COLUMBIA — Kalie Jackson, who works at the MU Learning Center, brought lunch Thursday, but she decided to come out to Hitt Street for chicken and waffles.
"I was walking through the office, and I was hit with a delicious smell, so I followed the smell to my coworker's office," Jackson said. "I asked him what he had for lunch, and he directed me here."
After operating at Mojo's, at 1013 Park Ave., since May 2012, Sunflower Waffle Company began its journey as a mobile waffle truck in December. Since its grand opening as a food truck, it has been exploring different locations to serve its signature waffles.
Charles Rosenthal, co-owner of Sunflower Waffle Company, came back to Columbia about two years ago. He studied forestry as a college student at MU. The idea of running a waffle business stemmed from his love for breakfast, he said.
"Breakfast is my favorite, and I had to choose between pancakes and waffles," Rosenthal said. "When I chose waffles, people told me about chicken and waffles."
Chicken and waffles, a hand-battered chicken breast wrapped in multigrain waffle with homemade gravy and syrup, has been one of the most popular Sunflower Waffle Company specialties.
Rosenthal said he heard that those who watched jazz shows in Harlem had chicken and waffles as a snack between dinner and breakfast at 2 a.m.
Although Sunflower Waffle Company started at Mojo's, Rosenthal said his initial plan was to have a waffle truck. As soon as he got his truck renovated to a food truck with sunflower decorations, he was ready to hit the road.
Food trucks in California, New York and Texas have been increasingly popular, serving a variety of cuisine. Roaming Hunger, a site that helps track food trucks and carts in more than 30 cities, recently added St. Louis to the list.
Fat Chicks Chow Wagon and Pepe's of Columbia are trucks that have been serving food on wheels in Columbia. Sunflower Waffle Company will make Columbia's third food truck.
"I like serving food outside the traditional brick and mortar," Rosenthal said. "I don't like going into the same building every day."
Rosenthal's parents have been operating Heidi's Pancake House in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., for more than 40 years. He naturally grew up in the restaurant business learning to do "everything," Rosenthal said.
During his time at Mojo's, he developed his own recipes, including his signature waffles, chicken and waffles and even hot cocoa. Sunflower Waffle Company has a kitchen where Rosenthal prepares everything from scratch.
All mobile vendors in Columbia are required to have a permit by Columbia/Boone County Health Department and follow Section 8-104.10 (B) of the Columbia Food Code.
Kala Gunier, a public health manager, said food trucks in Columbia must follow the basic food codes that any restaurants would need to follow. Trucks must have an approved kitchen to prepare and store food and must be able to take portable water and dispose of waste water.
Ryan Chiero, an MU junior who is studying business marketing, has been working for the Sunflower Waffle Company since the truck opened. He said working for a food truck has been a great experience.
"The atmosphere is different since I am working outside," Chiero said. "I like that I can hear everybody in downtown."
The truck has been moving to various locations, including 209 Hitt St., the parking lot of Ragtag Cinema, Parkade Center, Lemone Industrial Boulevard and Broadway Shopping Center. Rosenthal said he likes the freedom of moving around and serving his waffles to a wide range of customers, but it has also been a challenge.
"We need to think about where we have to be every day," Rosenthal said. "I have to think whether there will be people walking by, whether there will be a lot of traffic and whether people can park."
Once he decides where his truck will be, he then needs to ask for a permission from whoever owns the land. "We are still in the process of figuring that out," he said. "It hasn't been too bad. People seemed to be excited that we are there."
The Sunflower Waffle Company truck serves breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday at different locations and 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday to Saturday at the Ragtag Cinema parking lot, 10 Hitt St.
For now, Sunflower Waffle Company informs its customers of the day's location through Facebook and Twitter. Jackson said she also found Thursday's location through Facebook.
"It's awesome," Jackson said after having a bite of her chicken and waffle. "I'm going to keep an eye on where it's going to be now."