a red bank vegan food truck fave goes big-time
by Laura D.C. Kolnoski
A decade ago, Adam Sobel was battling bureaucratic red tape standing between his award-winning fare and an eager public. Today, his Cinnamon Snail brick and mortar space at The Pennsy, adjacent to Manhattan’s Penn Station, bustles with fans lining up for his creations, and he’s also been invited to expand to the Fidi Acres Market in the borough’s Financial District.
Sobel’s mobile fare concept started with one food truck, but word of mouth, his elevated vegan dishes, and an ample portion of good karma propelled the entrepreneurial chef to success, bolstered by a cult-like following.
Eschewing traditional culinary schools, the Manhattan native began cooking young, spending 12 years in restaurants, including a stint with Tom Valenti at his fabled Ouest on the Upper West Side. He turned vegan as a teen after meeting future wife and business partner Joey Smith, who creates the company’s custom vegan wedding and other special event cakes. Their Cinnamon Snail food truck, named for Sobel’s signature circular buns, launched on Valentine’s Day 2010.
“I began to feel like I was preaching to the choir as a chef,” Sobel recalled. “I created the Cinnamon Snail so people would see a line down the block, a display case of decadent pastries and donuts, smell the bold fragrances coming off our grill, and check out the food; not because it happened to be vegan, but because it was special, flavorful cuisine.”
The eye-catching truck has been a fixture at the Red Bank Sunday Farmer’s Market since. When he failed to secure a permanent space elsewhere in the borough, he drove to Hoboken, garnering another loyal following but attracting police, who hassled him over parking. After one officer presented Sobel with several tickets, the chef boxed up his pastries and brought them to the precinct.
“I could immediately feel the tension clear,” he recalled. “[The officer] told me how badly he felt when he returned to the station and enjoyed the donuts.” _ at cop became a regular, and brought others with him.
Sobel and his truck moved on to the Big Apple, gaining a new cadre of fans who spread the word on social media. Just as the chef was ending his street business there—due again in part to permit and enforcement issues—he heard from the Pennsy.
“The Pennsy had curated an attractive set of initial vendors and wanted us there because we lent street cred,” he said. “In turn, it helped us get more established.” Sobel found himself back outside in April when the food court closed for renovation, but obtained permission to park on the high-profile outdoor patio adjacent to Madison Square Garden’s main entrance until The Pennsy re-opened in July.
Fans crave Sobel’s Korean Barbeque Seitan with house made kimchi, Miso Teriyaki Grilled Tofu with Chinese five-spice roasted Brussels sprouts, and the Beast Mode Burger Deluxe, an ancho chili seitan patty grilled in maple hickory barbeque sauce with jalapeno mac ‘n cheese, arugula, smoked chili coconut bacon, and chipotle mayo on a grilled pretzel bun. Many tote bags of his fresh donuts and pastries. Flavors change frequently and seasonally, and gluten-free options are
The chef has appeared on Food Network and PBS, has written for Vegetarian Times, and teaches vegan cooking classes. The eldest of his two daughters already helps out on the truck.
“I never thought it’d evolve into something this big,” Sobel said. “I love what I do and work really hard at it. The people who have worked for us over the years have put a lot into it, and that’s what helps me keep going.”
The Pennsy/Penn Station / West 33rd Street & 7th Avenue, Manhattan
#FiDiSnail at City Acres Market / Cedar and Pearl Streets / 917.261.4530
Red Bank Farmer’s Market / Sundays through November
The Galleria, Bridge Ave. Red Bank / cinnamonsnail.com