Lil Trent’s Grille serves community, students

Trent Middleton has been running his own food businesses since 1998.

Customers wait outside Lil Trent’s Grille, a food truck at Broad and Master streets, on Wednesday. The truck moved from West Philadelphia last month. | CHIA YU LIAO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As a child in Philadelphia’s Francisville neighborhood, Trent Middleton remembers the joy of running to buy water ice from his friend’s grandmother on her stoop in the summer.

“They sold water ice, they sold pretzels, they sold penny candies and nickel candies, things like that,” Middleton said. “And just as a kid you always have those memories.”

When Middleton grew older, he realized he could provide other people with those same experiences. After working in food service for more than a decade, Middleton opened Lil Trent’s Grille in 2012.

Last month, the five-year-old food truck moved from North 48th Street and Haverford Avenue to Broad and Master streets near the Temple Sports Complex. Middleton said Lil Trent’s is currently on the waiting list for a spot on Main Campus.

Lil Trent’s serves dishes like cheesesteaks, jumbo burgers, garlic parmesan wings and fries, as well as breakfast items like egg sandwiches and muffins. During the summer, the truck rebrands as “Lil Trent’s Treats” and serves water ice.

After vending near Main Campus from Monday through Friday, the truck travels to festivals and events around the city on weekends. Over the last five years, they have catered the Roots Picnic, the Wawa Welcome America July 4th celebration and five Made In America festivals.

Middleton started working in the food industry during the mid-1990s, when he rented a truck and sold water ice for the Philadelphia-based company Morrone’s Water Ice.

In 1998, Middleton signed a 10-year contract to run a franchise location of Rita’s Italian Ice at a storefront in Camden, New Jersey. After the contract expired, he chose not to renew it and started Lil Trent’s Treats, an ice cream store in the same location.

Middleton bought a truck in 2012 and expanded his menu to include food like sandwiches, making Lil Trent’s a mobile business.

Kaleb Flores, a 21-year-old cook at Lil Trent’s, recently found his job through Leno Quattlebaum, his neighbor who has worked with Middleton since 1999.    

During his first week of work, Flores, who joined the team just two weeks ago, added a new tangy ingredient to the garlic parmesan wings. Flores said that contribution made him feel like part of the team.

“[My special ingredient] was just something I could put toward the food truck not just coming and making the food and helping out, but something I can put my name on,” Flores said.

To Flores’ delight, customers have ordered the wings every day since then.

While Lil Trent’s serves mostly comfort food, the business has recently added more nutritious options, like a grilled salmon cheesesteak roll topped with sautéed vegetables, to accommodate the student-athletes coming to and from practices at the nearby Temple Sports Complex.

But Emma Wilkins, an undecided freshman in the College of Public Health and member of the women’s soccer team, said she actually gravitates toward the unhealthier options.

“After a long practice, I’m sure I’ll feel like rewarding myself with a cheesesteak,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins added that she thinks the presence of Lil Trent’s may increase game attendance.

In addition to student-athletes and coaches, many customers of Lil Trent’s work at the nearby Columbia North YMCA and Leon H. Sullivan Human Services Center, a nonprofit providing a variety of social and human services.

“I like that it’s here,” said Donna Maragh, an employee at the center. “Before, our only options were to order and have it delivered, which if you’re hungry right now, is kind of difficult to just gauge, to push it forward like an hour because they have to make it and bring it to you.”

But Quattlebaum, who often manages the truck, said Lil Trent’s “core support” comes from neighborhood customers.

Maseo McDaniels, who lives on 15th Street near Girard Avenue and is a longtime customer of Lil Trent’s West Philadelphia location, said he buys food from the truck two to three times per week.

“[Middleton has] grown tremendously,” McDaniels said. “He caters to his food, to quality and freshness and he cares about if stuff is prepared well.”

After moving to Main Campus, Middleton said he hopes to expand by purchasing more trucks and eventually opening a brick-and-mortar shop in North Philadelphia.

“We want to be entrepreneurs, we want to be kind of free spirited, we want to be great examples,” Middleton said.

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