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V's Grinders owner dreamed-up a business Mendenhall Valley food truck opened after 9 years of plans

By RUSSELL STIGALL

Posted: June 29, 2012 - 12:07am  |  Updated: June 29, 2012 - 10:08am

Venietia Mary Aurora Elizabeth Santana took the plunge. After nine years batting an idea around in her head and with her friends, Santana has opened the comfort-food sandwich shop she’s for years believed Juneau needed.

Juneau has been Santana’s home for 15 years. During that time she has worked at the Juneau Job Center and in the hospitality and restaurant industry in Juneau — the Prospector Hotel and T.J. Maguires, the Baranof Hotel, the former Penthouse and the former Hoochies, now Marlintini’s Lounge. She now owns an online travel agency, runs her grinder truck and works at the Job Center.

Santana said she originally hails from the East Coast.

“So I’m a grinder junkie,” Santana said.

Born and raised in Connecticut, Santana has family on the East Coast, New York, she said.

”And everybody there gets a grinder,” Santana said. “I’ve been (in Juneau) 15 years and no one makes a sandwich that I’m used to. I want to serve the locals. We need a little more options, a little more choices.”

V’s menu shows extra touches like fresh-each-day pesto aioli on her grinders, no mayonnaise, and havarti and provolone cheeses instead of yellow American cheese, she said.

“It is important to me that nothing is pre-bought sliced, done,” Santana said. “Our meatballs aren’t just beef, they’re veal, pork and beef. It’s just important that we have the little extras.”

Santana riffs off the traditional grinder style of ham or turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo, she said.

“I just want to take it that extra step,” Santana said. “We are a little twisted, but we’re fun.”

Santana built a grinder called the “Hot Mamma” with hot Italian sausage and Parmesan cheese or the “Zeppelin” with ham, turkey, hard salami and pesto aioli.

Her bread, Santana said, must be hard, but soft. Hard crust on the outside and soft in the middle. She said it needs to be sturdy enough to get a miner out to Greens Creek or Kensington and not end up soggy when it’s time to eat. She said she orders from several vendors in town to meet her specific demands for ingredients.

V’s is also “home of tacos al pastor,” a traditional-style taco she learned to make from her former in-laws in Mexico. Warm corn tortillas filled with sweet, spicy — but not hot — marinated pork, sauce, onions and a nice dose of cilantro. Squeeze a lime over the plate and dig in.

A customer told Santana about the tacos — “I’ve never tried heroin, this is going to be my heroin.”

The truck opens at 4 a.m. on weekdays. Grinders at 4 a.m.? Yes. Santana’s Breakfast Bomber grinder comes with bacon, egg, havarti cheese and grilled onions — add pork taco meat for an extra dollar.

All orders can double the meat for $3.

V’s Grinders almost didn’t happen, Santana said. Though the idea rattled around in her head for almost a decade, when it came time for action, she ran up against her own self doubts and the complicated process of permitting a food truck in Juneau, she said.

“If it wasn’t for friends and family here,” Santana said, she wouldn’t have realized her dream.

When she found a used food truck for sale in Sitka, Santana said she balked at making such a large investment.

A friend stepped in, bought the truck and leased it to her for a good rate, she said.

Her friend told her “you’ve got to do this,” Santana said.

“Back East, you get all your best food from trucks,” Santana said. “They have truck roundups,” she said, where a dozen or so trucks serving different ethnic food park in the same area with music, lights and outdoor seating. Juneau might embrace more streetside vendors, she said.

Now that her first truck is up and running, Santana can start thinking about what comes next.

“I want to start up three trucks in five years,” Santana said.

Santana said customer service is important to her and her employees.

“I’ve seen people eat mediocre food for good customer service,” Santana said. “How cool would it be to get great food with great customer service?”

Customers can listen for the motto in the truck, “teamwork makes the dream work.” And maybe even a bit of singing from Grinder’s employee Erin Free.

"I'm like 'sing it sister,'" Santana said. “She is amazing,” Santana said about Free's voice, creativity and work ethic. “Best employee in the word, and no one can have her,” Santana said to potential headhunters.

V’s will also deliver its fare around town. Order by 10:30 a.m., and live or work along Santana’s route, and have a grinder delivered for lunch — credit cards accepted upon delivery. The route starts at Professional Plaza in the Mendenhall Valley at 11:30 a.m., then proceeds to Lemon Creek, then downtown to the State Office Building and the Alaska Office Building by about 12:30 p.m.

“Give or take 10 minutes,” Santana said.

V’s Grinders is open 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. It’s closed Sunday.

For orders or delivery, call 723-4452 or visit www.vsgrinders.com. Delivery orders must be placed by 10:30 a.m.

Visit V's Grinders on Facebook to learn about specials and deals including a discount for reciting the saying of the day.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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