HEMI Food Truck Court
Head for the new West Columbia food truck court and sample a little bit of everything.
By Jackie Perrone
Photos by Alison Moons
Here’s a recipe for innovation: the spirit of an entrepreneur, a vacant lot in West Columbia, and willingness to experiment. These ingredients have come together to expand the Midlands’ dining scene with its first Food Truck Court. Stars in alignment to make this happen? Developer Christina Survana thinks everything fell into place at just the right time, and her food truck colleagues agree.
“I am part of a family restaurant business in Orangeburg,” she says. “My mother and my sister and I operated Cupside Down Café there, and I got the idea to open a second one in Columbia. I had no idea how difficult it would be. Real estate was pricey, city and neighborhood regulations were complicated, and it was very hard to put together all the information necessary to make it happen.
“At the same time, the food truck phenomenon was getting attention in this area, something fun and relaxing and different for local people. I decided to widen my outlook and see what possibilities were across the river. West Columbia was just sitting there waiting for me. I spotted this open area on Meeting Street just across the bridge from Columbia. The local authorities could not have been more helpful and accommodating, and eventually, HEMI Food Truck Court was a reality.”
Growing up as an Army brat, Survana lived in many places in the U.S. and Europe, and experienced a variety of cuisines. She learned to appreciate the value of fresh and locally grown ingredients, as well as choices beyond the everyday. Why not put together the popular dishes of other countries along with regional favorites and see what South Carolinians might like? And instead of bricks and mortar, provide outdoor dining with a few amenities? Go ahead; just dive in to make it happen.
728 Meeting Street is situated in a high-traffic area connecting West Columbia and Columbia via the Gervais Street bridge. Thousands of citizens live and work within a few minutes’ drive; they can stop by HEMI for a quick or even a leisurely lunch, sampling the variety at hand with the help of picnic tables and rest room facilities, along with parking space for all.
Recent Food Truck events in the Midlands brought out unexpectedly large crowds looking for adventure; there’s no question that the idea has caught on with the public. Now it’s not necessary to wait for a scheduled event. HEMI Court is available five days a week, and bigger ideas are taking shape.
Assembling quality food presenters claimed a very high priority on Christina Survana’s agenda. She’s proud of Cupside Down Café in Orangeburg, and Cupside Down became the first food truck at her court, the news anchor for opening day on March 14 of this year. Under the direction of Debbie Braswell, Cupside offers fresh salads and quality sandwiches, shrimp and grits and hot paninis, varying its menu across the calendar. “Good soup, always homemade,” says Debbie. “And you need to try our crab macaroni!” Like its neighbors, Cupside is available for catering, on-scene or to go. On May 5, The Cupside truck set up shop at S.C. DOT (Department of Transportation) for its celebration of Employee Appreciation Day. Birthdays, weddings, family reunions – Cupside Down can take it all on.
Then there’s Scott Benny’s, specializing in wraps and salads and shrimp-and-grits. A Mexican Bowl goes exotic with taco ingredients; jerked chicken is another option. The owner-operator, Quinton Scott Whipper, recruited his mother for his team, and they started Scott Benny’s as a tribute to the memory of Quinton’s father. “My father was near retirement from his job, and had his heart set on opening a restaurant; we had promised to help him. He died two years ago, and the two of us decided to stick with the plan.” Now they offer Philly Cheese Steak, along with a whopping plateful called a Manburger: Lettuce, tomato, steak, cheese sauce, chili, and onions, to satisfy the outsize appetite. New York Famous Hot Dogs also appear on the menu, as well as a special spicy mango sauce, and Quinton says when his mother comes up with banana pudding, it disappears quickly. Scott Benny does catering and special events, too.
Carol and Lorraine’s Grill on Wheels focuses on fresh seafood, fish and shrimp baskets to go or to consume onsite. They’ll grill hamburgers and hot dogs also, and mixed veggies on the side. Carol Hyman and Lorraine Bosket team up to offer their special kind of grilling, and they are available for other events, anywhere, including church festivals, family reunions, and Homecoming Day.
The Leaning Tower of Pizza brings Tuscan flavors from Italy to South Carolina. Kebin Ahrens commutes from Charlotte NC with the Tower to HEMI each weekday. (He wants to move to Columbia and is counting on HEMI to make that possible for him.) This is an extension of well-known LaBrasca’s Pizza in Columbia, baked fresh on the spot and with the diner’s choice of toppings. Says Ahrens, “The cheese salad has made a hit with the women, lots of Mozzarella cheese and tomatoes and fresh greens.”
From opening day, HEMI has been open for weekday lunch hours, but the ever- resourceful Christina is coming up with more to offer. With her husband Shobhit, a native of India whom she met in South Carolina, their family includes five children, the youngest a few-months-old baby born while HEMI was taking shape. They are heavily family-oriented, always looking for things parents and children can enjoy together.
“We like to see families doing things together,” she says. “Get those noses away from the phone or the video game, where each person is doing something alone. The drive-in movie is a treasured memory for me, and beginning in June we are offering movie nights at HEMI. These will be wholesome family-oriented movies, and the snacks are available on site. Just a way for parents and children to relax and have a good time, instead of baby-sitters and electronics taking over their lives.”
HEMI has scheduled the movie nights for Fridays and Saturdays during the summer.
Oh, and about that name, HEMI. Well, the large community of truckers understands it completely, but for the mechanically-challenged among us, HEMI is a mechanical device installed on trucks to increase their power. Hemispherical Combustion Chamber, to be specific. It was developed by Chrysler before and during WWII for use on Jeeps. Food trucks sometimes have to bring their own generators, but at HEMI Court West Columbia, electrical power is provided onsite, a big advantage for the kitchen operators.
So: an eclectic selection of food, an outdoor relaxation spot, with power and rest rooms and summertime movie nights. HEMI offers the Midlands’ newest food truck experience.
HEMI Food Truck Court
728 Meeting Street
West Columbia SC 29169
Hours M-T-W-Th: 11am to 2pm
Fri & Sat: Lunch 11am to 2pm
Movie Night: 7pm to 10pm