If someone told Oak Creek native Alexa Alfaro five years ago that she would be working a Filipino food truck business with her younger brother Matthew, she would have said “You’re crazy.”
Today, Alexa, 27, and Matthew, 23, are the sibling owners of Milwaukee’s only (as far as they know) locally-based Filipino food source, Meat on the Street. The pair owns and operates the food truck and a brick-and-mortar location at Eleven25 at Pabst, a student housing building in downtown Milwaukee.
Meat on the Street’s menu includes traditional Filipino fare, such as pancit (a stir-fried rice noodle dish), adobo (pork slow-cooked in soy sauce and vinegar with garlic, bay leaves and peppercorn) and lumpia (Filipino egg rolls). However, the food truck’s specialty is its take on the Filipino street food classic “barbecue” – skewered marinated meat grilled to sweet and citrusy perfection.
Meat on the Street has been a family business from the beginning, according to Alexa and Matthew. Their parents, Ray and Deb Alfaro, and younger brother Christian, along with many family friends, have all helped cook, cashier or take orders for the 90-square-foot traveling restaurant.
Alexa and Matthew embarked on their entrepreneurial journey in 2014.
Alexa was in her last year of engineering school and realized her chosen career wouldn’t make her happy. Matthew had taken a break from college after one of his best friends died, and was working part-time jobs.
“In elementary school, we joked around about my dad opening up a (restaurant) called Ray's Place,” Alexa said.
Growing up, the Alfaros’ Oak Creek home was known as “the food house” – in part, because of their hard-working father who loved to cook.
Ray Alfaro, who was born in the Philippines and is an electrical engineer by profession, had an uncommon way of unwinding from a long work day.
“My dad, after working eight- or 10-hour shifts for his job, would come home, and cooking is his therapy,” Alexa said.
“It's not a job for him,” Matthew added.
When Alexa broke the news to her father that she was dropping out of engineering school to open a food truck, she presented her case for the business and informed him that she had already bought the LLC for “Meat on the Street.”
A couple days later, Ray told Alexa he found a truck for a decent price – a plain white truck which had previously belonged to We Energies.
Food for all
Bringing Filipino offerings to the Milwaukee area food scene had its challenges, and Alexa and Matthew say they’ve always wanted their food to be for the Filipino-American community and beyond.
“Here we’re in the land of steak and potatoes,” Alexa said. “Opening (Meat on the Street) was more than just selling food to people. … Food is love in our house.”
Alexa and Matthew say they’ve gradually grown their menu to include “true authentic Filipino food” while making the dishes accessible to anyone. They even offer a vegan bowl with grilled tofu.
“We were raised in a household where it was very important to accept people for who they are, regardless of what their background may be. … I'm not vegan. I love meat, I’m never going to go vegan,” Alexa said. “It's inclusive for us in more ways than one to have gluten-free and vegan items.”
At a food truck event May 21 in South Milwaukee Lizz Garcia of Kenosha, who is a vegan, was pleasantly surprised to see a vegan option on Meat on the Street’s menu.
“I wasn’t expecting to be able to eat anything,” Garcia said.
While Garcia had never had Meat on the Street before, she was not unfamiliar with Filipino food.
For South Milwaukee native Chito Yumang, eating at Meat on the Street is his way of supporting the local Filipino community. His mother, who now lives in the Philippines, used to cater Filipino food in the area.
Without Meat on the Street, "you either have to go to Waukegan or my house to get Filipino food,” Yumang said.
Siblings, partners, friends
Alexa and Matthew say they’re a perfect team. Alexa, who has always been good at math and problem-solving, books the gigs and strategizes much of the business’ next steps.
Matthew says he was never a strong student and has always enjoyed working and cooking.
Alexa does a lot of food preparation, while Matthew does most of the cooking.
“What you have to do at the end of the day is sort of find what you love,” Matthew said. “And I love Meat on the Street.”
Starting a business isn’t always a dream come true – it takes long hours, hard work and lots of sacrifice, Alexa and Matthew said.
“Some days we would be the dynamic sibling duo and other days we would be bickering with one another as we have a line of 30 to 40 people,” Alexa said. “People look at me when I’m all crazy, and I'm like ‘You work with your immediate family in a 90-square-foot-box and let me know how that goes.’ ”
The two work together and live together, and four years into the food truck business, have had their fair share of fiascoes and meltdowns – from Matthew slicing open his hand during a rush or being understocked for a big crowd.
“I feel incredibly lucky that it is Matt that I get to work with and grow with – who knows these things that, until you experience them, no one else really gets,” Alexa said.
The duo dreams of expanding from Milwaukee to Madison, and then Chicago and Minneapolis.
Alexa says she’s a Midwest girl and plans to stay close to home.
In terms of the future, Alexa says she has always wanted to offer more Filipino desserts – the products for which are difficult to get in wholesale locally.
Whether the future means expanding to a bakery operation or a spin on a coffee shop, Alexa says she and Matthew have grown to appreciate their Filipino heritage and culture more through the food truck venture.
“There have been times when people take a bite of the adobo and they're like ‘This brings me back to my Lola's (grandma’s) house,’ ” Alexa said. “That's incredibly important to us, and we want to remain authentic and traditional and not Americanize it to the point where you lose the history.”
At a glance
What: Meat on the Street
When: open daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: 1125 N. Ninth St., Milwaukee
Info: For an updated list of the food truck locations and dates, follow Meat on the Street on Facebook, www.facebook.com/meatonthestreet.mke. Contact Meat on the Street at 414-477-6717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.