Last week Eater reported Linger and Root Down chef Justin Cucci's plans to crane-lift the future Linger food truck on top of Linger restaurant. This mind-boggling idea does have a backstory, which dates back a couple years ago when Cucci fantasized about hitting the road for a couple of months in an RV. While his RV dreams were put on hold when he opened Linger, he still managed to buy his first RV. It wasn't long before Cucci bought his second RV, followed by a third. Within a short amount of time Cucci had an RV collection (one of many collections) and a wild idea to push boundaries in the food truck world. Cucci can do the rest of the talking though.
So explain your RV collection.
At one point I did have three of the same RV. Identical RVs, just different colors and conditions. One is still in storage and I sold the other one on eBay because I was completely disappointed with it. Now I have two, and one is going on the roof. It's a very cool GMC RV. It looks like it's a space-age design even though it's from the 70s, so it's kind of a funny juxtaposition. The next thing is to move the RV on top of the roof, outfit it with a kitchen and sell food. It will be an all-day thing and it will serve atleast half of the menu. We're even thinking of cutting the RV in half and making half of it a kitchen and the other half a bar. How crazy would that be? That should hopefully be done by April.
What other collections do you have?
Pretty much stuff that's completely useless and without any clear direction of what to use it for. At Root Down and here [Linger] it became about collecting stuff and waiting for the opportunity to use it. Recently I bought a couple thousand yardsticks. I mean, who in their right mind would want yardsticks? But the guy was selling them and it was a really good deal. I'll find a place to use two or three thousand yardsticks. I also bought 500 transistor radios. On eBay I bought about 800 radio tubes for a really good deal. They're so cool because they have this really industrial design with chrome, glass and a little filament. I have about 30 stoplights, but I still don't know what I'm using those for. It's all crap until it goes into use.
So how do you find these things? What made you search for yardsticks?
People kind of know now that I have this thing for collecting crap, so they call me. The guy who called me was the same guy that sold me all of the boxcar floor [for Linger], which was used for all of our tables, the bar, the bar floor and our platform. So he knows that since I bought 5,000 square feet of boxcar floor from the 1940s that I might be a good sucker bet for 2,000 yardsticks. So they call me in, and then when I'm looking at it I'm thinking, "This is too good of an opportunity to pass up."
Do you think this is hoarding?
I think if I was emotionally attached it would be. Luckily it's more of a business-creative decision. It is hoarding, in a way, but it's hoarding in storage units and not in my house. That's how I get away with it.
Are there any collectibles you're currently searching for?
I'm more opportunistic. I never really search for something. I like to say I let it find me. On eBay I'll search for one thing and 90 percent of the time it's never what I end up buying. Before I know it I'm in this eBay labyrinth. It's like a Dungeons & Dragons labyrinth of shopping in the biggest catalog on earth. Eventually you end up in some weird cavern with a guy who has one arm and a patch who's selling pool balls by the garbage can-full, and I'm like, "I'll take it." Finding your way out is kind of hard. It's a weird thing that usually happens late at night when I'm done here [at work]. I go on a journey finding cool shit.
So when do you have time for this?
It's usually late at night. My girlfriend and my daughter go to bed early, so by the time I get home it's a quiet house. I'm usually alive from the night, so I'll put on some headphones and kill some time. I'm either looking on eBay or craigslist, but craigslists is even seedier. After I go to criagslist I take a shower. You have to. Craigslist is a strange side of the planet.
So you also collect soy sauce, yes?
Yea, I do. I've definitely bought tons of soy sauce. Honestly, at some point, I had to bring some of the bottles to work. When I go to the Asian stores it's a culture that's not mine, so I'm drawn. Look at that soy sauce! Look at that lable! Look at that writing! look at that lid! I fall for all their great designs. I have way too many to even break into, but I have tasted them all, and there are definitely nuances.
When people come into your restaurants, what kind of collected items are they going to notice aside from the tables? I got all of the wallpaper on eBay and it's from 1969/1970. It was brand new and in rolls, but it's all super old. All of the light fixtures are off of eBay or craigslist. The Lite-Bright bar was a matter of buying a bunch of Lite-Brights. I bought about 50,000 little pieces. Again, when I bought them I had no idea where they were going to go, I just thought they were really cool and kitschy. Originally they were going to go on the face of the bar, but that didn't really work out, so in the end we just did a big swatch of the bar. I still have about 20,000 pieces left over. Most people who do restaurants have a a full set of plans — a door schedule, a window schedule, a furniture schedule, a bar schedule — we just have a drawing of what the building should look like and then everything else is improvised as we good. It's basically trying to juxtapose things in certain places in hopes that they work.
Have you always had an eye for design? Where do you get these ideas?
You know, I love intelligent design. A human's first reaction to somethings is emotional, so I kind of look at design that way. What can I be emotionally stimulated by? Lite-Bright is something we've all sort of connected to, so that was kind of easy. Coming from New York, it's all over the place and it's not a theme. It's completely opportunistic, sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional. I love all those facets of design. I hate when someone brings a design board or color scheme and tries to pitch a look. You can see that in a lot of restaurants. The designer picks everything, the restaurant owner approves it and then the company comes in and just does their thing. To me that doesn't communicate any story or any character of the owner, which is what I think a restaurant should be.
Do you find that you have similar habits in the kitchen, in terms of feeling mused?
Totally. I never went to culinary school so I totally bastardize ideas, concepts and food. I worked in a kitchen where there was a French chef and I learned atleast a vocabulary. When you focus on French pairings or Italian dishes, that's exclusive and not inclusive. The whole philosophy with the staff, the food and the design is that there are a lot of diverse elements. It's of course challenging, and sometimes we fail trying to put it all together, but as the process goes on we get better at it. I think the philosophy definitely reflects in our menu. It's all over the place, but I think it's kind of cohesive. To me it's all about celebrating diversity in design, diversity in food and diversity in staff. That's the main mantra that's either running subconsciously or consciously in my mind when approaching anything in a restaurant.