(Photos by Sam Adams Photography) Denver is no stranger to the street food culture trend that has taken over cities across the country. Simple, delicious food that’s accessible without the frills and costs of a sit-down restaurant appeals to the lifestyles and wallets of American 20 and 30-somethings in particular. In Denver, the food truck is king of the street food world. More food trucks hit the pavement every year because you can have a food service business with far fewer start up costs and lower overhead than a brick-and-mortar store.
During a casual brainstorming session with a friend, Denver resident and biker Elaine Lai decided that she would join the street food movement with an unusual twist: a rickshaw. Even starting a food truck can cost around $50,000 but she cooked up the idea to build a rickshaw instead. These human-powered transportation vehicles can pull people (like the pedicabs you see around town, driven by people like June Bike Hero, Tiffany Rice) or cargo. She found some friendly welders to construct her rickshaw from scratch and Dumpling Love was born! She serves pork, chicken and vegetarian dumplings that she cooks right there on her rickshaw. This is something that makes Elaine especially unique. There are a number of food vendors in town that “pedal” their wares but none of them actively run a kitchen on their bikes, like Elaine does. In fact, she says she’s only heard of a handful of bike food vendors with on-board kitchens nationwide. There may be a reason for that. Because of the equipment and the heavy metals used in the process of building up her rickshaw, the whole thing weighs almost 600 pounds! Elaine laughs as she explains that she rides about one-mile-an-hour and never goes very far. She’s even had random people on the street come to her aid by pushing her up and over small inclines. She admits that this –as well as the occasional breakdown – is her biggest obstacle, but this committed bike lover is ready for the challenge.
You can most often find Elaine at music and art events, because they’re busy and she gets to enjoy the show, too! It seemed to be hard for her to narrow it down, but she decided that the Underground Music showcase was her most successful event so far. While music gigs are her favorite, BikeDenver first met her at the 2012 Bike From Work Bash, so you’re likely to find her at many of Denver’s hottest bike events as well. She started business at the end of May and has kept busy and had fun meeting interesting people around town. During a recent night serving up her dumplings and limeades at First Friday Arts Festival on Santa Fe she met a young woman who would write poems for people on her portable typewriter. Intrigued, Elaine traded dumplings for a poem about dumplings and love, pictured here and on her Facebookpage. This kind of experience is not rare. She loves this work because her rickshaw opens up a conversation everywhere she goes. Her day job as an ecologist working on water quality is very solitary and quiet, so this explosion of social interaction is a welcome change of pace. She appreciates the opportunity to engage with her community while she serves them tasty dumplings by bike. BikeDenver is happy to name Elaine our August Bike Hero for her bubbly contribution to the ever-evolving bike community right here in Denver. Congratulations and thank you, Elaine!
Bike Hero of the Month Awards highlight different people each month, and help encourage other people to bike by telling the Hero’s personal story. The goal of the Bike Hero Awards Program is to showcase the diversity of citizen-cyclists and the people who support them in Denver.
BikeDenver’s Executive Director Piep van Heuven says: “We introduced the Bike Hero awards because we want to encourage a friendly environment for and public image of bicyclists in Denver. One of the ways we can do this is to showcase the different faces of and great stories about people in our community, like Chris, who ride bikes or help others get out there and ride. Through the Bike Hero awards, BikeDenver honors bicyclists of all ages and walks of life, from the first time bicyclist to the rain or shine bicyclist! We all know people (our neighbors, co-workers, family members or community leaders) who inspire us to reach for the handlebars instead of the car keys. Take a moment to look around you and help BikeDenver recognize the people in our community who are making a difference for Denver, one ride at a time!”
To nominate a Bike Hero, please send a photo and a brief description of why you think they should be recognized (100 words or less) to info(at)bikedenver.org.
We started naming Bike Heroes in 2010. Meet past honorees here:
Bicycle Village has been a Colorado owned and operated business for more than 30 years. From modest beginnings in an 1800 square ft. building in West Denver, Bicycle Village has grown into the largest bicycle retailer in the Rockies. www.bicyclevillage.com
BikeDenver is Denver’s bicycle advocacy organization. BikeDenver promotes and encourages bicycling in and around Denver and works to make Denver a better place to ride your bike for fun, recreation and transportation. Why? Because it’s healthy for you, and healthy for Denver. www.bikedenver.org