Food trucks seem like they're all over the country these days, but a lot of them look like like mail trucks with cut open sides and kitchens. When I was down in New Orleans last month, I found the coolest one I'd ever seen.
This is a Citroen H Van, which was brought back to the States from Belgium by the guys behind Brigade Coffee. They opened just last month, with a lineup of beverages brewed with the single origin coffee they roast themselves. Already, the truck has become a star on the New Orleans food truck scene.
Many days, it can be found parked on up and coming Freret Street in Uptown outside The Company Burger, another new business that's been open less than a year. Word of of the H Van spread quickly on social media, and Brigade was invited to bring the van over to the set of the new Seth Rogen movie to serve the crew (from 2 am to 5 am).
Besides looking cool, the H Van solves a big problem for the Brigade folks. As I reported for The Atlantic Cities, New Orleans has a big list of restrictions on where food trucks can operate, what they can serve and how many there can be (just 100 at a time). But those apply to people who cook on their trucks. If you don't need a kitchen, you can get around that with a catering license, and that's what Brigade did.
The co-founders of Brigade were inspired by New York City's Mud Truck, but wanted something with more pizzaz. Inspired by the idea of a brigade of coffee trucks helping to energize New Orleans, they seized on the H Van, which plied devastated northern Europe in the years after World War II.
There, the vans served as mobile cafes, says Shawn Parsons, an actor and Brigade co-founder. "People in England, France, Belgium know these vehicles very well," he says. An H Van is also used as coffee van by the Rapha Cycling Club, run by the upscale British maker of performance wear.
Citroen produced nearly half a million H Vans (some people know it as the HY Van) from 1946 to 1981. The ribbed body style was inspired by German Junkers planes, while many parts including the headlights for years were identical to the beloved 2 CV. You can read more about them on their British fan club site.
H Vans can still be seen all over Britain and France, where some are used as food trucks, others as campers. There are two main dealers in France, and one in Belgium, according to the Brigade crew. "We basically waiting for the right one," says Parsons.
The Brigade H Van — and its upscale coffee — are attracting a growing group of followers. Says Parsons: "People are coming up and asking, 'Where are you going to be parked tomorrow?'"