Inside, humid air is filled with the ravishing smell of onions frying, red peppers roasting, and the countless spices, herbs, and oils wielded by the eight chefs preparing eight wildly different menus for the lunch rush at Mark’s Carts.
“Phillis” is Phillis Engelbert, who runs the Lunch Room, a cart specializing in vegan entrees, sides, and desserts. A thin woman with bright blue eyes, Engelbert offers a rundown of the kitchen arrangements: Every cart gets shelves and a workspace plus space in the pantry and walk-in freezer. Food prep starts every morning at 7:15, peaks at lunch between 11:30 and 1:30, then barrels on through dinner, from 4:30 to 7:30, with cleanup after that. Not every cart is open every day or all day, but the chefs will put in between sixty and eighty hours a week from now until the courtyard closes this fall.
The Lunch Room was among the original carts when Downtown Home owner Mark Hodesh opened the courtyard in May 2011. “Business was good last year,” Engelbert says, “and this year it’s between 20 and 50 percent better.” And though they’re all capitalists, theirs is a collective labor. “I don’t feel any competition,” Engelbert says, “only competition with ourselves to see how good we can be. We all know we all rise and fall together.”