The Lab Street Eats combines street art, family and food for a unique dining experience

By Taylor Pace

Kitchener's Mike Gatto has always dreamed of opening a food truck, but figured that’s all it was: a dream. 

But in August, that dream became a reality when he and his wife opened their first food truck, The Lab Street Eats. 

In terms of food, they offer “a little bit of everything,” ranging from barbecue and southern influences like brisket and fried chicken, to tacos or burgers and fries. 

“One of the reasons we named it the lab was it just gives us the ability to try new things and not be confined to one type of cuisine,” he said. “So it's all the stuff we love to eat. And we love watching other people eat it just as much.”

Their first food truck proved to be a resounding success, and they are already expanding to a second food truck and a brick and mortar location. 

The restaurant, The Lab Street Eatery, will offer dine-in and takeout, but Gatto says the “vibe will be very different” from what people are used to in sit-down restaurants. 

“It will be a reflection of us and the things we like, and it'll be bright. The best way to explain is that there'll be a lot of food truck food in a restaurant,” he said.

The name also stems from Gatto’s love of hip hop and street art. 

“I'm born and raised in Kitchener, and there is quite a dominant street art/graffiti/hip hop scene in Kitchener that I’ve always loved and wanted to kind of bring into the restaurant design,” he said. “And so the lab is actually an old Hip Hop term that represented the studios where the music was made. And between the lab hip hop reference and the laboratory, mad scientist kind of vibe, we were able to put together quite a cool concept and the art on the food truck kind of speaks to that.

“We had local street artists do all that stuff. So we just wanted to incorporate all kinds of things local to Kitchener-Waterloo,” he said. “I don't think you will see a lot of the street art vibe when it comes to restaurants in the city, there is the Graffiti Market, which was a big inspiration for us. But you don't see a lot of that.” 

Gatto said what makes them unique, besides this street art element, is that they are family run. “One of the reasons we did this was to be a part of the community and stay true to the things we love,” he said.

Though they dabbled in catering a few years ago, opening the food trucks and the restaurant is their first big food venture. 

Gatto spent 17 years working in pharmacy retail, but he and his wife were looking for a change. 

“We've always had a passion for food, barbecue and the community that it creates. And there was a very quick conversation; my wife asked ‘what do you want to do?’ and I said I think I want to buy a food truck. And she said, “So buy a food truck.’”

In terms of opening two food trucks and a restaurant during a pandemic, Gatto said some people have called them brave, others stupid, but for them, the timing was perfect. 

“I think that people are starting to want normalcy back in their lives, and you're starting to see some more action and more people going out. So for us, I think the timing couldn't be better. I think we're coming to the tail end of this. And once this does end, I think it'll be a great opportunity for businesses to start booming again and start getting back to normal.”

The Lab Street Eatery is set to open early December. 

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