On a recent weekday morning, after rainy skies had cleared, a cream-colored Volkswagen pickup circled the block near the Commons park next to U.S. Bank Stadium before pulling in behind a line of food trucks. Its owner, Amy Abt, drew stares as she gingerly parked her charming vintage four-speed, Ma Jolie Marché Mobile, the city’s first flower truck, its white sidewalls kissing the curb.
Several young women approached with arms outstretched, aiming their phones. Abt, evoking Parisian chic in a horizontally striped top, hopped out of the cab and rolled back the truck bed’s striped canopy to reveal a shop’s worth of flowers tucked into buckets.
“You can build your own bouquet,” she explained to curious onlookers. “Smells are free,” she added, wondering aloud how Jimmy John’s might feel about her pitch. Abt’s assistant, Tiara Kesler, wearing polka dots and a topknot for her first day, had attended Ma Jolie’s mid-May launch party and asked for a job after being enamored of the truck. “I was hypnotized,” she said referring to the truck’s black-and-white awning.
The Twin Cities is now home to nearly every food truck concept imaginable: a kebab/omelet combo and hockey mom brownies; pinup paninis, tater tots, and goat; a strudel haus and a soup coupe. Which makes the new flower-vending VW feel like a breath of fresh, sweet-smelling air.
“I want to meet people where they’re at and insert myself in their day,” Abt said. “I’m catching them off guard and giving them a smile.” Abt, who also runs a boutique public relations shop focused on lifestyle brands, discovered the camera-ready flower truck concept on (where else) Instagram.
For her French-themed take on it, she found the VW online and enlisted her boyfriend, Dave West, to design and build the merchandise display. In addition to its floral offerings, Ma Jolie (“my pretty”) sells macarons, handmade soaps, Turkish towels and other gift items.
While other American cities have launched mobile boutiques, record shops and cigar lounges, Abt is among the first in Minneapolis to take mobile vending beyond food. She has been testing out various spots in downtown Minneapolis and the North Loop, as well as making forays into Northeast and Uptown, posting her plans on Instagram via the handle @majoliemarket.
In the morning, she’ll park by coffee shops, such as the northeast Minneapolis Spyhouse; in the evening she’s been pulling up to taprooms or distilleries, including Fulton and Tattersall. At midday, she’s tried spots in the heart of downtown to capitalize on the lunch crowds.
“Oftentimes, people will say, ‘I looked out my office window and saw this striped thing with people gathered around and I just had to go investigate,’ ” Abt said. “It kind of restores my faith in humanity to see how many people are thinking about other people. The other day, a guy came down and bought a $25 bouquet for a co-worker who was having a really bad day.”
Driving the flower business
To help customers select flowers and greenery, Abt draws on her past experience at a family-run St. Paul flower shop and creating floral arrangements for friends’ weddings. Stems are sold individually and can be combined into custom arrangements. “Whether you have $3 in your pocket or you have $15 or $40, there’s a bouquet for every price range,” Abt said.
While the truck has cost and flexibility advantages over a brick-and-mortar shop, its biggest drawback is its lack of climate control. Depending on conditions, the flowers can only be subjected to a few hours of heat before they must go back into the cooler at Ma Jolie’s headquarters in the Warehouse District.
Two women walking away from the Commons noticed the truck and one quipped, “Where is my husband?” After perusing the roses and carnations, dahlias, daisies and ranunculus, a young office worker selected a couple of buxom pink peonies, the truck’s priciest floral, and then put one back after realizing they were $10 a stem. Price-sensitive customers are welcome to bolster their bouquets with a few still-lovely but past-their-prime stems from the free bucket — the floral equivalent of day-old bread.
A guy in a black concert T-shirt walked up to the truck and asked whose it was. “Thank you for keeping these alive,” he told Abt, and it took a second to figure out that he wasn’t talking about the flowers.
Find Ma Jolie this week
June 14: Downtown Minneapolis farmers market and food truck areas.
June 15: Bachelor Farmer Cafe in the morning, then Food Truck Friday on Washington Avenue N.
June 16 & 17: Stone Arch Bridge Festival.
Check Instagram for details: @majoliemarket
Pro tip: At festivals and block parties, Ma Jolie makes Coachella-style flower crowns for those who would rather carry around a beer than a bouquet.