Nina-Maria Lara-Daniels and Armand Wilson are co-owners of Electronic Eats. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

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With its nebula-purple wrapping and mounted speakers declaring “Mortal Kombat!”, it’s immediately clear Electronic Eats is not your typical food truck.

Approach the window counter near the intersection of Broad and Spring Garden, and next to a menu listing pretzel sandwiches, loaded mac ‘n’ cheese, and “tacodillas,” you’ll notice a 55-inch TV screen. There are also two Xbox controllers — surprisingly pristine, given the truck’s hefty (or, in the owners’ words, “sloppy”) servings.

“We’re gamers, we’re filmmakers, and we love cooking,” co-owner Armand Wilson, 29, told Billy Penn.

“So why not combine all those passions into one uber creation?” added partner Nina-Maria Lara-Daniels, 33.

Background actors who met in 2016 on the set of CBS legal drama “Bull,” the couple have spent the past three years channeling their shared loves — and almost the entirety of their savings — into Electronic Eats. They call it the first “gaming food truck” in Philadelphia, where customers can enhance their meals with a few rounds of video games, free of extra charge.  

In addition to hosting several arcades’ worth of titles, the truck has a menu designed in the spirit of gaming, drawing inspiration from soul food, Latin cuisine, and local flavors. “Food that’s fun to eat, and also stimulates the senses,” Lara-Daniels explained.

It features four varieties of tacodillas (a fusion of exactly what it sounds like). Chicken cheesesteak has juicy cuts of maple-glazed meat bringing a summery sweetness to add-ons like onions, peppers, and American cheese. Shredded chipotle beef places tender strips into a bedding of cilantro, onions, and cheese. Each comes with housemade side sauces — salsa and sour cream for the beef, burger sauce for the chicken.

Tacodillas from Electronic Eats. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Then there’s the smash burger soft pretzel sandwich, which is so densely packed it demands setting your controller down to take a bite. The lightly smoky, delicately crumbly patty is topped with sauteed onions, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and burger sauce, all on a “bun” that’s surprisingly resilient against expected design flaws.

The hefty serving holds up impressively overall, especially considering it only came about when the couple decided to experiment after running out of bread. Today, a third of the truck’s menu is dedicated to variations of the sandwich. 

It’s emblematic of how the whole project, Wilson said, has been “a big leap of faith.”

New challenges enter the arena

The couple bought their truck in 2020, with the expectation that it would be ready in six months. Instead, it took two years, with Electronic Eats finally hitting the streets late last August.

Challenges started early. Their choice of vehicle, a former USPS van that had later served an apparently grueling tour of duty as a food truck, cost them $27k — but then required another $40k to revamp.

“We took it to the remodeler to ask if he could install a TV screen,” Lara-Daniels said, recalling driving the truck to Bensalem at its then maximum speed of 5 mph; still somehow fast enough for the stove to start sliding around in the back. “And he asked us if we wanted to not die [while driving it].”

Other struggles ensued: the initial quest to find a good spot, the move to find a better one with some (or any) degree of foot traffic, a broken key in the ignition resolved by a Mister Softee driver and his cousin, adjustments to the menu followed by outright overhauls. With initial business refusing to pick up throughout the winter months, Wilson even began offering free fries to anyone who could beat him in a round of Street Fighter.

Playing video games while you wait at Electronic Eats. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Both independent filmmakers, the couple captured several of their ordeals in an ongoing mini-documentary series called “Behind The Eats: A Food Truck Saga,” which offers a look into the life of a food truck owner, laying bare the “ups and downs, the fear, pain and pleasure of it all,” said Lara-Daniels.

“It’s been a struggle,” said Wilson, “but a fun struggle.”

The duo is building the Electronic Eats brand through their Twitch channel, which features blocks of original content interspersed with 90’s era commercials — an homage to the programming kids would watch on a Saturday morning over a bowl of cereal.

“People in our generation have an urge to go back to when times were simpler,” Wilson said, explaining the nostalgic leanings, “before adulthood screwed everything up.”

Showcasing young filmmakers and promoting job opportunities

While the partners continue to experiment with Electronic Eats’ regular menu — there is a tantalizing mention of a possible Dominican-style bánh mì — they’re working on a separate lineup of dishes, from coconut rice with pigeon peas to fried cheese, for their evolving catering service.

The truck’s regular location at Broad and Spring Garden is starting to be supplemented with appearances at local events, from food truck nights at Villanova to PHL Gaming 2023, the February gaming expo organized by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, a 38-year-old self-proclaimed gamer himself.

“[Gaming] is more than just picking up a controller and playing with your friends,” Thomas said a few days before the conference. “This is a multi-billion-dollar industry that can put young people in a position to change their lives, and the lives of their families.”

It’s a belief that’s central to the couple’s mission.

“Electronic Eats is 100% about the community,” said Wilson. “The point of this truck isn’t just food. It’s to [use] food, and gaming, and the arts, to bring people together.”

He shares Thomas’ faith in the potential laying dormant in Philadelphia’s disparate gaming communities and would like to help “elevate” the city into an East Coast gaming and tech hub. “There are a lot of gamers in separate corners of Philly,” Wilson said, “but they need something to bring them together, like the Avengers.”

More immediate plans include organizing events like gaming tournaments and “bounty hunts” — themed easter egg crawls around a location where the truck is set up.

Smashburger pretzel sandwich at Electronic Eats. (Ali Mohsen/Billy Penn)

Lara-Daniels, citing the lack of resources available for public school arts and film programs, said she’d like to see the truck become a bulletin board for art-related jobs and volunteer positions. It could also be a traveling showcase, she said, screening student films and serving as a platform for community events and performances. She has already reached out to the School District, a block south from the truck’s main location, with proposals for a collaboration.

Other than providing a stage for aspiring local talent, Lara-Daniels wants students to see “you can combine your passions with an economic endeavor.”

“If you think you have a unique idea, follow it,” said Wilson. “With a creative spin, anything is possible.”

Electronic Eats can be found at the intersection of Broad and Spring Garden 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Follow the latest updates on Instagram. For catering, contact 267-541-8747.

This story has been updated with a new name for the Electronic Eats mini-documentary series.

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Ali MohsenFood & Drink Reporter

Ali Mohsen is Billy Penn's food and drink reporter.