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« Once It Hits Your Lips, It's So Good. | Main | 18 Hours In Orlando »

Keepin' It Real With Keep'n It Reel

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You've either got it or you don't. And if you don't then you should give up all of your secret or not so secret food truck dreams right this second. I, like many, have toyed with the idea of starting my own truck, especially when the scene exploded. It's easy to romanticize and fantasize and compared to opening a restaurant it sounds like a piece of cake (mmmm, cake). But it's not all tacos and tasty nibbles, folks. You've gotta have extreme love for what you do and respect for the food you produce. And like any successful business, reputation is everything.

I had a fairly good understanding of these sentiments going into this project but my time spent with Rich, owner of the Keep'n It Reel truck, was extremely enlightening. Holding down a full time job and raising two very cool kids with his lovely wife while pursuing his passion, Rich is a busy, busy man. But not too busy to help out a lowly, amateur blogger interested in learning about what it takes to rock a food truck. Granted, in exchange he got some free labor out of it but I definitely was the winner in this deal.

This project started with a suggestion tossed out by my friend, Dan, that I write about a day in the life of a food truck. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of going behind the scenes, experiencing for myself a taste of what it takes and then sharing that new found knowledge with all of you (big thanks to Dan!). I sat on it for a week or so until it was like sitting on jagged, stabby rocks. I then decided to get off my ass, grow a pair and reach out to a truck I had come to love, that was receptive to my previous posts and had already gained the "Like" of my foodie Facebook friends. I was not prepared for how generous the reaction to my request would be.

The plan came together rather quickly. I would work on the truck at a festival organized by Generation Food Truck for the Centennial Celebration of Lutz (who knew?) and we would meet at our mutually beloved World of Beer Westchase to discuss. He walked in with his beautiful wife and a bottle of Hunahpu's Imperial Stout and our friendship was off. We talked about food, drink, life and drank. I learned the how and the why behind Keep'n It Reel. The dedication and support you must have to be able to lead such a demanding life. That Rich (to no one's surprise if you've eaten his food) has high standards and uses quality product. Beer shots were had. And I was thrilled to find out that I wasn't the only excited party in this venture.

My post started becoming more than just a story about a day on a truck and even now is still shaping itself as I type. Was I naive to think I could write a behind the scenes and not write about the people behind the scenes? Perhaps. Or perhaps I just didn't expect to be so welcomed into their lives and for them to share quite so candidly. By spending a day on the truck I not only learned the technical side, the politics of it all, but I got to see the heart of it. What more could I ask for?

So, hopefully you're still paying attention because here's where the adventure begins. Feel free to take a break, grab a snack and come back because we're about to literally get rollin' and the food pics are bound to stir your appetite.

I met Rich at his house so I could get the full experience of riding on the truck. Prep started two days earlier so I missed out on that but asked about it of course. To sum up: a man, his beer and his truck.

It was a fun ride out to Lutz (possibly the first time that's been said) for two people who drank a whole lot of beer the night before and stayed out a little too late. I'd never ridden on a food truck and there was something incredibly awesome about pulling up and encountering waves and excited smiles from kids in the parking lot.

Annnnnnd then the nerves fully kicked in. I was to be Window Girl. What if I was the worst Window Girl in the history of Window Girls? What if all the food service knowledge I had flew out the damn truck window and I royally screwed this up? What if a shit ton of people came and I was a massive embarrassment to not only myself but the kind fella who put his faith in me? Or what if it rained like predicted and it was the most boring day of my life? Thankfully none of that happened and I had an awesome time. Other truck owners came by to chat about their offerings for the day, what beer they had for after the event. I lament not trying 3 Suns Bistro's Maple Bacon Coffee Marmalade but was psyched that Renny from Renny's Oki Doki sent over some Crispy Pork Belly with Daikon Slaw. It was aptly named because damn was it crispy on the outside, lusciously fatty and tender on the inside. And if anyone knows me even just a little, they know that I'm a pork belly lovin' lady.

What was it like once service started? Hot, busy, sweaty, tasty and fun as hell. Rich and his cousin have a fantastic rhythm down that only comes with time. As soon as I called out an order they knew what needed to be done and the dance (not in a lame way) began. I would glance over when I could and see them working in unison to produce a dish. I don't know if you've been on a truck but it's tight quarters with hot oil and sharp knives but not once was I worried. To be fair, they've had since November 2011 to get this perfected but it was impressive nonetheless.

Grouper Sliders Hand Cut Fries, Grouper Sliders and Shrimp Tacos Fried Shrimp Basket
Shrimp Tacos
Shrimp Po'Boy

Hungry yet???

It was busy and yet not too busy that I didn't have time to reflect. I was able to pause and enjoy watching that first bite into something delicious, where the eyes close, the nod happens and the smile occurs. It wasn't my truck or my food but I felt that pride, joy and instant gratification that comes with feeding people great grub. Creating a moment of utter bliss that however fleeting existed because of your work. I was also elated when a good number of customers returned for more.

Service wrapped up, the cleaning began and beers were had. It was a thoughtful ride back. I asked about the logistics. How hard is it to get licensed? Finding a truck? If you're extremely lucky you'll find one that is already registered as a food truck and stacked with gear because otherwise you're in for some serious work and even if you get lucky you're still in for work. Every profit in the beginning is an investment. I learned about the trial and error of deciding locations, menu, who to work with, all of the politics involved. The gratefulness that comes from meeting other truck owners who are willing to share their knowledge because truly, people, this is no easy or inexpensive feat.

I gained so much more than I expected from this experience and I'm excited to learn even more. If you are contemplating delving into the food truck world I strongly suggest doing what I did. Find a truck you enjoy and respect and ask to spend time with them. I was outrageously fortunate to hook up with Keep'n It Reel but the community seems like a welcoming bunch. Friendly competition is just that: friendly.

There's quite a bit more I could share but then this insanely long post would go on forever. I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions and constructive criticism so comment away! Also, I don't think this is the end of my food truck adventures, merely the beginning...

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