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In November 2008, Justin Vitarello approached his boss at a Washington, D.C., e-commerce company and told him he wanted some time off. "I need to go make this dream of mine a reality," Vitarello said. It wasn't too hard persuading his boss, who was his brother, Adam.

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Adam Vitarello, a.k.a. Gewpee waves to people in Dupont Circle before the truck comes to a service stop. 
Dominic Bracco II/ The Washington Post
The first step toward the dream was buying a truck. Vitarello found a beat-up step van for $2,000 in New Jersey. It had been manufactured during the 1960s and through the years had been used by various owners to ferry around everything from tools to pickles. With his mother's help, Vitarello then gutted the inside and installed a refrigerator, a freezer, an air conditioning unit, and hot plates. He also scraped off all the paint, painted the wheels to look like those on a traveling circus wagon, and emblazoned "The Fojol Brothers of Merlindia, A Traveling Culinary Carnival" on the side. Voilà! The dream was realized. Vitarello became a street-food vendor.

This, however, is no ordinary street-vendor operation. A loudspeaker blares out opera and John Philip Souza marches whenever the van is motion. When it's parked for the lunch hour, New Zealand folk or Radiohead are the music of choice. When Justin and his two partners arrive at their lunch location, they send a tweet to their 3,400 Twitter fans to let them know where they've set up. Vitarello lays out blankets on which customers can sit, and he invites all kinds of street performers—jugglers, stilt walkers, acrobats, and hula hoopers—to come by and put on a show. Some of these performers are local office workers pursuing their own dreams before having to go back inside.

Vitarello says he drew some of his inspiration from a research trip to the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin he made a few years back. "Fojol Brothers" is an allusion to the Ringling Brothers, and "Merlindia" is intended to conjure up images of Merlin and, by extension, the magic of the circus. Oh, and when they're on duty the brothers also wear costumes— fake moustaches, bright gloves, and multicolored turbans.

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 Justin Vitarello, a.ka. Dingo, hands lunch through the serving window of the Fojol Brothers Truck. The menu is Indian-inspired.
Dominic Bracco II/ The Washington Post
Vitarello, a double concentrator in business economics and public policy, says he became fascinated by "what a circus means to a country in a recession and at war." He then decided his food truck would be a traveling carnival, offering customers a distraction from their day-to-day woes. "Our concept involves smells and colors and music and taste," Vitarello says.

As for food, Vitarello and his partners work with a former hot dog vendor turned Indian-cuisine chef, who makes curries, chicken tikka masala, and saag paneer (spinach and paneer cheese). They also sell a number of homemade concoctions, includingmango lassi pops and garlic-flavored chips.

Finally, they have given themselves handles. Justin goes by the name Dingo, which he likes because it resembles the first name of Ringo Starr. Adam, a former international relations and history concentrator, is known as Gewpee. No one quite knows why.

"It's a pretty surreal experience being in the truck," Adam says. "It's unreal the number of people who were staring in awe at us from their office windows. People would smile and wave even before they knew what they saw."

Since the end of September, Vitarello has been going out five days a week to serve lunch. He gives a portion of his profits to charity and soon plans to bring along some of the at-risk youth he mentors to give them a feel of what it's like to run a business. He now has about 100 to 200 customers and soon plans an expansion. Says Vitarello, "Maybe more trucks, maybe new cuisines, maybe who knows?" 





Comments (4)
01/20/10
 
Amazing Justin!! Congrats on making it work!
 
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05/15/12
 
An incredibly rude mess of cultural appropriation. The circus exoticized and stereotyped foreign cultures and profited off the exploitation of religious dress and practices. Good to see Justin and friends continuing the trend. How disappointing.
 
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05/19/12
 
I feel like this article should have acknowledged that this act is rather offensive to certain ethnic minorities... I supposed I don't know why Adam chose the name "Gewpee", but I can guess it was relating to the fact that these young Caucasian men find Indian and Asian names exotic and funny. Some of us do not, though.
 
Vy Douglas 2000
05/25/12
 
Hey Karen / Vy - Just wanted to clear up some facts / give my two cents. 
 
I actually came up with "Gewpee" because it was a childhood nickname I liked. I'm pretty sure it is not an Indian or Asian name (though it may be), and I certainly don't find Indian or Asian names funny (side note: not exactly sure what "Indian or Asian names" really refer to... I guess you're referencing common names found in the region, but again don't believe Gewpee is one of them). Quite the opposite actually: I love Indian cuisine, culture, and names and have nothing but respect regarding the sub-continent. 
 
Guess the bigger point is that as Brown graduates, I thought we should try to promote a world where people are NOT defined by the color of our skin or the geographical location from which their ancestors fared. Do you think that as an Italian-American, I must dress as a typical Italian-American, or am I free to define myself as I see fit, including using dress typically associated with another ethnicity, assuming done in a respectful manner?  
 
Furthermore, you can call me or my brother "Caucasian", but reality is we have Italian, African, Native-American, Irish, Mongolian, and countless other ethnicities in our DNA - probably just the same as you, or anyone else - which points out the inherent issue with "race"... we're all really mixed mutts. And the notion that because I am "white", I must wear flip-flops, a polo and baseball hat (or some other "white" gear), and that outfits / customs of other cultures are somehow off limits to me strikes me as very offensive and non-Brown at its core. 
 
While I am not part of the Fojol Brothers any more, I can promise that my brother and the many other diverse members of the Fojol family (including his Indian-American and African-American business partners, his Ethiopian, Thai, and Indian cooks, and yes other "white" folks) dress only in pure homage and celebration of the cultures that created the cuisine they sell. None of them - not the "white" folks or the non-"white" folks - will act, dress, or be defined by their "race", and I think that is patently a good thing.  
 
God help us if we lived in a land where everyone had to live their life according to the color of their skin, and if they diverted from that path, they were accused of being offensive, or worse yet, racist. 
 
Vy / Karen - I respect your point of view 100%, and I don't doubt you have been offended. And I think this is a very interesting discussion I'd love to carry on off-line. But think you'll agree that just because something is "offensive", doesn't mean its wrong or should be changed for everyone else(case in point: many vegans are offended by those eating / selling meat, but don't think they say those places should be shut down (or maybe the do)... and Fojol happens to be one of the only Vegan food trucks in DC:) 
 
Respectfully submitted, 
-- Adam Vitarello (brother of Justin, founder of Fojol Bros)
 
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