By Kelly Twedell
While food trucks might seem like a new concept notoriously popular in larger cities across the U.S., you might be surprised to hear that the origin dates back to 1866 during the post-Civil War days affiliated with the Western Movement.
Charles Goodnight, the “father of the Texas panhandle,” up fitted an old Army wagon and stocked it with shelves and drawers to stock with dry good necessities to cook out of and it was referred to as the chuck wagon. As a cattle herder, Goodnight knew the struggles of cooking up proper hot meals on a cattle drive.
Thanks to a growing number of innovative entrepreneurs, Fayetteville’s food trucks have began to flourish at locations across town and people are out and about enjoying what they have to offer. This latest mobile food unit for serving up unique offerings to foodies is trucking through the community, one bite at a time.
While Cumberland County has limited businesses licensed and listed under their mobile food units, a few seem prevalent around town. Some exist only for festivals and operate once a year. As the weather warms up we should start to see more new trucks hitting the road. The summer months should bring a few more cool treats to the streets and several provisional licenses have been filed – so they are coming! The latest one from Harnett County is called Not Jes Subs and they specialize in Caribbean sub sandwiches. Find them on Facebook and Twitter @Notjessubs.
Surely you’ve seen or smelled the mobile barbecue truck, Fatback’s, or the hot wings from The Wing Zone at events or around town over the years. On any given day, Taqueria El Refugio’s bright orange food truck peddling tacos on Bragg Boulevard always has customers ordering up Mexican fare. One local food truck that has a loyal following is
R Burger, owned by Rob and Mary Russell. The family business is a Veteran owned and operated start up that has become an overnight success. They advertise their next day’s stop location on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Not into social media? That’s okay, they even leave messages, the old-fashioned way, at their customer’s request.
The Russell’s have 15 years of combined restaurant experience, but Rob retired from the military and Mary was a teacher at VanStory Elementary before they hit the road doing what they love – and filling a niche in the community at lunch.
Known for their simple menu specialties, hot dogs and freshly ground hamburgers are their staple. Choices for burgers include four kinds: Grilled, Carolina, Southern and Wisconsin. Burgers run around $4 to $4.50 and most customers add on the hand-cut fries, for a few extra bucks, served up piping hot with just enough salt to make you lick your fingers.
Rob recalled that their first location where they opened their doors was in the joint parking lot at The Sandtrap near Raeford Road at Purdue. The owner Bridget is still a loyal follower and happened to be out in line at the Jim’s location during our interview. Their second location was in the front of the Big Lots parking lot. “Some people think that anyone can start up a food truck, but it’s work,” said Rob. “You have to be able to fix the generator and do your own repairs as needed or you’ll end up losing your profit.”
Rob says there is no “secret family recipe.” After a few months of testing different meats and blends with family and friends, and with the help of Travis from Kinlaw’s Supermarket, they came up with the R special blend, with the right flavor and juiciness. They have been making double patty burgers for their youngest daughter Madeline and her friends for many years and they became a signature item at the “R house.” Now, on occasion, Madeline works right alongside her parents when she is home from college breaks.
Each morning inside the truck the line is prepared for the day with the toppings being chopped, diced or handmade – like the pimento cheese. The freshly ground meat is picked up daily and rolled into 2-ounce balls before being smashed down on the grill with Rob’s well worn spatula. Each burger consists of two 2-ounce patties. According to Rob, that size tends to cook quickly and by dividing the patties in half, it enables the toppings to be plentiful.
Rob shared that their most popular burger is the Southern style burger, their signature burger. It is topped with mustard, grilled onions and pimento cheese. You just have to try this combination, trust me.
R Burger follower Jimmy Moses arrived in the parking lot at Jim’s Pawn Shop on Yadkin Road with his PWC co-workers for a bite to eat. “This is the fifth time we’ve eaten their burgers, it brings something different to the area,” said Moses. “I try a different burger each time. It’s a quick lunch when we are on the job; we get it to go.”
In September, the Kiwanis Club is hosting the first annual Food Truck Rodeo at Festival Park. The Kiwanis Club raises funds to benefit many of their philanthropic projects in our community. Vendor spaces will be available at an affordable rate.
Why aren’t the food trucks at more obvious locations? Here are some operating guidelines for where they can be set up at, so it involves time, planning and of course getting approval from existing local businesses to set up on their property. Check out the sidebar on the following page.