“This is what it sounds like, when doves cry” is the song pounding in the speakers as I drive into the Twin Cities. Adam is sleeping in the back seat and Shawn is a few cars ahead of us driving the food truck. It was only appropriate to be listening to a Prince song, as this is exactly one of only two facts that I know about Minneapolis, Minnesota. The other fact is that Minneapolis is the capitol and home of SPAM. It's fitting that I should know at least this one fact about Hawaii's most loved meat product! You have to realize, contestants only find out which city they're headed to next during elimination. So there isn't much time to do any homework or networking on the next destination.
I must admit, I loved the Twin Cities. Not because we pulled off immunity and another first place, but because of the love and aloha we received while visiting. As we got closer to the East, we were getting a little worried because we knew that Philly & Tika Tika Taco had family and friends nearby. Everyone in the race had family and/or friends visit them on more than one occasion throughout the journey, but finding a Hawaiian or Polynesian person in foreign territory was going to be a challenge. Small towns were much easier to attract attention in than large cities, because when the trucks rolled in, people noticed.
Our first day in the Twin Cities I got a call from my friend Bruce. He told me, “Lanai, I think you are in luck. It looks like there is a group out there that call themselves 'Frozen Ohana'”. Frozen Ohana is a group of like-minded Hawaiians, headed by a really cool Hawaiian named Matt Cambra. Matt decided to form this ohana group in the Midwest, in order to keep the Aloha Spirit alive and keep fellow Hawaiians connected. Matt also created it to help alleviate some of the homesickness many felt for the islands. Frozen Ohana has BBQ's and get-togethers, and creates any reason to grind some local Hawaiian-style food. And what a small world it is! I ended up knowing Matt's cousin and his uncle, which made things even better. After getting a hold of him through email, Matt called me and said, “Lanai, whatever you need, the Hawaiians are here to help.” He was a pretty amazing guy.
The first task at hand is always location. And the only way to find the best location is through the locals. You can Google it, read blogs or check out social media, but the locals will still always have their finger on the pulse of the city better than any other source. Tyler said we had to set up shop in Minnesota, so that's where we had to start.
Psycho Suzie's, located on the Mississippi River seemed to match our Aloha theme. It was a cool tiki bar nestled in an industrial area with tons of people milling about. The first few hours were really slow for us. Not only because we were far from the main hub of town, but because the weather was very unpleasant. Temperatures were in the 50's and it rained off and on, and the Aloha Plate team were only in shorts and t-shirts. As it continued to rain intermittently, customers finally started to show up. We even had live Hawaiian music with hula dancers show up, taking turns performing to keep our line entertained!
Our first day in Minneapolis was probably our slowest day by far (next to Beverly Hills). Tyler set the bar high with our challenge, and no one complete the task at hand. We were confident though that we would get the call to head into St. Paul, and that's where we were going to cash in. Most of the Hawaiians lived in St. Paul, so we knew we already had a great location.
The Ol' Creamery on Grand Avenue was a gold mine for us, and it seemed our presence created a block party. What began with a rough start (rain falling sideways is very uncomfortable!) turned into a beautiful afternoon, with the Hawaiian music clearing up the skies. The Frozen Ohana really showed up in full force, and some of them even stayed through lunch into dinner. It was at this point that it really hit me how special people from Hawaii are. Everyone has their own busy lives to live, but for them to spend time with three complete strangers from Hawaii- now that's the Aloha Spirit people always talk about. I took a minute to thank everyone for coming and was overwhelmed with emotion- it was just all so meaningful to me. Whenever we had a break or some downtime from trying to catch up on orders, I would walk the customer line and thank people. One lady approached me and said, “We want to thank you for bringing us together.” She lived in the town for 20 years and didn't realize how many people from Hawaii lived in her same community. She wasn't part of Frozen Ohana, but quickly became friends with them.
So many different stories poured out in that line that day, and I literally had to take a moment to gather myself. I was happy, Adam and Shawn were happy, everyone was happy having a good time. After traveling for over a month on the road, days like this make you forget about feeling homesick. We met some amazing people on this leg of the race, and I just wish I could remember everyone's names. From the owners of the Grand Ol' Creamery to the transplant Hawaiians, we could never thank you all enough for the support you showed us that day.
So now, it was after noon and Tyler had not called us yet with a challenge. The anticipation was high because we were quickly running out of food. You always have to take these things into consideration, because if you leave your spot, many things can happen. You can lose your hard-earned location, lose valuable time, making money from orders, or Tyler can just tell you to stop taking orders. I didn't care how long our line was that day, I took everyone's order so they didn't have to wait in line for nothing. It was a tactic that always worked for us. Adam knew exactly how much we could serve to the plate, so I knew how many orders I could take.
Suddenly, the call comes from Tyler and he drops the news on us. “You are now a SPAM truck!”
“Are you serious?!!” Shawn says. Not only did the rain stop, but we had 200 Hawaiians sitting outside the truck enjoying Hawaiian music and hula dancing! Without skipping a beat I grabbed the mega phone and announced, “I'm sorry folks, but we have to close down to restock. We will reopen as a SPAM truck!” The crowd went crazy with uncontrollable and excited applause- it was awesome. Tyler told us we had to sell $750 worth of SPAM and this local-loved ingredient had to be the focus of our menu. Well, as you saw on the show, we did this in a matter of 15 minutes. Adam whipped up his amazing volcanic mayo on a soft burger bun with lettuce, fried spam and crushed potato chips to give it a crunch. (When we were kids, we took the extra chips out of the bottom of the bag and dumped the crumbs in the sandwich, because in Hawaii, we neva waste nothing!) The feedback we received on this simple little dish was pretty cool, and we just couldn't believe our luck this time with everything.
Spam-munity was the prize for this city, which gave us the extra confidence we really needed to push through. Because by week five on the road, we were really getting burnt out and tired. The 14 hour drives and gas station meals were finally taking its toll on our nerves. Winning this city was an injection of Aloha that the three of us really needed.
Like every show, someone has to go home. This time we were really sad to see the Slide Show leave- talk about a class act! This team was very talented in their cooking fortes and they were all extremely nice people. We had them high on our list of teams we thought would make the finals, and didn’t expect to see them leave so early. Again, I love the Philly boys, but they barely squeaked by on this one… again.
To Daz, Mo and Ehrin- I wish you all nothing but the best. During this journey, you all received the most positive comments about your food. I know this is not the end for you, the Food Network has simply created a platform for you three to catapult your careers. I know we will always be connected now, as ohana through the Great Food Truck Race. Please don’t forget to invite us to your grand opening! Aloha and a hui hou!