We Chat With: Anna Caterinicchia of Getta Polpetta, Chicago's Meatball Sandwich Truck
As long as she can remember, meatballs have always been a part of Anna Caterinicchia's life. The food truck owner and third generation (and then some) meatball maker admits that she can't even recall the first time she encountered one, "As long as I can remember, every Sunday night family dinner and all of the holidays in between, there have been meatballs." Over the years, Caterinicchia became an expert at making these meatballs, and she now sells them off of her food truck, Getta Polpetta.
"I come from a family of good Italian cooks," says Caterinicchia. "Both of my grandmothers were excellent, and my grandma Anna was a wonderful baker. Plus, my Auntie Mella and my Grandma Gigi made the best ravioli in the whole world. I can still see Grandma Gigi making them and having us put them on sheets on the bed to dry. My job was to fork them closed and they were heaven."
Anna says that during her twenty years in corporate America, most recently working as a Director of Project Management at General Growth Properties, there were many long evenings following Sunday night dinner with her parents, and that her mothers meatballs seem to help ease the pain. "My mom would of course send me home with leftovers. It was always enough for 10 more people. So, inevitably I would bring them to work to share. Everyone, every time, loved them to the point of asking for them or deciding they could never eat anyone else's."
Caterinicchia serves three different meatball sandwiches off Getta Polpetta, the Polpetta panino (meatball sandwich), Panino del'ouva (vegetarian "meatball" sandwich), and a new BBQ meatball sandwich. "It's 100% my mom's recipes and I'm very proud that she says that I got it right." In addition to meatball sandwiches, Caterinicchia also offers occasional on-board treats like homemade cake balls and fried dough.
What is the inspiration behind the name of your truck? After deciding on doing a meatball food truck, my childhood friend Jenn, her daughters, and I were brainstorming about names. Her youngest takes Italian and I asked her how to say "meatball" in Italian. "It's polpetta" she responded. We kept saying it and a few other words and out came "gotta getta polpetta" and it stuck. We all kept envisioning this Italian character with a megaphone yelling "Gotta getta polpetta."
Tell us about the mustached meatball mobile, named Mr. Meatball? My sister's boyfriend is an art director in Los Angeles and he loves design. His name is Jason Cook and he created "Mr. Meatball," the mustache, and the entire truck concept—my business cards, my website design, and all of the artwork we have created along the way. He knew I wanted something fun and if it couldn't be fun I didn't want to do it. When we designed it, Jason assumed that the front mustache would be part of the overall wrap and for that I had a wonderful woman named Shira wrap my truck. We talked for a long time and then out of the blue I mentioned that I loved the sign for Matt Maroni did for Morso. It's metal and textured and it's awesome. She stopped and said, "My friend did his sign! We can ask him to make the metal mustache for your truck!" So she had him create it and it's better than myself or Jason could have imagined! As for the name, my sister is responsible for naming him "Mr. Meatball" and she created much of the content on my website and also reminds me every day that "I can do it."
What is a proper meatball and what is the hardest part of making meatballs to master? My mom is not a real fan of meat so she likes when meat has a lot of flavor and is the right texture. She doesn't like a hard meatball. So, it should be soft in texture and with a lot of flavor, especially garlic! The hardest part, ironically, it's hard to make them really round. And then to have the stamina to roll hundreds.
Besides meatballs and cooking, what is the best lesson your mother ever taught you? My mom has always believed in me and she always taught me to believe in myself. She made me think that as far back as I can remember, that I could do anything—anything. I could achieve all of my dreams. So, I jumped in head first knowing I'd be successful because she believed in it and me.
What would change for you if legislation allowed trucks to cook on board? For us, making meatballs wouldn't change because of the volume of meatballs that we have to cook. However, it would be nice to prepare other items and also to prepare a fresher sandwich for customers as far as being able to compile the sauce and the meatballs in your sandwich while you are waiting. It would also be nice to be able to add condiments or extra sauce as requested. For me, the real legislation change needed is around where we can park our trucks.
What is the most frustrating issue about parking a food truck in Chicago? Many people do not know that food trucks cannot be within 200 feet of a restaurant and must be legally parked. This currently allows for about five to six spaces for trucks to park within the entire downtown area for now about 50 trucks. It's a struggle every day trying to figure out where to go to find customers. For a city of wonderful food and people, we could do better!
Advice to anyone thinking of opening a food truck in Chicago? It's harder than you think or it looks! Honestly, it is the hardest work I have ever done. It's also quite challenging if you are doing this on your own. Remember, YOU have to do everything, learn to drive the truck, shop, cook, plan, paperwork, websites, social media, accounting and marketing, run the whole business—everything. I also suggest that you write a business plan, work on a food truck, and make sure it's right for you, and that you are up for the challenge. I have been lucky enough to have my dear friend Jenn, my sister Sara, my parents, and extended family who have helped me along the way. I could not have gotten this far without them.
Getta Polpetta makes regular stops Monday through Friday beginning at 11:30 a.m. on its designated route. The best way to find Caterinicchia is to follow Getta Polpetta on Twitter and Facebook, or check its website.
Facebook: Getta Polpetta/Facebook