Morristown – AJ Sankofa and fiancée Christine Gambrian have seen a lifetime of peaks and valleys since opening ESO Artisinal Pasta in July 2020.
Win or lose—don’t ask them to spoilers—they hope that their upcoming appearance on the 15th season of “The Great Food Truck Race” on the Food Network will provide the kind of push their business needs to succeed.
Sankofa, a longtime Morristown resident, was forced to shut down his high-end fresh pasta business last year after COVID and conflict with business partners.
A GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $20,000 and a black-owned small business grant from the New York Jets Foundation in February boosted their return last year.
But Sankofa and the Gambarian, along with Sankofa’s childhood friend Matt McFadden, have higher expectations of the exposure they’ll get on national television starting with the series’ premiere.
“We are between a peak and a valley,” Sankova said. “Come June 5th, we will be peaking and our plan is as soon as the show comes out we start shipping nationwide so everyone watching can buy the product.”
The show features teams of chefs flown to California, delivering custom food trucks and being sent on weekly challenges that include surprising ingredients as they try to lure customers in unfamiliar cities.
McFadden’s mother, Machal McFadden, took care of the ESO store on Elm Street while the trio was in California from late February through April 3.
They were pressed for spoilers, but they politely refused.
“We’re supposed to keep it about the experience, not the outcome,” Sankova said.
Sankofa and a Gambarian are highly trained in the culinary arts and currently also work as executive chefs and pastries at Cree Wine Company in Hampton. McFadden came into the food business recently when he started cooking at Whole Foods in Morristown.
One thing they’ve never done before is run a food truck. Ironically, they were discussing starting a food truck when they received a message on Instagram in late February telling them they had been selected for the show after weeks of Zoom interviews with hundreds of hopeful teams.
They never came forward and never watched the show. The producers of the “Great Food Truck Race” found it.
“At the time, there were a lot of stories written about us that I think they saw and I think they thought we’d be a good fit for the show,” Gambrian said.
The experience was an eye-opener for the new employee.
“I started in January, and by late February I’ll be on a plane to California,” McFadden said with a laugh. “It was different to say the least. I’ve never driven anything bigger than a Honda CR-V and had to drive this big food truck on California roads.”
Each episode features different challenges in different cities.
Gambarian said some teams were dressed in grumpy outfits or blowing horns to get attention. ESO was the first food truck in the chain’s history to contain pasta.
“Some were good at selling,” she said. “We’re good at cooking. There were a lot of burgers, sausage, Chinese food, tacos. We were the ones cooking the food at the restaurant level.”
In addition to their retail sales, ESO has had successful pop-ups at Morristown locations including South + Pine. Sankova says a food truck may be in their future, but not immediately.
“I think at some point,” he said, “but for our business, it would make sense to have a restaurant first.” “Our product is labour-intensive, so it is not practical to do this on a truck.”
Claiming the grand prize of $50,000 will help make those two dreams come true.
Hosted by Tyler Florence, “The Great Food Truck Race” premieres at 9 p.m. on June 5 on the Food Network. Visit the ESO Artisinal Pasta website for information and updates.
William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the hottest news from your local community, please sign up or activate your digital account today.