Gold Bar man’s varied career leads him to purple food truck

Step up to this Japanese food truck and smell the bacon.

As in bacon fried rice, bacon yakisoba and bacon sushi.

What’s up with that?

“People here like bacon very much,” explained Atsuki Toritani, who takes his purple sushi-mobile to events and farmers markets around Snohomish County.

This Saturday, he’ll join a brigade of about 20 other food trucks in downtown Everett.

Wait, food trucks in downtown Everett? That’s a double what’s-up-with-that. Foodies usually have to go to Seattle or Bellevue for their food truck fix.

It’s the annual Everett Food Truck Festival. Toritani will be there in his 24-foot purple truck festooned with Mount Fuji and pink cherry blossoms.

You can’t miss it. And you won’t want to. This guy isn’t just a cook. He’s a chef.

Toritani, 61, of Gold Bar, opened Atsuki’s Food Truck in March, after more than a year of planning. The truck’s previous owner served soul food in Spokane. The rig came equipped with griddle, burner, fryers, prep table, freezers, fridge, sink and storage cabinets. “Right now, I have put $82,000 in it,” Toritani said.

He grew up working at his family’s three restaurants in Hiroshima. He graduated from college with degrees in engineering and teaching high school chemistry, a sure ticket out of the dining industry.

“But I felt the food business was much better for me than an engineering department,” he said.

He took over one of his parents’ restaurants.

At age 29, he moved to Washington. “I wanted to take a year vacation before my 30th birthday,” he said. “I went to Edmonds Community College and I stayed with an American host family. That was the beginning of my life; that was 1983. After I finished the ESL program, my host father told me to get a helicopter license. And my father wanted me to be a pilot. So I did. I taught. We used Boeing Field, Paine Field and Renton. We had lots of Japanese students.”

He was vice-president of the helicopter business when it closed nine years later.

His next career was on the ground, behind the wheel. “I used to drive the access bus for the senior people and disabled,” he said.

After five years, he returned to his first love: food. He cooked at several downtown Seattle restaurants and was a sushi chef at Tulalip Casino before starting a food truck.

He wanted to be his own boss. The truck was a perfect fit. He had the culinary skills and after driving a mobility bus, he knew how to handle big rigs in bad traffic and tight parking.

Toritani expanded his fare beyond sushi.

“I made quite a few menus and used lots of people for tasting,” he said. “When I opened in Sultan, people were not all that familiar with sushi, so a friend recommended Polish sausage.”

He put it on the menu board. It didn’t go well. Neither did the Japanese fusion of a hamburger that used a pork cutlet.

Sushi, curry, teriyaki and anything bacon are the best sellers.

Flying a helicopter is easier than driving a food truck in Washington road traffic, he said. Due to the long hours, manning a food truck is no picnic, either. Still, it’s his dream job.

“You can see customer reactions directly,” he said. “That makes me really happy.”

Toritani cooks everything fresh. He’s attentive to the wait.

“Three to five minutes is my goal. When they line up, I tell them, ‘Thank you for your patience. Soda pop is on me.’ If you’re not friendly, people will not come back.”

The demands of a food truck put a damper on his annual trips to Japan, but he’s heading there in October.

“My father passed away. My mother is 92. I better come to see her,” he said. “I send her chocolate every month. Twenty pounds. Shipping costs about $85.”

Her favorite?

“Rolos. She shares it with the people who care for her. My mother is showing off.”

Where’s Atsuki?

The purple sushi truck often parks at the Chevron gas station in east Sultan. It’s at Snohomish Farmers Market on Thursdays and Marysville’s market most Saturdays. Look for it soon at the University of Washington Bothell one day a week. For more, go to www.atsukisfoodtruck.com the Atsuki’s Food Truck Facebook page.

Food truck fest

The Everett Food Truck Festival is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday on Colby Avenue between Everett Avenue and 25th Street.

Another Snohomish County truck is Big Dog’s, the blue-and-green Seahawks-themed hot dog joint with a logo that boasts to have the “Biggest Weiner Around.”

Read more in Friday’s Herald A&E section or go to www.everettfoodtruckfestival.com.

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