Name aside, new food truck, and its owner, worth a look

Doner

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Ruslan Saifullin, with his wife, Zulfira, and 9-month-old daughter, Latifa, in front of his food truck, Döner Trump.

One of the newest food trucks in town has generated a lot of discussion, and it hasn’t been about the food.

It’s about the name of the business, Döner Trump.

When owner Ruslan Saifullin put his first post up on the Billings Food Truck Tracker Facebook page Sunday, he was met by an unusually heavy outpouring of comments—most of them about that name. Some people said they’d never eat at a truck bearing the name of Trump, while others defended Saifullin.

Our advice to you, having met Saifullin, is: relax. “Döner,” he said, is simply a Turkish word for a kebab sandwich similar to the Greek gyros, and “trump,” in Australian slang, is another word for “boss.”

“Trump means boss, like we are the gyros bosses here,” Saifullin said.

“If you asked what is Döner Trump like, I would say really friendly customer service, natural and healthy food,” he said. “And quantity and price is fair.”

Even so, it seems he did have an inkling that the name might raise some eyebrows. “Good or bad,” he said, “it would still be advertising.”

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He said he likes “shaking people up,” and he enjoys conversation about virtually anything, controversial or not. Which might be the best reason to give Döner Trump a try. Saifullin is smart, intense and knowledgeable, and chances are that you’ve never met anyone like him.

He is 28, a Tatar born in Russia and raised in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Dubai and India. He speaks Kazak, Hindi, English, Turkish and Russian, he said, and his father is Jewish, his mother Muslim.

Saifullin said he and his wife, Zulfira, a Kazak, both earned college degrees in Kazakhstan, he a bachelor’s in foreign language translation and she a bachelor’s in business and a master’s degree in tourism. They met while working for an American company in Kazakhstan.

He described his wife, a Muslim, as “very positive, very close to God.” For his own part, he said, raised in a mixed-religion family and then having lived in so many countries, where he visited churches, temples, mosques and shrines, “I decided religion is not for me.”

He believes in God, he said, just not in any particular religion. “If I’m honest, that’s better,” he said. “God wants people to be honest.”

Truck

Ruslan Saifullin

Ruslan Saifullin, with Zulfira behind him, inside the food truck.

Their first daughter, now 3, was born in Kazakhstan, Saifullin said, and their lives there were pretty good, but they were fed up with widespread corruption and the lack of opportunity. They had both worked in the United States while they were students, he in New York City and she in Sheridan, Wyo.

Zulfira had been to Billings many times to shop, Saifullin said, so she was familiar with the town, and Billings topped their list when they thought of leaving for the United States.

“The most important thing was the people,” Saifullin said. “The people and the nature and the cost of living.”

They moved here in the fall of 2015 after Zulfira was awarded a visa under the Diversity Visa Program. A State Department website said a limited number of such visas are set aside for immigrants “from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States.”

They hope to gain citizenship eventually, but meanwhile they are here under permanent residency status. That means they can’t vote but have all the other rights and obligations of American citizens. Their second daughter, now 9 months old, was born in Billings.

Saifullin said he worked as a server in restaurants through his college years, and when he came to Billings he worked for several restaurants, including Dos Machos and the Bull Mountain Grill. And he and his wife have both always loved to cook.

Saifullin said he acquired a taste for Turkish cuisine while attending a Kazak-Turkish high school, and after researching the food market in Billings he thought people would be receptive to a food truck selling Turkish döners, which are made with beef cooked on a vertical rotisserie, served inside a lavash, similar to a flour tortilla or nan bread, and garnished with lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and pickles, and with either a red or white sauce.

He makes them with chicken, too, he said, and serves them on a baguette for those who don’t want the lavash. He also serves gyros and ice cream and hopes to expand his menu.

His food truck is actually a 1970s travel trailer, which was in pretty bad shape before he renovated it himself. Since opening for business on May 1, he has usually been parked near the Shipton’s Big R at 216 N. 14th St. He was taking Thursday off, when we caught up with him, because he’s awaiting the arrival of some big colorful banners.

He said the truck, despite its provocative name, doesn’t catch the eye of passers-by. With or without the banners, though, he’ll be parked at the Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic at 1775 Spring Creek Lane on Friday, starting at 11 a.m. The clinic invited him to set up there, Saifullin said, and he was happy to oblige, if it meant serving veterans and giving them easy access to his food truck.

For the record, he is not a fan of Donald Trump, he but loves the United States.

“Life is really easy and comfortable here for people,” he said. “And everyone gets treated the same. I’m always trying to remind people, hey, God bless America.”

You can also keep up with Döner Trump on the Facebook page Saifullin created for the business.

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