Food & drink
‘We’ve always had a love affair with Malta’- Meet the two Maltese Australian brothers behind Gemma Joe’s, the late night Sliema diner food truck
From shaved ice to corn dogs and waffles, this food truck will transport visitors back to 1950’s America.

Emma Galea

If you were passing by the Sliema promenade sometime during the late hours of the night, chances are you have come across a colourful diner themed food truck by the name of ‘Gemma Joe’s’.

We caught up with Stephen and John-Paul Pace, the two brothers behind this incredibly unique food truck to learn more about how this Sliema staple came to be.

Both Stephen and John-Paul were born to two Maltese parents in Sydney, Australia. While they were not raised in Malta, they always had a strong connection to their parents’ country.

“We’ve always had a love affair with Malta”, they expressed.

Their dad used to show them all these incredible pictures and footage of Malta. As a result of this, they fell in love with the country. To them “Malta was this far away amazing, alluring place”, until Stephen visited for the first time in 2000 and John Paul first came in 2016.

After doing a lot of travelling, the Covid pandemic hit and they were in Australia discussing where they want to settle down for the next 10-15 years. They wanted to live in Europe for a while and it was only natural for them to choose their parents’ home country and live in Malta.

They decided to open a food truck that would soon become a late-night icon in busy Sliema.

Now living in the country their parents grew up in and loved so much, it seemed appropriate to name the food truck after their dad and mum, hence why they went with the name ‘Gemma Joe’s'.

Gemma and Joe even had a food truck themselves back in Sydney, so Stephen and John Paul already knew a thing or two about running such an establishment. Stephen especially has many memories of them going round in the food truck, visiting different markets. He even recalls how the food inspector used to come over simply to show his face because it was his job, and not because there was ever anything to inspect, given the reputation the two had built. This goes to show just how loved they were by the community. And even though the brothers started a food truck just like their parents, ‘Gemma Joe's’ is still a very different to anything you've ever seen.

Having spent many years travelling to different states across the USA, and stopping at many American diners on the way, they opted for a 1950’s diner themed food truck. For the brothers, the idea of a diner was always “a safe space to just kind of relax” and “contemplate the journey”. It was also a place of deep conversations as they rested and indulged in that good old American food - “it comforted us”. Stephen and John Paul wanted to recreate this same experience for others to enjoy in Malta.

Serving milkshakes, American ice-cream, shaved ice, all kind of waffles - including a corn dog waffle, and even protein smoothies, this place is truly an American dream. The best-selling item is by far their humongous, shaved ice portions, for which the syrups are imported directly from the States. And even in the height of winter, they're still an absolute hit!

Bringing out the true theme of an all American diner, the majority of the items on their menu are named after American icons. You'll find yourself ordering a James Dean waffle or an Al Pacino waffle!

Gemma Joe’s ice-cream is also not your typical ice cream. They had a food professor from the states put a recipe together especially for them, which they now make using their own ice-cream machine, also imported from the US.

“If something has been done, we would love to do it with a little bit of a twist”, John-Paul revealed when asked about their food truck's unique menu. In fact, they soon plan on adding a touch of Maltese delight to their items by introducing Helwa tat-Tork flavours.

When asked about what they envision for Gemma Joe's in the coming years, the two expressed how “the next steps for us would be a shop”, and venturing into more savoury dishes whilst also having a place where people can relax while enjoying their food.

Also making this food truck so unique is its bright colours and original design. It's pretty much impossible to miss when passing along The Strand in Sliema. Stephen and John Paul first considered hiring someone to design the truck for them, but it didn’t feel quite right. “It didn’t feel organic. It didn’t feel like us”, they explained. Instead, John Paul did all the drawings and doodles himself. The two also added many stickers from their road trips in America, alongside other memorabilia collected over the years to “give it that authentic kind of vibe”. Putting so much love an time into Gemma Joe's, the food truck is a true representation of Stephen and John Paul, and everything that they stand for.

Further setting this food truck apart are Gemma Joe’s opening hours. When first opening last year, they opened between 2pm and 11pm but soon realised it was getting busier towards the last hour or so. This led them to stay open that extra hour and then another hour, until they decided to change their hours completely. In fact, when they first stayed open till 2am, it was their best night ever. They now open until 5am on Friday and Saturday, and 2am or 3:30am during the rest of the week.

Gemma Joe's welcome all kinds of people from all walks of life, especially during the odd hours of the night, and the brothers love every second of it. “We met some amazing people that have become friends”, said Stephen and John Paul.

Many of their customers come across the food truck by chance, when arriving in Malta after a late evening flight. Being one of the few places open, they find Gemma Joe’s the perfect spot for a little midnight snack. Stephen and John Paul then strike up conversations with tourists and even give them insider tips on how to spend their time in Malta.

“A lot of people come spend their last night with us. They could go anywhere on the island but they spend their last hour chatting with us”, they replied when asked what their favourite and most touching thing about their customers is.

They have also “really connected with the youth of Sliema”, who have visited them frequently during the past summer. A community has formed, and Gemma Joe’s has truly created a space where people can come and relax while enjoying some delicious food.

Have you ever been?

6th September 2023

Emma Galea
Written by
Emma Galea
Emma is a Gozitan writer who loves all things related to English literature and history. When not busy studying or writing you will either find her immersed in a fictional book or at the cinema trying to watch as my films as she possibly can!

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