Food Truck: Ditch Witch (Grant Monahan Montauk NY)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tinsel & Tine recently began a series covering Food Trucks. (See Farm Truck Interview) Diane ( and I continued on from New Haven (See Tasting Tour) because she was invited to Montauk NY for a project to capture the local flavor of the place by drawing portraits, much like a photographer captures a scene.  Knowing we were to stay at the East Deck, I decided to try and interview the owners of the famed food truck in Ditch Plains called The Ditch Witch.

Grant Monahan Captured by Diane Roka Montauk NY

I struck gold! Not only did Grant Monahan (Ditch Witch is a family biz) respond, I caught him just as he was about to have a Memorial Weekend photography book launch "A View from the Window"and gallery opening at OutEast Gallery in Montauk.

“A View from the Window” are shots Grant took from inside The Ditch Witch, where he too captured the scene - as locals, surfers & celebrities ordered food from the truck (or wagon, as they refer to it).

Here's The Interview

T & T: This Ditch Witch View from the Window photography project and book fits so perfectly into your recent degree from Charleston College in anthropology/humanities, that I wonder, did you get your professors involved in any way? Did it give you extra credit?

GM: No extra credit, but I did involve one of my professors, John Rashford. He's a Jamaican ethnobotanist studying how plants affect people. He was my mentor all through school. I showed him the project - I hadn't done anything with it yet, but he just loved it right away and said it was a great idea and introduced me to visual anthropology.

T &T: So, the project stemmed more from your interest in Photography & Montauk?

GM: Yeah, Montauk and Photography, I didn't even realize the anthropological aspects until I was done shooting. Then it was like, "Wow, I just kinda documented a culture through photographs".

T&T: But you've also documented the skater culture too, right?

GM: The skateboard scene in Charleston is out of control, it's really underground and hard to become a part of, but once you do, it's the best thing ever. Only I realized I couldn't hang with these guys skating anymore, so I started going to shoot. Skateboard photos are all about timing. Each trick has a peak of action where it's the best time to shoot. I would show the guys a photo and they would help me by saying you're too early or too late, cause they know I'm gonna give it to them, and they want the best shot. It's still what I really love - shooting action. Timing things to a millisecond perfection.

T&T: Do you shoot surfers too?

GM: I've never shot surfing. I'd rather surf. If the waves are good enough to get a good photo, then I'm not gonna be standing on the beach with a camera.

T &T: Getting back to View From a Window - did you keep the shots raw or use some Photoshop?

GM: I wanted to keep them as raw as possible, no airbrushing. But the backgrounds were very busy in all the photographs. You could see the people behind them and cars in the parking lot, plus the way the light was behind them on a bright sunny day, made it so I had to blow out the backgrounds. The best shots were taken on foggy days, 'cause the sun coming out through the fog made it easy to overexpose the fog, almost like you dropped a sheet behind the person.

T&T: Let's talk about Kickstarter. So many artists of all kinds think about using this site or other backing sites like Indiegogo to fund their projects.
  • When did you decide this was a good way to go?
  •  What did you learn were the pros and cons of using this site?
  •  How surprised were you that you exceeded your goal? Are you using the excess funds for the gallery opening reception?

Play video below for Grant's Answers:

T&T: Since this interview is part of my Food Truck series, we'd better get to the Ditch Witch. This has been a beloved food truck institution with the surfers, locals and East Deck patrons for how
Grant at Outeast signing his book
long has it been, nearly 20 years?

GM: 19 years. 1994 was the first season, I was 3 years old.

T&T: Do you have plans for the 20th Anniversary?

GM: Not that I know of. (laughs)

T&T: This book and gallery opening would have been a great way to commemorate the anniversary, it's almost like it came a year too early.

GM: True. Well, we're on a 3 year lease now, so I don't know how long it's (Ditch Witch) gonna go for, so I wanted to get it done while I could.

T&T: That was my other question, how did your Mom ( Lily Adams) get such a prime location?

GM: Ditch has changed so much in the last 20 years, like any place there's constant changes to the cultural dynamics. This used to be a small family beach, there was Mr. Bolgetty,"Beef Stall John" down at the bathroom parking lot, he sold hot dogs, nachos, candy, more kid friendly stuff. My mom's idea for the Ditch Witch was to have a more substantial menu. Our spot was not originally a vending area, but she went to the town of East Hampton to petition it and they granted her the spot.

T&T: So she went to the town without consulting Alice (Houseknecht)? (The proprietor of The East Deck, as The Ditch Witch is located in its parking area).

GM: That's not East Deck property, where the wagon's on. That's East Hampton property; we do have a lease with the East Deck for electric and water, but my Mom & Alice are very close friends; since way before my Mom started Ditch Witch. We used to live like 5 houses apart. Alice's son and my sister went to school together. So they've been friends for a long time.

T&T: Was your Mom in food service before the food truck?

GM: She was a chef at some good restaurants in East Hampton, and a chef at The Dock in Montauk for maybe 10 years. But she likes home kinda food. She makes the best chili, we'll have veggie chili on the menu this weekend, it's so good. She started making health food wraps way before they got popular, at least 10 years ago. We still get people asking for the Thai Chicken Wrap.

T&T: Then why isn't it on the menu, can't you just offer it again?

GM: The system with the new menu is so refined now and such a good formula for how we do things, it would almost be like putting a wrench in the works. We had to change the menu because health laws changed, where you were no longer allowed to prepare food inside the truck. Everything had to be pre-done and brought on. We used to have all the ingredients in the truck for wraps and people could say I want a little of this or that; but the new laws changed all that; which is why we do the Panini now. We make them ahead, then just heat em on the press and they're going out. Originally even that wasn't allowed. It had to be cellophane wrapped from the fridge to the customer's hand, now it's a little more lenient.

GM cont: But we can serve more people now, at a faster pace and the food's still really good quality. I think the sandwiches are better.

3.5 Tines - Buffalo Chicken Wrap - loved the crunch of the chopped celery

T&T: But to prepare so much ahead means getting up really early?

GM: My dad retired from working construction, and he's become the prep guy, now he makes all the sandwiches. Mom used to have to get up at 4 in the morning to prep, but now Dad starts around 8am, so she can get up a little later. He's also baking all the cookies.

T&T: He's begun a whole new second career, huh?

GM: Yeah, people can't believe it.

T&T: What's the most popular item sold at Ditch Witch?

GM: Probably coffee.

T&T: Really?

GM: Yeah, there's an intro in the book "We sell oceans of coffee". It's kinda true, non-stop how much coffee we sell, especially on the weekends.

T&T: Is it a local bean company?

GM: Hampton Coffee Company in Bridgehampton. They fresh roast everything and bring it out to us. It's a nice Costa Rican brew.

T&T: Will you name some famous people you've had come up to the truck? When we were here last year we ate breakfast with John Slattery from Mad Men.

GM: That's kinda how the idea for the book came about, with all these random famous people coming to the truck. Jimmy Buffet has a tab. There's a Lou Reed sandwich, he ordered egg and tomato with no bread, so now that's called the Lou Reed. Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Christopher Walken, that was the one where my Mom freaked out! Julian Schnabel, he lives right up the road. He's done a lot for me, he's critiqued my work multiple times. There's been more...

T&T: I read your bio where you said you were practically raised by the lifeguards, hanging out at Ditch Plains while your mom worked the truck; but when she started expecting you to work the Ditch Witch during your summers, were there times you felt resentful?

GM: I was stocking coolers before I was 12 and getting on my bike to run to the store for cheese or something. At first it was just after hours stocking, but then I became the on call guy. I was allowed to hang out behind the wagon, and bring my surf board, so when it would get slow I'd say "Mom, there's no one here, can I go surf?". The first summer when I was actually working in the wagon with a schedule, that was hard. I remember my friends weren't working yet, and were all running around. But now I don't care. I can surf before work. The wagon's back window looks right at the surf, so my phone's going off all day long with "How's it look now?, "How's it look now?" Everyone calling me for surf reports. When I don't wake up early, and the waves are good during the day, but the wake blew it out by the time I get off work, that is still hard.

T&T: Since this is a Film and Food blog, gotta ask you your favorite movie genre and favorite
movie of that genre.

GM: If we're talking real movies, not surf movies, I'd say comedies. I love Tommy Boy.

Grant w/ mini Grant
Diane at Outeast
Me at Outeast
Outeast Memorial Weekend Crowd

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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