South Side's Nakama hits the road, colorfully

Today, Nakama, the popular South Side steakhouse and sushi bar, joins the ever increasing ranks of Pittsburgh food trucks.

"It's a scene that is exploding in Pittsburgh," said Sophia Milinkovic, Nakama's food truck manager. "People want something you can eat on the go, without a huge extravaganza--- something you could get in the restaurant, but out on the street."

The debut is set to take place at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix in Schenley Park. Nakama owner Bob Gomes sponsors the event and participates in races.

"To say that Bob has an interest in classic cars, actually cars in general, is an understatement," Ms. Milinkovic said.

The truck's menu includes items typical to the Nakama menu, such as Japanese hibachi, sushi rolls, egg rolls, edamame, noodle and rice dishes and a range of salads -- plus chef-inspired specials that will change just about every time the truck goes out on a new route. Eating from the truck will be cheaper, too, with rolls capped around $7 instead of the usual $9. Prices range from $2 to $10.

During the blistering summer days, items such as hot soups will be avoided.

Just before the truck's unveiling, South Side Slopes muralist Danny Gardner painted the truck in a performance art-like event beside the restaurant over the course of several days.

"There has been a constant flow of restaurant regular guests, neighbors, friends, and locals coming to... check out what our food truck is all about," Ms. Milinkovic said.

The audience doesn't seem to have much affected Mr. Gardner, who was more preoccupied with the actual painting.

"I've never painted a food truck before," he said, adding, "It poses interesting challenges. I'm used to painting straight walls. Here I was painting the hood, the trunk, around handles."

Using spray paint, he decorated the truck with flames and a large Buddha, along with the signature Nakama logo. His style, he said, is influenced by urban street art.

Mr. Gomes decided to try his hand at the food truck business after better-than-expected success with Nakama's other ventures. His Japanese cuisine already is available at PNC Park, Heinz Field, Consol Energy Center and Carnegie Mellon University in the form of Nakama Express, a smaller version of the original eatery.

Even for an established food venue such as Nakama, the foray into the food-truck businesses has its challenges.

"We know what serves well inside the restaurant, but we don't know what the public wants on the go," said Ms. Milinkovic, adding that Nakama will be counting on consumer feedback, including on Twitter and Facebook, as it continues to shape its on-the-go menu.

Pittsburgh's tight laws on where and how long food trucks can be parked also pose challenges, for which the restaurant is trying to find creative solutions. As the laws now stand, food trucks are not allowed to be within 500 feet of a restaurant selling the same kind of food, and they also are not allowed to be in one place for more than 30 minutes.

Ms. Milinkovic said that while Mr. Gomes feels that the laws may be a little stringent, he "is willing to work with what is presented and is confident that the truck will be successful despite any limitations."

Maggie Neil: First Published July 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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