Lauryn Higgins is a native of the Tarheel State and currently a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is studying...
It's another beautiful fall night in Asheville and yet despite the lack of parking, The Wedge Brewing Company is bustling with tourists, locals, and all walks of life. Dogs are running around, beer is being imbibed happily, and people are hungry. But no worries. At the center of the outdoor seating area of the brewery is the Root Down Food Truck – a shining white truck that in my opinion is serving up the best Creole, Louisiana- style street food north of NOLA. From fried chicken sandwiches to hog jowl chicharrones, there’s something for basicall everyone.
Owner and head chef Dano Holcomb is closing in on Root Down's three year anniversary and answered a few of our burning questions on what it takes to open a truck, and maintain and provide quality street food for hungry customers.
Lauryn Higgins: I’m a huge foodie as are so many Ashevillians. What made you decide to start a food truck? And why in Asheville?
Dano Holcomb: Well, hmmm. I knew I wanted to cook for people. At first I wanted to become a personal chef for a couple families, or musicians, or people who didn't have time to cook for themselves. After culinary school I started to channel my pipe dream to mobile food and eventually decided a food truck was the way to start out. Asheville was kind of a renaissance for our family. My wife Julie and I both graduated from UNCA and moved away for fifteen years. We had thought Asheville would be a place to eventually come back to, which we made happen in 2014.
Lauryn: Your food is Creole, Southern, and Soul inspired street food. Does your menu change frequently or do you stick to what you know people will always order?
Dano: We change it up often, if not every time out. We do keep a few items on most days but yes, frequently we change it up. We source a lot (of ingredients) locally too so we are often influenced by what is seasonal. Of course we continue to have fan favorites - like the Pork and Pimento Cheese or Mac and Cheese Béchamel. However, we do prepare things that may or may not start out as popular with folks, but we hope that people are open-minded and try things like the Hog Jowl Chicharrones, the Rabbit Étouffée or the Turtle Soup.
Lauryn: I’ve only been in the back of one food truck and all I remember was how hot it was. What would you say is the hardest part about operating and working in a food truck?
Dano: The hardest part is the setting up and breaking down every shift. We strap all equipment down and unplug and wrap up all electrical cords. Essentially, we have to double the beginning and ending phases of a typical service, since we aren't a standing restaurant. We have to return most food things to our commissary kitchen and then take them all back out the next day.
Lauryn: I’ve enjoyed so many food trucks in Asheville, but your truck has always stood out to me for many reasons. Your food is impeccable, the customer service is on point, and I can tell the entire team is enjoying themselves. What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
Dano: Wow, thanks very much! The feedback we get from our customers is flattering. We strive to provide quality and I try to stick to what I was taught by the incredible chefs I worked for along my journey. When people keep coming back, that is also a good sign that we are heading in the right direction. My staff is great. I have been very lucky to have Josh Daniel and recently Holt Flannelly. Of course my wife Julie has been working behind the scenes and keeps me in line when I screw up! Also, I have been very fortunate to have had a native Louisianan - Chef Erica (formerly of Ambrozia) to bounce ideas off of.
Lauryn: So last question. Any advice for people looking to start their own food truck?
Dano: Have fun and don't try and do too much too quickly. Stick to what you are good at and build a solid foundation first. Growth comes with proper nourishment. Last thing I would say is patience. There are so many intangibles in food trucking that can really deflate your drive and motivation. Good things come with honesty and hard work!