New Times: How long have you been a chef?
Troy Thomas: I went to culinary school in the early '90s in Chicago. I had a couple of restaurants there -- The Gargoyle Bar & Grill and Big Mama's Snack Shop. One of them was based on my jerk recipe. I've always insisted that recipe is good. I did that for a number of years and then I got into construction, but I missed food. I've always been a hands on guy. My hands are always going to touch my food.
Why a food truck?
I started the truck in April after real estate went south. There were no more building and no more construction jobs. I was trying to figure a way to get back into the restaurant business, so this is the most affordable way. If the restaurant doesn't work in one spot, you can move it. I consider the food truck a big party, I consider everyone a guest in my house, even though it's not a house.[jump]
You work with your mom. Is she a chef?
I couldn't do it without her. Back in the day I couldn't afford to pay anyone to help me and she wouldn't take any money. She helped me with a lot of the cooking. She gets on the truck, she cracks the whip and she's one of my best friends which is crazy, I know -- to have your mom as your friend. We had the Food Network out on October and they filmed us for a day for Street Eats. Mom was a nervous wreck. And no, she's not a chef, outside of cooking in the home.
Where do you prepare the food?
I don't precook my burgers -- they're cooked on the truck. My jerk chicken takes five, six hours to make so that's pre-made. I marinate my chicken wings and grill them on the truck. I sell so many of my Captain Crunch chicken tenders, I have to batter them and freeze them beforehand and then I pop them in the fryer. They're good, there's a little sweetness and a lot of crunch. The trucks are tight spaces, but I welcome anyone to go on my truck to see how clean my truck is.
What's it like to be in the truck all day and all evening?
The truck is not a fun ride. The trucks break down. You're putting an entire kitchen inside a metal box so you're basically building a large oven. The truck interior gets up to about 120 degrees. A lot of truck owners think it's hot now? They're going to be surprised in a few months.
Is there "community" within the food truck community?
Everyone's pouring their heart and soul into their trucks -- many people have put their life savings into their trucks. Burger Beast is a good guy and he helps the entire truck community. We all get along, we all want this to work. It's easier working together.
Can you make money with a food truck? What's your biggest obstacle?
Everyone's limited by what they do. As the trucks get bigger you can make more money. The smaller you are it's more of a struggle. The little guys only carry so much food and then they're done for the evening. My goal is to have a big kitchen with people cooking all day and when you run out you get more -- like a support vehicle. If I had the capability of restocking the truck I could do more. I'm the struggling small guy. There will be trucks that will sell out all their food for the week on Friday night.
Look out for part two of our interview with Troy Thomas, coming tomorrow.