Lauren Loomis and Robert Tucker met while living in Chicago. Very early on—practically in their first week of dating—he affectionately began calling her Lulu. It stuck, much to her delight.
Another piece to the couple’s story is that as they were trying to learn more about their food and how to prepare it, they realized they felt very disconnected from what they were eating. From Loomis’s cousin, Gretchen Egeberg, they learned of a program called Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which takes participants to countries around the world to work on farms in exchange for their food and living accommodations. “We worked on organic farms in Australia and New Zealand for about a year through the WWOOF program,” Loomis explains. “We were taught how to grow our own food and how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. It was just a wonderful way to reconnect and fall in love with food. We truly wanted to plant the seeds, learn how to cook what we had grown and share it with others. It was such a rich experience, and when we came back to the U.S., we knew that we wanted to work together, so we considered a food truck.”
Before leaving Australia, Tucker, who is originally from Wildwood, proposed to Loomis; and when their travels came to an end, it was time to decide on a place to put down their roots. “We knew we wanted to be closer to family,” Loomis notes. “After the trip, we went to St. Louis and really fell in love with the city—especially the Cherokee Street area. We liked that the people were so welcoming and really felt that St. Louis was a supportive environment for entrepreneurs.” In April 2012, the couple started Lulu’s Local Eatery. They married later that year.
Looking at Lulu’s menu, Loomis estimates that 60 to 70 percent of their ingredients are from local sources, with a lot of the produce coming from their own backyard garden. Plus, there’s now a rooftop garden on top of the Lulu’s truck. “We’re growing our own food on top of our food truck! We drive down the street, and people can see our little greens waving in the wind.” In the garden on top of the former Snap-on Tool truck, they grow basil, mints, lavender, rosemary, thyme, kale and Swiss chard, as well as lettuces during the spring and early summer months.
Among the many popular standards and seasonal favorites available on the menu, Lulu’s Sweet Potato Falafel always is in high demand. “With fry our falafel in peanut oil, so it’s nice and crispy,” Loomis notes. “We also just rolled out an item that we’re really excited about—we call it the BBQ Jack.” Using shredded jackfruit, which is grown in southeast Asia, Lulu’s now offers a vegan pulled-pork-like sandwich, served with Pappy’s Smokehouse barbecue sauce. “Being a vegetarian food truck, people are like Pappy’s? What?” she says laughing. “Jackfruit has the same texture as pulled pork and takes on whatever flavors it’s cooked with, and people are loving it!”
Regular stops for Lulu’s include Citygarden, the Central West End, Tower Grove Park and the Webster Groves Farmers Market.
In addition to its regular stops, Lulu’s offers catering services, as well. “Food trucks have become a big trend in the wedding industry,” Loomis notes. “And we do a lot of them! Many times, our clients want the truck at their event; and then there are other times that they just want buffet-style catering. But having the truck there is so much fun.” She explains that Lulu’s uses only biodegradable and compostable materials to keep the impact on the environment at a minimum.
As for the most rewarding aspect of the business, it’s very simple for the husband-and wife team: “We truly enjoy the customer interaction,” Loomis says. “I love it when we can change someone’s mind about healthy food. We get a lot of guys at our truck who say, I’m a carnivore. I don’t eat this kind of food. We explain that it’s not just for vegetarians and ask them to try it. And their response is usually, Wow! It’s a big moment for them when they realize that vegetables really can be good and make for a substantial meal. And we also have had regulars tell us about their incredible weight-loss stories or how their health has improved because they have changed their lifestyle. All of this is just so incredibly inspiring to me—it just makes my day!”
Lulu’s Better Than Tuna Salad
2 cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 of a red onion, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 T fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup vegannaise
1 t whole-grain mustard
1/4 cup dill pickles or capers, optional
Salt and pepper to taste
Empty both cans of chickpeas into the bowl of a food processor and pulse for about 15 seconds until you get the consistency of tuna. (Be careful not to over process...it should still be chunky). Transfer to a medium sized mixing bowl and mix in the other ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator to allow time for the flavors to mingle, or just serve right away on a sandwich, in a salad, in a pasta dish or wherever you would normally use your favorite tuna salad! This salad packs really well, so it's perfect to make a batch on Sunday and bring it to work for lunch in a wrap or on greens.