Today, the well-known and beloved Lizzie’s Curbside food cart turns 26 years old. To get the word out and help her celebrate, we here at The Daily Campus were fortunate enough to get a personal interview with Lizzie, in her kitchen, to learn more about her history at UConn and the future of her business.
Daily Campus: How long have you been cooking?
Lizzie Searing: Well, the cart at UConn I have been doing for 26 years.
DC: Just the cart?
LS: I started February first 1991 on campus, on Whitney Road, with a little hot dog cart. I stood outside in my husband’s huge down jacket in 12 degree weather and pre wrapped all these sandwiches, which now is completely illegal. But I was determined to make this work, and it did.
Before that I worked as a catering manager at a small sandwich place at the civic center and before that, I was at au bon pan when they first started up in Hartford. And before that, when I first moved to Connecticut, in the mid 80s, gourmet markets began to become popular. This place was called the Harvest Market. They had produce and prepared foods, and I was brought on board to set up the salad bar. Most of the things they sold are very commonplace now, but at the time it was a specialty food store. I started to hang out in the kitchen over time, because how long does it take to put up a salad bar? I started asking if I could prepare food and I worked there for about a year, and they started to get into off site catering, until the place burnt down, and that was how I started.
DC: Did you go on to any formal training?
LS: Well I had always loved being around food but before that job, I had no clue. I could barely put up the salad bar. My father was a hotelier when I lived in Florida and I moved up here in 1983 and worked in a Hilton in Hartford. I went to college to be in travel and tourism because that’s what my father did.
DC: How are you planning on celebrating your 26th anniversary?
LS: The same thing I have done the past few years, cake and coffee, free for the public, both from a local bakery in Highland Park and a local coffee roaster. The cake is going to say ’26 years today, thank you UConn’.
DC: What menu items are most popular?
LS: My breakfast business is crazy.
DC: It is pretty difficult to walk by and smell the bacon and not stop to get a sandwich.
LS: My biggest seller is the ‘shroom. But business is always slower in the winter. People are not out and about because of the cold, they are not spending money because of the holidays, or they are on diets. As opposed to the fall, when the football players are active, they bring me great business. They get the mighty melt, which is a breakfast sandwich with three meats. Not to mention the other athletes.
At this time of year, the soups and specials almost always sell out. This winter we are running a section of hot dishes called Lizzie’s winter warmer. Lots of melts, grilled cheeses, oatmeals, stuff to warm you up. Our breakfast menu is available all day though, and I always have vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options. The grilled cheeses have been going like crazy. I feel like I’m a grilled cheese truck now!
Overall, undergrads tend to go for mostly breakfast but grad students and staff tend to stick with the lunch items.
DC: Where do you source your ingredients?
LS: When we are in season, I try to get as much as possible from the Coventry Farmers Market and other local vendors. Whenever I can, I’ll buy produce to freeze or cook into sauce for later because the produce is so good around here, and I try to make everything from scratch. Otherwise I get my produce from Mike’s Produce who has been good to me for years, as well as Manchester Meatpacking.
DC: Are you thinking about expanding your business?
LS: There are times in the summer when I wish I had a bigger kitchen and more refrigeration, and there are times I wish I had a second wagon, just because I can’t be at two places at once. But other than that, I have no plans to bring on more staff. This size is really great for me. I’m good.
DC: What do you like to cook at home?
LS: Well, mostly Mediterranean cuisine based dishes. I really love the aromatics and flavor profiles. I try to stay away from red meat and pork, but I love fresh seafood. Lately I have been experimenting with cauliflower pizza dough. I want to make a gluten free bread option that actually tastes good.
Don’t forget to come by Lizzie’s Curbside food cart on sometime today for free cake and coffee while supplies lasts. It is on a first-come first-served basis so going for breakfast would increase your chances of getting a slice of your own!
Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org