Paisani Co-Owners Matt Minichiello ’21 and Ryan Palmer ’20 Compete on Food Network Show

Two young men in T-shirts and caps pose for a photo in front of their food truck Image by Ed Brennen
Alumni Ryan Palmer '20, left, and Matt Minichiello '21, co-founders of the Paisani food truck, are competing on the upcoming season of the Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race."

By Ed Brennen

It’s almost noon on a recent Wednesday in downtown Boston, and mechanical engineering alum Matt Minichiello ’21 is working briskly on one of the most delicious assembly lines you’ll ever see.

As the lunchtime crowd starts to grow outside the window of Paisani, the Italian food truck that he and fellow UMass Lowell alum Ryan Palmer ’20 started last year, Minichiello races to keep up with orders for Drunken Parm, Caprese Melanzana and Sloppy Paisani sandwiches.

With the precision of an engineer, he slices open freshly baked rolls, ladling vodka sauce over chicken cutlets and topping crispy eggplant with mozzarella, honey-whipped ricotta and balsamic glaze.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s very fulfilling,” Minichiello says as hungry customers continue to gather in Dewey Square outside of South Station.

Their business is about to get a big boost: Minichiello and Palmer are competing on the upcoming season of the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” premiering June 18. On the show, which was filmed in Los Angeles earlier this year, nine food trucks from across the country take part in weekly challenges for a chance to win a $50,000 grand prize.
Contestants on The Great Food Truck Race TV show pose for a photo with the host in a city plaza Image by Food Network
Paisani is one of nine food trucks competing on the new season of "The Great Food Truck Race," which was filmed in Los Angeles.

“It’s crazy that we’ll be on national TV. Who would have thought?” says Palmer, who earned a business degree with concentrations in marketing and finance. “I cannot wait to relive the entire journey with family and friends.”

Paisani, which is a play on the Italian word paisan, meaning countryman or friend, opened for business last July. It was chosen for the show after Minichiello and Palmer were contacted by producers. While they can’t reveal details about the season, Minichiello can confirm that “it was a great experience — really challenging — and we got to meet a lot of cool people.” 

The food truck entrepreneurs met as first-year students living in Fox Hall. They bonded over a shared love of Italian cooking and were eventually serving up homemade meals to friends in their off-campus apartments. By their junior year, they decided they wanted to start a food business together.

Palmer had worked for several years at Salvatore’s, an Italian restaurant in his hometown of Medford, Massachusetts, where he says he “did everything — busing tables, serving, dish washing, cooking on the line, working as a host.” He knew from experience that it would take years to save enough money to start their own restaurant, so they began researching the food truck industry.
Three young men work in a food truck while customers wait outside in a plaza Image by Ed Brennen
Customers wait for their orders in Dewey Square while the Paisani crew work in the truck.

“We didn’t want to wait, so we decided a food truck was the most feasible way to jump into the business without breaking the bank,” Palmer says.

They raised capital and bought a 2011 Freightliner food truck that had been outfitted with a brand-new kitchen. Then came the speed bumps. First, they had to sink almost $5,000 into a new generator. Then, they had to learn how to navigate the city of Boston’s daunting permitting process.

“Boston is one of the hardest places to start a food truck business. We definitely learned that the hard way,” Palmer says.

“I did hundreds of hours of research on food trucks and starting a business, but there are so many things that we needed to just do to figure out,” Minichiello adds. “I learn something new every day.”

Once the truck was ready to roll, they secured lunchtime spots (from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at food truck parks in Boston: Tuesdays at Rowes Wharf and Wednesdays and Thursdays at Dewey Square, where they serve as many as 200 customers daily. On Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the SoWa Open Market in the South End, Palmer says they do “five times” their weekday business. They also visit local breweries and do catering.

Because food cannot be prepped on the truck, they reached a kitchen-sharing agreement with Salvatore’s. Minichiello, who lives in his hometown of Canton, Massachusetts, gets up by 5:30 each morning and heads to Medford, where he, Palmer and their employee Thomas Southwick bread chicken cutlets and eggplant, make arancini balls and slice tomatoes and mozzarella. They pick up their bread each morning from Winter Hill Bakery in Somerville, Massachusetts, and on Mondays they make more than 100 quarts of vodka sauce — enough to get them to the weekend.
A man wearing black gloves sprinkles herbs on top of a chicken parm sandwich Image by Ed Brennen
Matt Minichiello '21 puts the finishing touches on a Drunken Parm sandwich.

Minichiello majored in mechanical engineering because he enjoys designing and building things, but he says entrepreneurship is his true calling. 

“I always had my own little businesses since I was like 10 years old — stringing lacrosse sticks or painting people’s Xbox controllers,” he says. “I have the engineering degree if I ever want to use it, but I don’t think I ever would have figured out what I wanted to do without going to UMass Lowell.”

Palmer, meanwhile, puts his marketing skills to use by running Paisani’s social media channels and website.

“I’m able to apply what I learned at UMass Lowell to different things that come up in the business every day,” he says.

Palmer is also making Paisani a family affair: His younger brother, Mike Palmer ’23, earned a nursing degree from UML this spring and is helping on the truck until he starts work at Lowell General Hospital in August.
A woman takes a bag of food from the window of a food truck Image by Ed Brennen
Alumna Tricia Keefe '91, head of corporate services at Loomis, Sayles & Co., picks up an order for an office lunch.

“It’s awesome that they’ve come so far so quickly. I’m proud of these guys,” Mike says before starting a shift behind the cash register in Dewey Square. 

Sometimes, their customers are proud of them, too. In line that day are two employees from the nearby investment firm Loomis, Sayles & Co., who are picking up sandwiches and arancini for a lunch meeting. One of them, Head of Corporate Services Tricia Keefe ’91, is a UML alumna.

“I was so excited when I read on their website that they’d gone to UMass Lowell,” says Keefe, who was making her first visit to the truck. “I’m sure it’s going to be in my lunchtime routine every once in a while.” 

While Minichiello and Palmer are enjoying the successful food truck ride so far, they still have their sights set on opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant someday.

“What we have accomplished in less than a year is pretty amazing, but this is just the start,” Minichiello says. “Personally, I want to start multiple businesses.”  

“We have a good understanding of the way of the road,” adds Palmer, who is glad he and Minichiello crossed paths in Fox Hall back in 2017. “I’m grateful for how everything worked out at UMass Lowell. I met a lot of amazing people who will be friends for a lifetime.”

Spoken like a true paisan.