Early mornings usually start right around noon for Olivia Binek, an island transplant from Poland who bartended her way to her current, modern day girl boss status. Her food truck The Raw Machine is open six days a week and she works the graveyard shift at a local bar three days a week, which leaves little time for anything else. If she’s lucky she’ll get a few hours of sleep in between, but that isn’t the case momentarily.
“It’s tough. I don’t sleep,” she sighs. “I thought once I started my business I would stop bartending, but that’s how I was able to pay for the camper in the first place.”
There is no dedicated tourism on Stock Island. Nobody waits in lines to see sixtoed cats or to take a photograph of themselves in front of a painted concrete buoy. It is a completely unique experience that, some would say, is more authentic. Stock Island has lived in the shadow of Key West for a long time and many people like it that way. But what keeps people out is also what is bringing people in.
Now that it is getting harder and harder for go-getters to make a living in the close proximity of Duval Street, savvy entrepreneurs like Binek are starting to take notice of the less-crowded conditions of its distant neighbor — even if it means opening a business on a side street that feels nearly deserted except for the occasional ebb and flow of customers driving through the Roostica parking lot next door.
When I step out of the car to meet her, I can feel the dust of Stock Island settle around me. It’s gray and it’s hazy, but then all of the sudden the air clears and there is this beautiful 1976 Argosy Airstream made to look new again and I can’t take my eyes off of it. She wears a coat of sky blue and eggshell and stretches out to 26 feet in length. She looks like something straight out of a Travel & Leisure magazine. By the time this article reaches the stands, the location of The Raw Machine will have moved to the front of Maloney Avenue, where everyone driving in toward Key West can see her, but even in her current location she is impossible to miss.
“This was a good location to learn,” Binek says. “With a food truck, you do everything yourself and you need to learn how to work in the space. Now I really know what people want.”
The Raw Machine’s menu is actually what the name suggests and includes a small but nourishing vegan and vegetarian selection of good-for-you fare that is unprocessed and organic. Except when her only employee is there on the days that she is at her other job until sunrise, Binek makes most of the food herself — from the cheeses to the milks and the dressings.
She really enjoys using a variety of superfoods, including chia seeds, flax, hemp and turmeric as much as she can. Her most popular dishes are the peanut butter bowl, made with peanut butter, banana, cocoa powder, chia seeds, cocoa nibs, coconut flakes and fresh fruit and the avocado egg toast with onion, lemon and alfalfa sprouts. I order the Mediterranean with arugula, homemade sun-dried tomato walnut pesto, fresh basil and goat cheese on a coconut wrap.
“I love to prepare the food. It’s like my Zen, my therapy. It makes me happy,” Binek smiles. “I love seeing people’s reactions when they really like it!”
About a year and a half ago, Binek noticed that her energy level was low and that her skin had broken out. After consulting with a doctor back home, he told her that it was possible she was taking in way too many toxins. He advised trying out a diet that was all natural to see if it made a difference — and it did.
“I really made a lot of changes and mostly eat raw veggies,” Binek tells me. “My skin is glowing and I feel better. But there are not a lot of places you can go for healthy food. It is so important to eat well.”
Once she had the idea in her head to provide nourishment to the masses, Binek enrolled in a raw food course in Miami and started budgeting her savings to buy the Airstream. It took five months for a custom build out in Orlando and, when it was finished, Binek then had to learn how to navigate the roads while towing a trailer the size of a tiny house behind her for eight hours.
Still, she made it back safe and sound and has since survived on this dusty side street for the first six months since opening The Raw Machine. She seems determined to find the happy medium between success and doing good by giving power to the people by offering them a better choice. The fact that she is one of the first to find a niche in an up-and-coming investment opportunity already says a lot about the brains on the blonde. I hope for her that it is only a matter of time before her hard work pays off and she can take some time to go on that vacation she wistfully mentioned.
“You should go to Indonesia,” I suggest. “The colors of the food truck and the food itself remind me of what I loved about Bali — and that’s a compliment.”
The Raw Machine is open Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. serving both breakfast and lunch take-out and delivery. You can view the menu at www.therawmachine.org. ¦