His day began at 4 a.m.
It was an early morning working the food truck, which was chosen to promote the new Fox show “Brooklyn 9-9.” Working two jobs a day for the past week can get exhausting, but Daniel Pennachietti keeps pushing through for Lil Dan’s.
“We’ve been growing, we’ve been swamped. I don’t have time to breathe,” Pennachietti said. “It’s been great.”
The idea began when Pennachietti wanted to start a business in honor of his son, Daniel Jr., who passed away in 2005.
Pennachietti’s brother recommended they start a food truck. He was hesitant at first, but after some researching to see how popular the trucks were on the West Coast, Pennachietti went for it in 2009. The business began with catering and in March 2010 the truck formally opened.
He is typically found at LOVE Park or in University City, which is one of his favorite spots.
“We’ve just been going ever since,” Pennachietti said.
Lil Dan’s close-knit family inspires much of the business. Pennachietti was born and raised in Philadelphia in both Fishtown and South Philadelphia. His grandparents came from Italy.
“I grew up with South Philly food. I love Tony Luke’s and John’s [Roast Pork],” Pennachietti said.
The recipes Pennachietti’s grandmother made influenced the menu of Lil Dan’s.
“My work ethic, all my inspiration comes from her,” he said. “I want people who come to my truck to connect and make them feel like family.”
Many of the sandwiches on the menu are similar to what is served at the table in Pennachietti’s home. Chicken cutlets are served with almost every meal, and he has taken that tradition to his truck. Pennachietti said the chicken is cut fresh and breaded every morning with a homemade breading. It’s featured on sandwiches “The Godfather,” “The Don” and “The Slick Nick.” Not only are the recipes inspired by family, the names of each are as well.
All of the sandwiches are made with homemade ingredients and served on Amoroso rolls.
One of the truck’s most popular sandwiches, “The Godfather,” is named after Pennachietti’s grandfather. This sandwich features the breaded chicken cutlet, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, aged provolone cheese and bacon.
Other sandwiches inspired by family include “The Pauly,” named after his wife, which has thinly sliced Italian roast pork, broccoli rabe or spinach, roasted peppers, aged provolone cheese and two fried eggs, “The Brookter,” named after his daughter, that includes breaded eggplant with spinach or broccoli rabe, roasted peppers, and provolone cheese and “The Slick Nick,” named after his son, featuring a breaded chicken cutlet, spinach or broccoli rabe and aged provolone cheese.
Branching out a bit from family tradition, Pennachietti came up with a sandwich named after the truck itself, “The Lil Dan.”
As a creation out of lack of sleep one night, he experimented with a new breading on his chicken cutlet. What he came up with was using a sweeter idea than bread crumbs. He used golden Oreos. The dish is simple, with lettuce and tomato, and the sweet breading is offset with a house made spicy sauce.
Another signature item includes the “Godfather Challenge.” Created by Pennachietti after a cold morning in the truck listening to a radio broadcast of the Wing Bowl, the challenge became a 2-foot roll with eight chicken cutlets and the traditional toppings of “The Godfather.” No one in the family could finish the challenge, but he decided to offer it to customers. The first to try had set a date and brought friends along to cheer him on. However, even he fell a bit short of finishing the whole sandwich. A video of the attempt can be viewed on Lil Dan’s website.
With the nature of a food truck, Pennachietti stops at different locations throughout the city to serve. He said he enjoys visiting campuses and hopes to make an impression with his food that will last.
“I hope that some guy 20 to 30 years from now is talking about his experience at the truck,” he said.
Locations of the day can be found through Lil Dan’s website and social media accounts.
Sarae Gdovin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.