Chef Chat, Part 1: Joe Phillips of Oh My! Pocket Pies

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There are variations of the hand pie across the globe: the Polish pierogi, the Italian calzone, the Argentine empanada, the British meat pie... Here in Houston, we simply call them pocket pies. This month marks the one year anniversary of Oh My! Pocket Pies, one of Houston's original gourmet food trucks, run by innovative young couple Joe Phillips and Joanna Torok. In this week's chef chat, we sit down with Joe as he discusses the importance of community involvement, the idea behind their savory envelopes of meat and veggies, and what keeps business rolling, so to speak.

EOW: What were you doing before you decided to open up Oh My! Pocket Pies?

JP: The last eight years, I was in Houston and Austin helping other restaurants develop their concepts. I worked with individuals that have independent places that needed to re-gear and refine themselves.

EOW: What was the catalyst for the transition?

JP: I got tired of making other people money. I love helping other people out, but I think it was time to try to see if I can do it myself, being that it's an investment that I can afford right now. So it was an opportunity for me to express myself and create something.

EOW: With your restaurant consulting background, did you have some insider knowledge on how to start the business?

JP: It was a lot easier, because I already knew a lot of the people that I was getting involved with. When I started the concept, I was able to build my own truck, had it re-outfitted, and built it from scratch. I also already had made contacts with different vendors. Some of the restaurants I had worked with before would say, "You have something going on? What do you want me to do for you?" So that was really nice and helped out a lot.

EOW: How long has the truck been in business?

JP: We've been running for a year. Last year at this time we opened and started rolling. It took a while for people to figure out what we're doing, but we were one of the first gourmet food trucks in Houston. It was kind of difficult getting started and was a struggle to push it forward, but it's been fun.

EOW: What makes you different from other gourmet food trucks?

JP: We source locally, try to get everything fresh, from the beef to the vegetables to the chicken -- they're all local. We also use biodegradable cutlery, packaging and napkins. It's more expensive, but we're doing it to make a statement. We compost the waste and recycle everything.

We focus on sustainability and supporting the community and other small business owners, because it makes sense. Hopefully the end product gives the respect the farmers and vendors deserve. People seek us out because they hear about us and they're interested in the concept and what we're doing. (Laughs) Hopefully they'll also want to try the food.

EOW: How did you get involved with working events for organizations like DiverseWorks?

JP: We got into doing events at DiverseWorks with somebody we know there, and it also has to do with supporting local Houston non-profits. We do stuff with DiverseWorks, Aurora Picture Show, Art League, the Railroad Museum, and others. It helps to have the food truck because there's a whole craze with food trucks, and it gives a win-win situation. We're all local and independent and promoting the same stuff in Houston, so it works in everyone's favor to support each other.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of our chat with Joe Phillips of Oh My! Pocket Pies, when he talks about the challenges of owning a food truck in Houston.

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