unique and no one does it. It’s like home cooked food,” Aldubaini said.

However, running a food cart is not without its downsides, according to Aldubaini.

“The limited space is a challenge,” Aldubaini said. “And there’s no consistent source for the utilities like water. We can’t wash big amounts of meat specially because of the limited water tank that we have.”

Aldubaini says this means that at Happy Shawarma, they must wash meat at the commercial kitchen they have.

According to Encke, Cheesy Stuffed Burgers struggles with the weather, despite being a seasonal business only operating in the fall and spring, which leads to a problem with space.

“There’s no indoor seating. You’re exposed to the elements. The last three weeks of fall are so cold,” Encke said.

Weather is problematic when it comes to all outdoor businesses like food trucks, according to Alzaga-Elizondo.

“It rains so much, people aren’t really that willing to stand outside in the cold,” Alzaga-Elizondo said.

Another issue, according to Encke, is public opinion surrounding food trucks.

“People have predisposed opinions,” Encke said. “You have to fight for legitimacy.”

Student and Cheesy Stuffed Burgers customer Asa Crimin wonders about the health standards of food trucks as a result.

“Health standards being public is a concern. They have the slip of paper inside the truck, but we can’t see it,” Crimin said.

However, according to the Oregon Health Authority Mobile Unit Operation guide, food carts have varying regulations, but all are required to maintain the same health standards as a restaurant.

Beyond the weather and health code, location can be a major concern, according to Kabilan.

“(Food trucks) are hard to keep track of. If more were online it’d be helpful,” Kabilan said.

Despite the disadvantages, Happy Shawarma is successful and committed to staying in Corvallis.

“I believe Happy Shawarma is successful because we could work out all problems,” Aldubaini said. “We’re not going to close. People are being so supportive.”

According to Encke, Cheesy Stuffed Burgers isn’t leaving anytime soon either.

“As Cheesy Stuffed Burgers grows, Corvallis will always be our home. The only reason we are successful is the OSU students supported us and helped us grow,” Encke said.


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