When you open a platter, you’re getting more than just a takeout meal. Often sold out of home kitchens, food trucks, and vendor carts, the orders often include meat and two or three sides. Or perhaps, the side dishes are a salad and fries. Sometimes, those plates will feature different kinds of rice and tostones, and the ñapa — that extra portion of meat, or rice the vendor gives away — to thank the customer.
They also signal the restrictions, the precautions, and the transformation needed for food businesses.
Kindle Burrows, 41, who runs Pleasure Platters out of her West Oak Lane kitchen, prepares and sells 60 to 75 platters offering crab, mussels, shrimp, and so on, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
When the lockdown began, her business improved, some days selling as many as 100 platters. Burrows suspects that diners who couldn’t eat out were instead ordering from her.
“I couldn’t keep food in the house,” Burrows recalled. “I had to literally shut down early every day. Like, ‘Listen guys, I got four burners in this house. It’s only but so much I can do.’”
Burrows is like many at-home food vendors, many of them women and people of color, who have cultivated successful businesses without a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Many home cooks continue as takeout-only vendors because of the financial pressures, lengthy bureaucracy for paperwork and licensing, and struggles acquiring capital.
In Philadelphia, explained Psyche Williams-Forson, chair of the American Studies Department at the University of Maryland College Park, Black women encountered both employment discrimination and lack of access to licensing after enslavement, and have thus worked as informal food vendors for centuries.
Without opportunities in other parts of the economy, people across the U.S., often migrants and immigrants, Williams-Forson said, have turned to serving takeout platters, “providing a service for their community,” and offering “cultural sustainability” on the plate.
Chef José Luis Reynoso and Ana Roque, who own the food truck Alta Cocina, have seen orders for takeout platters surge 200% since their reopening in late May. The Dominican-European fusion food truck sells platters of seafood paella, mangú with salami and boiled eggs, fish ceviche, carnitas and tostones, stuffed eggplant with ham and cheese, in Hunting Park.
They added five employees in two shifts and still need extra hands to serve as many as 400 meals on Saturdays, mainly for takeout. Roque, 51, said food trucks are a “perfect experiment” for the restaurants of the future, as she thinks that pandemic regulations will affect the industry for a long time.
“I feel that we get to experience the best of the moment, because the food truck is easier to clean and sanitize, it isn’t as formal as the indoor dinning is, and guarantees social distancing,” Roque said.
Here are three spots where you can grab a whole meal on a platter.
Amanda Smith was inspired to start her business Blk Grl Rolls after watching internet celeb Tabitha Brown make plant-based sushi. Smith decided to give it a try.
“During quarantine, I was cooking a lot of different dishes, but never thought about sushi,” said Smith, 19. She made some, then shared the results in an Instagram story.
“When I posted it, I had a lot of people DMing me like ‘Hey! Oh my God! That looks so good. Where’d you get it from? If you made it, are you going to be selling it?‘”
So Smith, a Temple student who was working as a cashier at 7-Eleven before the pandemic, launched Blk Grl Rolls in late May, an Instagram-powered sushi service. She’s expanded beyond Brown’s vegan special to shrimp tempura rolls, spicy tuna rolls, California rolls, and other classic variations.
Blk Grl Rolls doesn’t have designated hours. Smith announces sushi days through @blkgrlrolls, accepts orders through DM, making sushi available for pickup or delivers to the city herself. Single rolls with a side of rice cost $13, sushi bowls sell for $13, and three-roll sets are $20. Delivery fees vary.
José Luis Reynoso and Ana Roque learned to become entrepreneurs through YouTube after starting the Alta Cocina brand online in 2018. Reynoso publicized his cooking through weekly video segments.
Their channel gave them the exposure necessary to engage with customers after they were forced to shut down their food truck on March 16. Philadelphia was the only city in Pennsylvania that temporarily banned food trucks in its COVID-19 mandates, with food trucks getting the go-ahead to return to business in late May.
Reynoso and Roque worked through the hardship by preparing platters of carne guisada and moro de frijoles at their Olney home on the weekends.
“We didn’t want to lose the few clients that we started to engage with after opening the food truck, so we kept offering the service from home,” he said. Reynoso has returned to full-time operations and has focused on engaging his @altacocinaphilly followers on Instagram.
Alta Cocina’s food truck has a schedule: Tuesdays through Sundays, 1 p.m. until 2 a.m., making a total of 23 platters, including pasta, sandwiches, grilled vegetables and tacos, that come with french fries, sweet potato fries, tostones or rice, available for pickup. WhatsApp or delivery through Uber Eats and DoorDash. Eight chicken wings are $8, chicharrón mofongo is $12, and seafood paella is $25.
Kindle Burrows has been having a hard time finding a restaurant space, hoping to land in North or Northwest Philadelphia. All she’s waiting on is the right location at the right price, so she can take Pleasure Platters to the next level. She has been working out of her home kitchen since she started the business in May 2019.
Pleasure Platters caught on after Burrows reached out to Philly Instagram heavyweights, including Country Cookin’ owner Saudia Shuler and Milano di Rouge’s Milan Harris, to try her No. 7, which includes snow crab clusters, shrimp, and mussels. It worked.
Pleasure Platters has more than 14,000 followers on Instagram. Burrows thinks her fans can see the effort. “You earn the respect of people, acknowledging and seeing that you’re pushing from the muscle.”
Platters on the menu range from $16 to $44, with crab clusters, shrimp, mussels, and lobster available. Burrows serves seafood over potatoes, broccoli, and corn-on-the-cob, and with pleasure sauce, her buttery Old Bay sauce that gives heat with a hint of sweet.
“This is not what my dream was, but it turned out being something beautiful,” she said.