Photos: Inside the carnivalesque Fojol Bros. headquarters in Hyattsville

March 13, 2013

The Fojol Bros. have cultivated a communal, never-ending Summer of Love culture around their food trucks as much as they have developed individual cuisines. Last year, of course, their carnivalesque shtick, with elements borrowed from India (turbans) and blue-collar America (coveralls and work boots), raised the hackles of hundreds of Washingtonians who deemed the neon-colored circus offensive.


The Octagon's center room features a table, chairs, a couch and a random collection of kitschy clothing and knickknacks. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

But co-founder Justin Vitarello and his crew have soldiered on, continuing to sell an experience and a good plate of Indian (or Thai or Ethiopian) food, just as he promised he would when the whole racial stereotyping controversy broke last spring. In fact, with today's Food section story about the Fojol's plan to debut two dining buses, dubbed the Elastic Hallways, the team once again proudly flies its freak flag, as if proving its creativity, naivete and savvy all contribute to its unique approach to mobile vending.

The same combination of elements reveals itself at Fojol headquarters, dubbed the Factory by employees. The Factory is actually an industrial space in Hyattsville that the Fojol Bros. lease from Suku Nair, the restaurateur behind now-shuttered Georgetown spots such as Amma Vegetarian Kitchen and Aditi Indian Cuisine. The space serves many different functions for the 13 employees who are expected to keep the Fojol trucks running this spring and summer: commissary, war room, dispatch office, dressing room, costume studio, flophouse, lounge and teaching classroom.

Vitarello had never given the press a tour of Fojol's inner lair — until last week, when he escorted me through the space known as the Octagon, because of its eight-sided walls. It's a fascinating, fiercely personal and funny collection of rooms, as you can see from the photos below. (Apologies in advance for the grainy iPhone pics.)


One room serves as a kind of costume studio, where Fojol employees can select their clothing for the day. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Each truck in the Fojol family -- Merlindia, Volathai and Benethiopia -- has its own rack of clothing to choose from. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

One space serves as a kind of war room, where Fojol employees plan out the trucks' schedules and locations. All three Fojol trucks are expected back on the streets in a few weeks. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Team Fojol has a dispatcher on location who is available to each truck to help it navigate the streets, or find an alternative route if one street is clogged with traffic. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The Octagon's storage lockers, identified by Fojol names such as BooBoo Von Fojol, Dingo Fojol and Minjela Fojol. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The Octagon has a quasi-museum element to it. It houses some old Fojol memorabilia, such as this original menu, which makes Vitarello laugh now. Customers at first couldn't tell what they were selling. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

One room serves as a crash pad for Fojol employees who may have pulled a particularly long shift. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The entrance to the Octagon features not only this well-worn punching bag but also a side room filled with tools and supplies to keep the trucks running. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

The Fojol Bros. follow their press clippings, just like everyone else. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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Lavanya Ramanathan · March 13, 2013