The Van of Life: A Life Story

VAN VAN VAN

Cambridge Cambridge nightlife cheesy chips Cindies Sam Watts trailer of life Van of Life

Where do you end up after getting kicked out of Cindies?

Where do you take that special someone to treat them to a quesadilla because you’re a classy gent?

Where do you go in a triumphant post-essay, alcohol-fuelled search for cheesy chips?

Your answer to all the above should be Van of Life*

*not a sponsored article. Though it’s a good idea…

Photoshop skills - 46%, weak 2:2

Photoshop skills – 46%, weak 2:2 – reads ‘the the Tab’

This trusty little van has stood on Cambridge’s Market Street catering to the town’s drunken student population for over twenty years. I went to discover how it has managed to stay the main source of post-clubbing fuel for so long (and to get some cheesy chips, of course.)

 

I see owner Liviu setting up for the night around 7pm – he’s been working here for the last three years along with the co-owner, Marek.

Before moving into the static-mobile food business Liviu worked as Head Chef at Don Pasquale’s for five years. I stupidly ask whereabouts in town that is and he points to the restaurant immediately next to us.

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No, I hadn’t noticed it either

 

I ask if it’s at all awkward having your ex-employer (and potential competitor, if they start taking table reservations at 2am) right next to him.

“Not at all, the owner is my brother-in-law. I still have the keys to the place. Me and the guys still use it to go to the toilet every night!”

“So he’s not too pissed off then?!” I reply. He doesn’t laugh.

He’s aided by two other workers during the week, and four at the weekend. I ask if he would consider taking on some students as part-time workers:

“I’ve thought about it. But they have so much work during the day they should be going out at night!” But if any student is particularly keen he’s always looking for help. Please send CVs to: Trailer of Life, About the Middle of Market Street, Cambridge.

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Where cheesy chips are be-cheesed.

 

I ask who his best customers are.

“The students,” he insists. “They are always so polite and friendly. They always queue and never start trouble.”

The van actually owes its name to Cambridge students, he tells me. It first came into existence in 1992 as Mr Burger Van, dealing only with – as the name suggests – burgers. Its popularity exploded with the introduction of the famous and much celebrated cheesy chips.

The neon clad 90s students suggested the name change, due, presumably, to its regenerative qualities, so essential for getting back to college in the early hours of the morning.

Like Christ to the Lepers. Wait. Are we allowed to say that?

Like Christ to the Lepers.

So are there any chances of a new addition to the menu any time soon?

“No, it’s best to stick to what you’re good at and what sells. Things get too complicated with a really big menu. And besides, people take long enough as it is to decide what they want!”.

Interestingly there is a big difference between the University’s and the town’s preferences. “The students always get cheesy chips, but the others prefer burgers.”

The worst night to work seems to be Saturday, being the most stressful and with a marked absence of his beloved students. “Wednesday is the best. We get lots of business but it’s never stressful.” Apparently that’s a night a lot of people in Cambridge go out on…

This was meant to be a photo of a queue of people but it was 7.30 and whos has time for that?

It was 7.30. Just imagine the queue, okay?

Unsurprisingly May Week is his favourite time of year. “We sell a lot of chips then, and most of the day rather than in the early morning”. Post-exam students are hungry people.

The worst time?

When the students aren’t here of course! “It’s pretty quiet during the holidays so we don’t even open on Sundays.”

I ask if he’s worried about competition from Gardies, or the infamous Van of Death.

“Not really. I know the guys there and they’re really nice. But most of my customers assure me that 90% of people come here, and only Gardies if we’re closed.”

Smug bastard. He's right though...

Smug bastard. He’s right though…

Given he manages to get through 100 burgers and 80 kilos of chips in a night this seems believable.

Plans for the future?

“Keep selling cheesy chips and keep customers happy.”

With a strategy as simple but effective as that I can see the Van being here for another few decades to come.

They'll eventually become an institution and we'll have to wear gowns to order...

We’ll eventually have to wear gowns to order