Exotic palm trees sway gently in the summer breeze as a monarch butterfly glides by in a whirl of delight, presumably, making its impressive migration north to Ontario, Canada in search of fields abundant with milkweed. Several flowering vines are in bloom with bright purple whorls of flowers that add a strikingly vivid contrast to the scene against the light green leaves on the vine and the blue hue of the sky’s horizon. The sound of trickling water permeates through the air and adds a sense of calm to the nearby surroundings. But this isn’t a tropical paradise. Instead, I’m surrounded by a revitalized urban environment, on the corner of Swan and Seneca Streets, in downtown Buffalo: Larkin Square.
To the left of the vines and palms, an unassuming platinum-colored truck opens its windows to greet the day, just as a familiar and friendly face pokes out to declare the truck is now open for the day’s business. “Square 1 Sandwiches,” the sign above the truck decoratively reads; the menu, filled with rare sandwiches that will take you all over the globe instantaneously, grabs my attention as I decide what’s more important at the moment: getting a delicious sandwich, or interviewing an old friend about how his great food truck endeavor began. After a bit of pondering, I think the sandwich can wait, but not for long…
A fellow alumnus of mine from Nichols School, Harry Zemsky is the proud proprietor and inspiration behind the Square 1 Sandwiches food truck. I recently caught up with him to chat about this increasingly popular food trend to find out how his operation developed and, in particular, how the food truck is fostering a sense of community and relaxation in the Larkin Square for hundreds of workers in Larkinville. Ever since the beginnings of high school, Zemsky has demonstrated an interest in all things related to food. He says, “I’ve been intrigued, really, since the high school days, by the culinary industry in general, and have always considered it as something I would maybe go to school for, or study here and there. I turned out to be a Studio Art major in college, at the University of Vermont, and there are really a lot of parallels to studio art and culinary art in terms of the way you have to apply yourself [to the field].”
Zemsky gained some invaluable experiences in Vermont, which propelled him to the successful opening of Square 1 Sandwiches. These experiences are what he largely attributes to the success of his food truck: “I was looking for jobs [in Vermont] and found this little restaurant in Burlington. For the majority of the time I worked there, it was mainly just the owner and I alone in the shop everyday. Because it was just him and me, all in the same day I would be the dishwasher, the manager, the cashier, the cook, the grocery supplier, and the prep worker, so I basically learned to do everything you need [for a restaurant] from the bottom-up all within about a year and a half. So, when the opportunity arose about opening up the food truck, I was all about it. I felt like I was ready to open up my own shop, and I had been thinking about it for sometime, I just wasn’t sure where it should be. But, after some thought, I realized Buffalo was the perfect place to open up my truck.”
When visiting Square 1 Sandwiches, it is nearly impossible for me to not take notice of the outdoor community that is developing around the food truck in Larkin Square. Working men and women sit relaxed on chairs placed on the grass under an umbrella, laughing, enjoying the fresh air and the temporary break from the offices’ cubicles. Pleasant facial expressions and head nods tell me all that I need to know: people love the variety of sandwiches and the environment in which they eat them. I imagine the rest of the day can feel pretty stress-free after such a wonderful lunch break. Zemsky, too, thinks this relaxing atmosphere is a key reason why the business has been a success, saying: “People love to eat outside, and Larkin Square gives people such a great spot to come together and enjoy a break for lunch or just to sit and relax. Obviously, a food truck is intrinsically an outdoor type of food service, so we definitely encourage our patrons to come enjoy and eat our sandwiches outside in the square.”
Encouraging people to eat outside on the grass isn’t the only “green deed” Square 1 Sandwiches is doing to promote a more environmentally-friendly Buffalo, either. Food trucks have long been known as green pioneers in the food industry because of their ability to minimize resource use, such as electricity and water consumption, due to the confined nature of the workspace. Because food trucks require no heating or cooling for their outdoor diners, they have a much smaller carbon and environmental footprint than most traditional brick and mortar restaurants. Additionally, having a food truck in a location with great foot traffic, like in Larkin Square, gets people on their feet and on their way to lunch rather than in their cars. This foot traffic greatly reduces fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and ozone creation in urban environments, leading to better environmental air quality in the surrounding areas. Whether or not you realize it, supporting a food truck also supports a greener and greater Western New York for all of us, so eat your heart out!
Interested in checking out Square 1 Sandwiches? They serve up gourmet, panini-style sandwiches Monday through Friday starting at 11 a.m. Even the pickiest of eaters will be satisfied with the great variety of sandwiches available at the food truck. Curry turkey, Cuban pork, Thai chicken, and country turkey are just a small sample of what you’ll find at Square 1 Sandwiches. Are you a vegetarian? How does a soy sauce marinated portabella mushroom sandwich grilled to order sound to you?
See you at the Square!