In the city of Somerville, David Stewart sells hotdogs, hamburgers and sausages from a food trolley. To everyone who knows him, he’s just $6 Moe, a man who engages his patrons with a little talk of the town while filling their stomachs.
Moe’s a metro sponge, soaking in the local gossip. He’s got inside information and good food, too.
On Broadway, by Trum Field, it’s another brisk autumn day. A slight breeze whisks by the trolly trailer.
Inside the trailer, which Moe’s wife bought for him, sweet sausages sizzle on the char broiler awaiting a hungry customer.
The banter at Moe’s stand sizzles as steadily as the grill.
“I wasn’t here last Friday,” says a sausage-ordering customer.
“Ah,” Moe acknowledges, turning the sausage.
“Cause they said it was gonna rain all day,” the customer reminds him.
“You know you can’t listen to these guys,” Moe says.
“I could be a weather man,” the customer replies, “honest to God. I’m not lying to you. A chance of rain and in the winter, chance of snow.”
Conversations between Moe and his regulars switch from the weather, to sports, to family matters. Moe knows everything from the upcoming rainstorm and football game scores to who has a newborn baby on the way.
Man of Many Trades
Fifty-five years young, and Cambridge-raised, Moe grew up on Huron Avenue. His mother grew up on Putnam Avenue in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, just two blocks south of Massachusetts Avenue. The area was referred to as Kerry’s Corner, because it seemed as though everyone from Kerry Ireland ended up in that section of Cambridge.
Moe, whose nickname comes from his wife, moved to the Somerville neighborhood of Ten Hills some 24 years ago. By then, Cambridge cost too much.
Over the years he has worked in a garage, as a general contractor, and then convenient store clerk. But his favorite line of work was cooking.
Before Moe ran his own food trolley, he worked for Sammy’s Deli in Kendall Square.
“It gave me someplace to go for my mind,” he says. “I got a bad ticker, so it wasn’t too much pressure for me.”
When Sammy sold the business about ten years ago, Moe needed a new job. His wife, who at the time worked as an accountant for American Express, found the trailer online and bought it, Moe recalls, for about $26,000.
A Business Is Born
Moe began his new business in the city of Everett. He found a spot beside Best Buy in a commercial area with about 2000 employees. But, business was slow. Moe stuck it out for a year, selling burgers and hotdogs for $5 a pop back then. Most days, he recalls, he lost money.
Now, a decade later, business is slow again. Even so, his $6 meal deal is a staple in the Somerville community. So is he.
Kenny Suthar is one of Moe’s cronies, and calls him an “icon” in the city of Somerville.
Like other Somerville locals, Suthar refers to Stewart only as Moe, a.k.a. $6 Moe.
He is a piece of the city’s proverbial glue.
“I’ve been here so long. I’m grandfathered in with the guy down at Home Depot,” Moe says, referring to the only other city-sanctioned food trolley vendor in Somerville.
Every time one of his friends, like Suthar, drives by, they honk their horn to say hello.
At his main location, in front of Trum Field, which is in the Magoun Square neighborhood, Suthar, a plumber often visits.
“It’s nice to see that red truck on Broadway and to see the smoke coming from Broadway and know it’s not a fire,” Suthar jokes.
Though Moe is off the road in the dead of winter, Suthar says that’s when he craves Moe’s burgers.
“I have a hankering for his burgers right around February,” he says.
“He must be putting something in those burgers,” he adds. “I’ve talked to some people and they say the same thing.”
The Burger Connoisseur
Almost every morning Moe picks up fresh buns from a local bakery.
Once a week he stops by a Boston meat market for hot dogs and hamburgers. His sausages come from Bianco & Sons Italian Sausage on River Street, out of Revere.
When it comes to cooking, Moe’s got his preference. “I like the flame cooked,” he says. “I just think it holds too much grease in, with the flattop.”
His Moe meal – 6 bucks – is a sausage, sandwich or sub with soda and chips.
“I’m cheaper than Burger King,” Moe declares.
And he likes to eat what he sells.
When Moe goes out to dinner he eats burgers, too, but not at fast food joints. Instead, he goes to restaurants, comparing and contrasting his product with their burger.
Many of the same faces frequent Moe’s B.B.Q. Trolly each day.
One regular is Paul Frazer, who motors-down on his wheelchair on nice days.
Frazer, 74, used to be an assembler for centrifuge machines in Needham. Now, after suffering a stroke, he is confined to his wheelchair.
He’s been visiting Moe for five years.
“We keep each other company,” Frazer says.
Frazer likes the food but he likes the company more. His favorite food is peanut butter crackers, which Moe will sometimes stock.
“Once in a while he’ll go up to New Hampshire and bring me back a box of them,” Frazer says. “And, he won’t let me pay for them.”
Moe uses Frazer as his weather vane. “So, as it gets too cold he has to put his wheelchair away and I know it’s time for me to close,” he says.
But Moe continues to serve food into the cold months on a reduced schedule, coming out and braving the weather now and again.
Dreams of a Warmer Climate
Someday, he says, he’ll move south.
“Summers on the Cape and winters in Florida,” he says wistfully.
But right now money is tight. Moe has a hard time believing in a profitable future for the food-vending business.
To add padding to his wallet, Moe also works on Tufts campus pulling late night shifts.
With a gallon of gas near $4, he figures, this economy is never going to come back. Unless the cost of a gallon returns to $2 he thinks he may have to raise the cost of the Moe meal deal, but wonders whether anyone can afford the increase.
Some day’s only 20 people come. He feels like it’s a dying business.
“At least I get out of the house,” he says.
Most days he doesn’t even break a $100 profit, he says. On bad days, he admits, it doesn’t even cover the cost of his propane tank.
Yet, in Somerville the Aldermen have recently passed a new pilot program allowing more food trucks to do business.
Moe thinks it’s a foolish idea, since there aren’t many more prime locations to park the food trucks.
“I don’t think it’s gonna work,” Moe says renouncing the idea with touch of denial.
While the competition and costs are on the rise, Moe is still hopeful about his business.
In the meanwhile he’ll keep cooking and talking, one hamburger at a time. And, perhaps someday, he’ll make the shift to become $7 Moe.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.