Arts and Culture

With a side of wry, a ‘schmucky’ deli truck rolls into L.A.

Matthew Koven, left, and Roger Ramkissoon stand next to their new L.A. deli truck. (Edmon J. Rodman)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — It’s not a dinner for schmucks but a lunch served by one.

That may sound harsh, but how else to introduce a new food truck rolling on the streets of Los Angeles called “Schmuck with a Truck”?

On only his eighth day of business, the yellow lunch truck with the likeness of co-owner Matthew Koven painted prominently on the side is parked on a busy West L.A. street at lunchtime drawing the interest and laughs of hungry mostly 20-  and 30-somethings who work in the nearby businesses.

“This is my rolling restaurant,” Koven says as a stream of patrons stops by to check out his menu.

It’s a menu not for the kosher crowd, but one for deli aficianados. Along with deli standards such as pastrami and Reuben sandwiches, it includes the “Lean schmuck,” sliced turkey on multigrain bread with avocado; the “Oy vey wrap,” roast beef with potato salad and American cheese; and the ultimate Schmuckwich — dark chocolate, peanut butter and fresh banana with grape or strawberry jelly on multigrain bread.

“I’m a Manhattan Jewish boy, a schmuck by default,” says Koven, who seems quite comfortable with the sometime pejorative both as a business name and wry means of self-identification.

“Schmuck” in every day usage is typically taken to mean a foolish or contemptible person, a jerk.

“You gotta be a schmuck to do this,” he says smiling as he explains how his “New York delicatessen on wheels” came to be.

Koven and partner Roger Ramkissoon, who he describes as a “Trinidadian schmuck,” were newbie Angelenos, having left New York only three weeks before.

“I had a Middle Eastern restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that was forced to close due to subway construction. Thank you, MTA,” says Koven, who tried to get his truck rolling in New York City but found the required permits difficult to obtain.

After visiting Los Angeles several times to check out the burgeoning food truck scene, Koven saw an opportunity for a deli truck and moved forward with his idea.

“It takes years of training to be a professional schmuck, to come to L.A. and do a deli truck,” he explains. “Dare to be different. My wife and friends loved the name.”

It seems to be working.

“The name attracted me,” says Sherman Chin, who works nearby and walked over to order a sandwich.

Also, the name provides a cover for customer banter.

“Isn’t it time the baby try pastrami?’ Koven asks a very pregnant looking woman, who after scanning the menu orders a pastrami and a hot dog.

Another customer asks for his mustard on the side.

“The left or the right?” Koven responds, not missing a beat.