In a corner of the Greenwich town hall parking lot, Maria Pietrobon has turned the concept of the lunch wagon on its head. Since getting the green light from the town last May, Pietrobon, a Riverside resident and mother of two, has made 101 Field Point Rd. home base for her business, Caffe Bon. And, as is the way with any new eatery, word of mouth has spread quickly, such that on any given day, Pietrobon and her wing-woman, Michelle Fletcher, greet a steady stream of regulars from the first brewed coffee of the morning to the last panini off the press.
Though the renaissance in the food truck business has been a boon to Manhattanites and denizens of the hip corners of Brooklyn for years, it seems Greenwich had to wait for Pietrobon. While city dwellers’ cravings for everything from Peking duck stuffed dumplings to two-bite cupcakes can be satisfied on a whim, in our suburb lunch wagon pickings have mostly been limited to hot dogs.
Indeed, Pietrobon’s genius was in marrying the idea of cooking from scratch using fresh, healthy ingredients with the “take-it-to-the-street” food truck concept. Vending from a truck keeps overhead low and her simple menu of four panini varieties, plus a special of the day, allows her to turn around orders quickly, appealing as much to the harried office worker as the soccer mom’s picky brood.
On a hot July afternoon, regular customer Anne Martine, local pre-school teacher, commented, “The first time I saw Maria’s green and flowered truck, I felt as if I happened upon a mirage. But it was here the next day, so I knew it wasn’t.” Indeed, it is not until closer approach that one can see the blackboards listing the day’s selections, and the pressed copper tiles that line the wall behind the grill and cappuccino machine.
Another regular, Debra Olesen, shared her story as she waited for her order. “I drive here from Cos Cob all the time. Today my daughter Jillian (11) begged me pick up her favorite panini, (grilled ham and cheese, asiago and fontina cheese, oregano and truffle oil on sea salt focaccia) so she could eat it after camp.”
In addition to her panini offerings, Pietrobon bakes her own muffins and biscotti, and brews coffee and cappuccino to serve hot or iced.
Megan Reggio, a late morning regular said, “The quality of the coffee is the best.” Her coffee break buddy, Cathy Kaiser, agreed, chiming in, “The muffins are delicious too.”
On Wednesday afternoons, after the last of the downtown lunch crowd is fed, Pietrobon sets up near the Old Greenwich farmers market. Saturday mornings find her truck near the Horseneck lot farmers market, where she often barters with vendors, swapping lunch for farm-fresh lettuce, basil and tomatoes.
Continuing on the local theme, her gelatos come from Gelato Giuliana in New Haven, ice cream bars are from Paleteria Fernandez in Mamaroneck and focaccia and tuscan bread are from Tarry Market in Port Chester.
Only her coffee beans travel a distance. “I’m very particular about my coffee,” said Pietrobon. “Too much coffee around here is bitter. Beans roasted even a minute too long lose their sweetness.” Pietrobon buys her coffee from Illy, an Italian company, which she described as socially responsible. “They pay growers fairly.”
According to Pietrobon, Greenwich customers appreciate her buy-local, eat-organic and slow-food themes, which for her are ingrained since growing up on a small farm 15 miles north of Venice, Italy in the province of Treviso. She and her nine siblings milked cows, churned butter, and tended vegetable gardens and orchards.
“My sisters and I cooked for our older brothers and parents. Most days we went through three pounds of pasta plus bolognese sauce. We learned to make pies – apple peach and fig – using fruit from our own trees,” she explained. “We learned by making mistakes. We never used measuring cups, just palm-fulls and pinches, and over the years we just knew the right amounts.”
In 1993 Pietrobon left Italy to take a position as manager of Arcadia Coffee in Old Greenwich. It was there she met her husband, Dominic Pierro, then a customer whom she converted to a coffee drinker. Pietrobon stayed five years at Arcadia. Then, in the process of raising Ella, now 10, and Luca, now 7, she noticed there was nothing hot to eat or drink during weekend youth league soccer games. “Parents and younger siblings are stuck waiting around for hours. I remember one cold, windy October afternoon thinking ‘Nobody would say no to a hot chocolate or a cup of coffee right now.’”
People warned Pietrobon the red tape would be cumbersome, but she insists that was not the case. “All the town departments have been incredibly supportive. Chris Wegrzyn in the health department, the police, Alan Cory in parking services and First Selectman Tesei’s office.”
Caffe Bon operates out of Town Hall parking lot Tuesdays through Fridays, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In the fall the truck will make stops at various youth league games. Caffe Bon is also available for events and catering. Contact Maria Pietrobon at (203) 536-0524 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit facebook.com/caffebon