When Atyab Khatri and his partners started making plans for their Rollin Phatties Food Truck, the Rockets were consistently one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and James Harden was a constant in the MVP conversations.
When Khatri, Hamza Ali and Hamza Paracha wanted some Houston flair in the design of their upcoming Pakistani food truck, it was obvious they reserved a prominent spot for a turbaned Harden eating one of the truck’s specialties. right next to other Houston iconography like a henna-tattooed hand throwing the H up and Travis Scott’s Jordan 4s strolling past the order window.
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All was well until the three co-owners parked the food truck in the Montrose area in late November, just around the time Harden was partying with Lil Baby in Atlanta and Las Vegas instead of reporting to the Rockets training camp.
“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” admits Khatri.
Even so, he kept the faith. When customers warned of the risk of an unfortunate Harden splashing over this new food truck, Khatri convinced himself that Harden would change his mind about a possible deal once he had the chance to play with newbies Christian Wood and John Wall. Khatri was encouraged when Harden scored 44 points in a narrow loss in Portland on opening night.
Angry. Disaster averted, he thought.
As it turned out, it was just a procrastination. It soon became clear that Harden was no longer busy with his teammates and then there was this breakdown after the game at the Toyota Center where Harden said the Rockets’ talent was “not good enough”.
Harden’s words sparked remorse in the Westheim food truck.
“We were certainly in panic mode,” said Khatri.
The next day, Harden was sold to Brooklyn and the food truck that had opened at Westheimer six weeks earlier became even more unique. Fortunately for Khatri and his co-owners, customers liked the unique Pakistani cuisine – Khatri calls it Pakistani street food, and the menu consists of “fatties,” which Khatri says are her own take on street tacos – enough that the eye-catching Harden mural just gives people something to talk about while chewing their faux pas.
“That is definitely the most common question we are asked,” said Khatri. “Everyone wants to know why we have James Harden on the truck. Every day.”
A Chicken Phattie Roll from the Rollin Phatties Food Truck on Westheimer in the Montrose area.
Eventually the Harden mural will go away, but 2021 is not a good time to try and pick a Houston sports hero built with the long haul.
“It’s obviously a strange time for Houston Sports,” said Khatri. “The next logical person would be Deshaun Watson and he wants out. Third in line would be JJ Watt and now he’s cardinal so it’s still open until we find out. We could do Jose Altuve. Maybe Carlos Correa Cor, but he could be a free agent. We talked about Beyoncé because she’s a Houston life. We’re definitely going to do something, but we may need to give some time to play out. “
A Houston lifer and die-hard Rockets himself, 29-year-old Khatri – some of his earliest memories are sitting on his father’s shoulders at the downtown team’s championship parades in 1994 and 1995 – so there’s no doubt whose He’ll be turned on when Harden returns to the Toyota Center with the Nets on Wednesday night.
“I’m definitely defending the Rockets over Harden, but if the Nets won a title this year I would be happy for him,” said Khatri. “When the Nets are on TV I definitely watch them and it makes me happy to see Harden play so well.”
Khatri will always have a soft spot for Harden, even if there will soon be no more space for him on the food truck.