Falafels Are Foxy, Fun and Fabulous!

Minnesota isn’t exactly known as a falafel lover’s paradise, but if Erica Strait keeps doing her thing, the Land of 10,000 Lakes could quickly become the Land of Falafel. Strait is the 30-year-old chef-turned-entrepreneur behind Foxy Falafel, one of the Twin Cities’ newest street-food sensations.  In her first year on the scene, she’s managed to garner a devoted following of falafel fanatics at the farmers markets and special events she frequents. And I’m spending a couple days with Strait, serving up falafel sandwiches to get a glimpse at what goes into putting her falafel stand on the map. 

Market Day
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and Strait is slated to be at Kingfield Farmers Market, peddling her signature green falafel. When I arrive at the market at 8 a.m., Strait is putting the final touches on her vibrant green-and-yellow-themed falafel stand. She and I are already acquainted, having spent the past Thursday together, prepping falafel mix, hummus, pickled veggies, sauces, and her wildly popular “Foxy Bucha” – the kombucha she brews – for this weekend’s markets. 

Strait instructs me to put on one of her hip Foxy Falafel t-shirts, then smiles and exclaims, “I’m gonna put you to work today!” I laugh and sort through the box of shirts to find my size, as she hands me a sabich – a mouthwatering Israeli sandwich made with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, and a pickled mango amba sauce – for breakfast. In a matter of minutes I polish it off, just in time for our first customer of the day, a woman who wants one of Foxy’s signature pedal-powered organic smoothies. Strait got the idea to attach a blender to a stationary bike and allow her customers to blend their own smoothies while pedaling ferociously. The smoothie bike has become the hit of the Kingfield Market, as market-goers of all ages love to get a little exercise while churning out their own fruity treat.

Within an hour, Strait and I are prepping sandwiches for the lunch rush, while serving morning customers who have no qualms with eating a falafel sandwich for breakfast. As we quickly slop her signature hummus – a garlic and tahini dream mixed with the organic chickpeas that she sprouts herself – into pita pockets and toss in seasoned cabbage, she yells out, “It’s gonna get wild today!”  Indeed, it is. By 10:30 a.m., a line of chickpea-loving South Minneapolitans has formed and people are excitedly decorating their sandwiches with Foxy’s pickled condiments – swiss chard stems, onion, and daikon radish – and signature sauces like cucumber yogurt, green tahini, and spicy harissa. Customers eagerly wait to try the blueberry kombucha, this week’s new flavor. People who don’t feel like pedaling their own smoothies put me at the helm of the blender bike. A crowd of captivated onlookers forms as I pedal.  When I finish, Strait yells, “Woo hoo! A smoothie!” and I ring the bike’s bell a couple times, to ham it up for the crowd a little more. 

After the customers have devoured their falafel, many stop by to share stories of how they look forward to getting their falafel fix every Sunday. Many ask her to find a permanent space, so they can eat Foxy’s falafel through the winter months. While Strait seems accustomed to these kinds of compliments, she’s genuinely appreciative to hear them. One guy passes by the stand and says, “The last time I had falafel that tasty, I was in Lebanon!” While I’ve tasted the falafel and am well aware of how delicious it is, I find myself surprised by such flattery. And it just keeps coming. Other customers refer to Strait as “Foxy,” a common nickname for her these days. She tells me she didn’t foresee the Foxy moniker when she chose the name for her business, but I reason that being called “Foxy” by a bunch of strangers probably helps to put a little pep in her step on the tiresome market days.

Before I know it, it’s 1:00 and the market has officially ended, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to order last-minute falafel sandwiches. We oblige them as we begin to pack up. Strait rolls up in her car and attached trailer, and we get to work loading everything up. Finally, she hoists the blender bike onto her portable bike rack and gets ready to head off to Uptown Market, her second market of the day. I stand and watch as she pulls away in her car/bike rack/trailer, thinking about how her three-piece set-up looks a little like a parade float, and smiling at the lengths she goes to to ensure that her falafel gets into the hands of her adoring customers.

Life Before Chickpeas
Strait grew up on her family’s farm in rural South Dakota and, very early on, came to understand her connection with food. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of South Dakota, but was more drawn to the idea of working in food and nutrition. So at 23, she packed up her car and headed to the East Coast, to study holistic health counseling at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. The following year, she enrolled in the Natural Gourmet Institute, a culinary school that focuses on the connection between food and physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. 

After culinary school, Strait spent two years in New York City, cooking at a couple Middle Eastern restaurants under the wings of Einat Admony, New York City’s famed “Falafel Queen” who has been featured on several Food Network programs. After working her way up to Admony’s sous chef, Strait decided on a change of scenery and headed back to the Midwest. She decided to lay her roots in Minneapolis and spent three years growing her personal chef and catering business, Quality Intake, and cooking at Spoonriver. This past April, after some persuasion from her street-food friends, Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer of Chef Shack, Strait decided it was time to take her talents to the street.  Initially, she wondered how falafel would fare in the Twin Cities, but her chops for Middle Eastern cooking have proven that Minnesotans can be fans of more than just the Vikings. 

The Foxy Behind the Falafel
When I first e-mailed with Strait before meeting her, I noticed a Hippocrates quote at the bottom of her email: “The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings. Let food be your medicine.”  And, as we prepped and served food over the course of two days, I realized that this isn’t just her clever email signature, it’s also her mantra. In growing her business, she is clearly just as concerned about the well-being of her customers and the planet she lives on as she is about the deliciousness of her food.  Her belief that good food as the power to heal pervades everything she does.

When I asked Strait about her food philosophy, her answer was simple: “Eat as close to nature as possible. Local, organic, sustainable. You are what you eat. Be thankful for all those that made what you are eating possible – the farmers, the animals, the earth.” 

With the bulk of Foxy’s ingredients grown locally, organically, and sustainably, she is a chef on a holistic mission. She’s also natural teacher. And she’s using her Foxy platform to show people that good food – food that feeds our minds, bodies, and souls, food that doesn’t harm the planet – can also taste really good.  

You can find Foxy Falafel at the Northeast Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the Kingfield Farmers Market on Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and the Uptown Market on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Foxy Falafel also appears at a whole slew of special events around the Twin Cities. For more information, you can follow Foxy on Facebook and Twitter.



Sarah Rykal, by day, works as a sustainability coordinator for a small university in Wisconsin. And by night, she's a food-loving music geek who writes, hikes, gardens, and dabbles in documentary filmmaking. Her current obsessions include Swiss chard, guacamole, and any band with a banjo.