(Above: Frank Muraca and his two boys, Giovanni (left) and Dante (right) at the Muraca On Fire food truck in the Rona parking lot on Hazeldean Road. Photo by Barry Gray.)
From Italy, to the fire station, to the streets of Stittsville. Muraca On Fire owner Frank Muraca is taking his experience cooking for hungry, fearless firefighters, dropping in a fist-full of family-first Italian heritage, and turning it all into tasty, affordable street food. His sons are also getting in on the action, which includes an unreal veal sandwich. You heard us … a veal sandwich from a food truck! The Muraca On Fire trailer is at the Rona parking lot on Hazeldean Rd. This is part of our ongoing Stittsville food truck series.
JORDAN MADY: Introduce yourself and tell us about the Muraca On Fire food trailer.
FRANK MURACA (OWNER): I work with the fire department as a full-time job. A lot of this has stemmed from the fire department because when I first started, the first question was “you’re Italian, do you know how to cook?” And into the kitchen I was thrown in. It’s been fun. I’ve learned a lot from the fire department. We’ve definitely added a couple twists from Italy because I am Italian and recently going to Italy last year, that was an eye opener for all of us because we hadn’t been in a long time. And we definitely got to explore old recipes and bring them to the truck and to the menu.
Eventually the other driving force to all this was my two boys. They’re 12 (Dante) and 16 (Giovanni) and I figured it was time. Last year we had a great vacation – lots of fun. Now I really wanted them to start experiencing real life; making money, running a business – all of the things I would like them to start putting in their portfolio that they will be going on in life with.
JM: So you’re still fighting fires, then? Tell us more about that.
FM: I’m actually acting captain. Once, you’re a lieutenant as acting captain, wherever the void is, I’m filling it until I write my next promotional exam and become full captain. For now, I’m a floater.
JM: How much longer do you plan to fight fires for?
FM: I’m 26 years in now. I’m saying another six or seven years. Then retirement’s coming.
JM: You’re doing Italian, here. Now, you think food truck and you can watch all the shows; Diners, Drive-ins & Dives, Eat Street – everything on The Food Network and I honestly haven’t seen too many Italian food trucks. What kind of Italian food are you doing?
FM: We start in the morning making our marinara sauce made with crushed tomatoes, all the best of the garlic and onions, all the Italian spices, and that starts off the base for most of our sandwiches. From there, we do our Fire House Meatballs. We’ve always made meatballs in the fire station and it’s still part of the actual experience of Italian. Then the veal, the veal sandwich is something I’ve always wanted to bring to Ottawa. From being born and raised in Toronto since I was around ten years old and still frequently going back there for family, veal sandwiches are ridiculous in Toronto. It’s such a staple and a big part of the actual experience of sandwiches there. Ever since I’ve had them there, I keep saying “why is there not one here?” So here I am now bringing it to the people.
JM: Muraca is your last name. Does ‘On Fire’ come from the fire fighting background?
FM: Yeah, you know, when we were coming up with the name years back when I used to open up my Facebook account, we were with some friends just sitting around having some drinks and I needed a second email. And a friend of ours just said “Muraca On Fire” and I said “love it”. So years back, that was the email. In coming now with the business, it made sense. “Fire” because we cook on it, hence the actual blue flame in our logo. And yes, “On Fire”, fire department. So when we were brainstorming for the actual name, it made sense. We’re also very fortunate – my sister-in-law is a designer and she was the one that did the flame, the whole decal, the design. And the day that she showed it to me, I said “you nailed it. It’s exactly what I wanted”. I didn’t want too much tradition but just enough. You’ll see the Maltese Cross in the center of the burner. I didn’t want ladders and hooks, this and that – just the emblem. A lot of people were pumped about it when we released it. It’s been going well.
JM: What was the timeline like with the trailer and its opening?
FM: It was just good timing because a good friend of mine who’s also at Pizza All’Antica, they do the wood fire pizza ovens, he was originally supposed to be coming here and when he knew that I was in the build of my trailer. Right away he calls me up and says “hey, there’s this opportunity. Are you interested?” I said “absolutely”. It was a pleasure to meet James (owner of The Glen & Tartan Kitchen) and Bob, the owner of Rona. Great people to deal with and it’s been positive from day one because it’s benefited us both.
The actual trailer rolled into my laneway – jeez, that was the end of mid-April. Then give me about two weeks of every-day researching. Then the entire month of May was dedicated to building it, until June 11, the day we actually opened the doors here.
JM: Does social media play a big role in your business?
FM: These days, I think it plays a big part in everything. And if you don’t realized that, you’ll soon find out that that’s how people know you. I’ve had so many customers come up to me and say “oh yeah, I saw you on Street Food App and I saw you on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram”. That’s where it’s all coming from. It’s people just seeing and saying “wow, I think I gotta try this!” I know it when people actually pull into parking lot and come straight to the trailer. Like, on a mission. “I’m here to try your food”. And I love that. It’s so positive. We’ve come so far with our social that you have to embrace it and let it work for you. And it really does these days. Especially even the support from everybody else.
Like all the other food trailers, you know? Like, ‘Wiches Cauldron was one of the first ones to retweet us. Awesome. And we’re the same, now. Helping and tweeting and back-and-forth. Pumping everybody up. I think we’re so fortunate in Stittsville to have this variety, already, of food trucks.
JM: Do you have a message for the community?
FM: My only message is that these food trailers have really given a lot of people, like chefs and those who are phenomenal in the kitchen, a really good avenue to get their food out to people. Back in the day, restaurants were your only option. Restaurants would bury people in rent, in expensive bills. Whereas this offers someone a chance to get really good food out to the people at an affordable, non-crazy risk way. It’s been really innovative and I think it’s great.
JM: That’s all I have for the interview portion.
FM: Let’s go cook!
WATCH: Behind the scenes at Muraca on Fire