After going to culinary school and working in New York City and teaching prison inmates how to cook, Greensburg's Sara Lechman has launched a food trailer called Miss Meatball.
From it, she and her family are selling "bare balls" -- two for $4 -- and meatball sandwiches -- $7 -- in your choice of "beef or chicken balls" with one of three sauces: Classic Tomato, Mushroom Ragout and Asiago Bechamel. Chips and a drink are a buck more each.
Her bright-red trailer will be set up at the Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival at Twin Lakes Park today through Sunday (see the story in Weekend Mag), and she's planning on selling a lot of balls. She prepared almost 9,000 of them.
"I never thought I'd be doing something as big as Twin Lakes right away," says Ms. Lechman, 27, who just launched the trailer June 8 at the Irwin Ethnic Food and Craft Show. There, she sold about 400 meatballs. Since then, the trailer has set up at one workplace to feed employees and for one St. Clair Park concert in Downtown Greensburg.
But she has a lot of help, including her boyfriend, Tom P. Ward. His grandmother, Genevieve Ward, who is 84, helps Ms. Lechman in the commercial kitchen, where she prepares everything, at the Straw Pump Volunteer Fire Co.
Also helping her are her parents Cindy and George Lechman. Her dad did most of the work of setting up her 12-by-6-foot trailer with a steam table and a "low boy" combination fridge and work table.
Eventually, she wants to trick it out with decals and signs, but for now, she marks it with a banner that reads "Miss Meatball."
Starting a mobile food business came not only at a time when such businesses are booming, but also at a good time for her.
In 2009 she attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where she interned at Lidia Bastianich's Felidia and worked at several upscale places, including the late SHO Shaun Hergatt.
"I could have never learned what I learned there, here," she says. But it was "tough," between the competition with aspiring head chefs and the cost of living.
So it felt good to come back home, where she worked in 2011 and 2012 as a line cook, bartender and assistant manager at DeNunzio's in Jeannette. Then she got hired for a temporary job as culinary food service instructor at the State Correctional Institute Greensburg that ended in February (the prison just closed).
"I was obviously extremely nervous going into a job like that," she says, describing the security measures and all the work involved in leading inmates in preparing 1,100 breakfasts, lunches and dinners each day. But she says she really liked her fellow staffers and the inmates, "a good group of people. ... I actually loved that prison job."
Her love of catering means that Miss Meatball also is offering that, and she'll even provide other kinds of fare.
But for the trailer, she's focusing on meatballs. Originally, she says, she wanted to do a variety of healthy fare, including her chicken meatballs with mushroom sauce, which her boyfriend, his friends and many others loved. So she went with meatballs specifically.
"I wanted it to have a feel like it's something you'd get ... from Grandma or Mom," she says. "I wanted it to be a home feel."
She also likes the alliteration of the name, which has a cuteness and a sense of fun.
That's evident on her website, missmeatball.com, which includes a section titled "Talkin' Balls N'At," where she reviews others meatballs (she panned Subway, but loved the 1-pound meatball at Greensburg's Sunset Cafe).
She's working with the city of Greensburg to get the necessary permits to park on city streets -- say, outside of a bar for the late-night crowd.
While she's based in Westmoreland County, she's already submitted paperwork with Allegheny County so she can range over here and join the growing numbers of food truck round-ups and other events that feature mobile food.
But first, this woman with 9,000-some balls has to make it through this weekend's festival.
"Hopefully it's not enough," she says. "I would love to sell out of everything."
Bob Batz Jr.: email@example.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.