Chip trucks wind down the season
As winter slowly melts away and the weather gets wetter and then warmer, signs of summer start popping up across the county: busier roads, sunnier days, more visible skin, and the iconic chip truck. The trucks –or stands, wagons, booths – can be found in each municipality, opening when the weather gets warm enough to not have to worry about keeping them heated, generally in time for the May long weekend rush.
Dan Bingham purchased the food truck located at the Stanhope Airport last December, opening Dan’s Delicious Delights in May this year for the first time.
“I was supposed to retire at the end of June [last year] from driving a school bus and managing a community centre back in Copetown,” he said. “We were planning on moving up here, and Victoria [his daughter, in Haliburton] said, ‘Dad, I don’t think you’d be happy with nothing to do, so I found you a job.’”
Dan, now 61, said he’s been involved in food preparation since he was 14, and helped to design and organize the Lions Club food trailer in Copetown, where, as a Lions Club member, he was the “chief cook and bottle washer” for 27 years.
“The only thing I’m doing different here is that I’m serving fish and corned beef,” said Dan. “The hamburgers and hot dogs are all the same.”
He said he’s cut back from working 80 hours a week, to working 45. Victoria was right about him liking to stay busy - from 2000 to 2007, he worked 18 hour days, seven days a week.
“I’m not an inactive person,” he said. “When I sit, I just like to sit. But if I’m on the go, I’m on the go.”
Dan said that while on the go, he has long taken notice of chip truck placements throughout Ontario.
“When we were driving around, my wife and I would say, ‘oh, there would be a good place for a chip truck, or that would be a good spot for a chip truck, or that’s not really in a good spot.’”
He said his fish and chips are a big seller, as is his corned beef on rye with a pickle. And of course, the fresh cut fries. He’s been keeping a record of sales for the 22 weeks he’ll be open.
“I have good days and bad days,” he said. “It’s reasonable most of the time.”
During his downtime, Dan has his iPad on hand to tune into CanoeFM when the airport wi-fi is strong, and when it’s not, he has sudoku. Behind his truck, airplanes and helicopters take off from the county’s sole airport, offering unique viewing entertainment for customers enjoying their meal.
“The only thing that I do miss about this is that I don’t have anybody to talk to while I’m here,” he said. “When [the Lions] were doing trailer events we were kibitzing and talking, and I came up with some of my best ideas by listening to what other people in the food trailer had to say.”
Often, he said, there’s a rush between 4:30 and 6:45 p.m., when he’ll usually see moms with kids, families from the area, and regulars including a couple from Bracebridge who stop in on Sunday nights.
“It’s something I always thought I would like to give a try,” he said. “It’s not a long-term thing. I’ll do this for two, maybe three years, and then I’ll carry on. I like the freedom of it.”
Dan’s Delicious Delights (1168 Stanhope Airport Road) is open from Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, and closes the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
Leeann Truckle, or Little Mama as she is affectionally known, is also celebrating her first season open. She set up Little Mama’s Snack Shack in the former Wedgewood BBQ Bar on the Wedgewood RPM property on Hwy 35 alongside Twelve Mile Lake in Minden late in the season, opening in July.
“I’ve actually been hunting down this place every year … I bought [my house] on Twelve Mile Lake 10 years ago and for eight years I’ve been watching, waiting for that place to become available,” she laughed. “I was literally just driving by one day coming from Carnarvon and saw the sign up and my husband did a U-turn, we turned around, I met with them the next day and the deal was sealed.”
After quickly planning a menu and having health inspections completed, Truckle opened July 12.
“I had a big panic attack, as soon as I opened the doors, but it was so exciting when I served my first customer because it was like, yes, OK, I’m ready,” she said. “And then when you serve that first customer and then they automatically come back with, ‘that was the most amazing burger I’ve ever had.’ … So getting this constant feedback from customers, it drives your heart and head to say, OK, what’s next, what am I going to do next? I’m so excited for next year even though this season’s not done yet because of my customers and how good they’ve made it.”
After getting married at the end of September, Truckle is hoping to spend the off-season planning for next year, when she hopes to host events that help drive traffic to the snack shack, including live music on the lakeside patio, magician shows and other kid-friendly events, and big screen movie nights.
“I love bringing people together so I think for me that’s what it is, and just getting the lake busy again,” she said. “I’ve watched Twelve Mile go down in the last 10 years, to go from busy, busy, busy – whether it’s because of the weather or there just isn’t a lot to do on Twelve Mile, I want to bring that back.”
Truckle said business is often reliant on the boaters on Boshkung and Twelve Mile Lake, and that rainy days have been proven to be really slow or non-existent, but that after being in the industry for almost 30 years she is thrilled to have her own business.
“I started out as a dishwasher and I just worked my way up,” she said. “I’ve cooked in many restaurants in this town and I’ve always wanted to just be in business for myself, the opportunity arose and here I am.”
She loves the freedom she said she has in operating the snack shack.
“I find you can do so much more with it,” she said. “I can change my menu as many times as I want to, add new things, take away things. There’s so much more creativity that can go into it as opposed to the brick and mortar store.”
She learns tricks of the trade and perfects recipes from YouTube videos, adding personal touches like a gummy worm to an ice cream if a child is at the window.
“I think for the beginning for me, I think it was more of, let’s get started and open so let’s go for, what’s the easiest stuff to execute,” she said. “But then along the way, just interacting with my customers, and what are things you would like to see that I don’t have on my menu? You start out with the basic burgers, fries, hot dogs, poutines, your things that you can get at a chip truck and along the way people have made suggestions or I’ve added things that I know I enjoy that you can’t get around here.”
From bacon-wrapped deep fried pickles, to mozzarella sticks, battered mushrooms, and pulled pork poutine, Truckle said her menu has a little bit of everything. She said she sells a lot of bacon cheeseburger poutine: hand-cut fries with crumbled homemade burger on top, bacon, cheddar cheese, cheese curds, smothered in gravy. Next year she plans to offer fried cheese poutine tacos – a fried cheese shell stuffed with poutine, smoked bacon and chives served on a bed of lettuce, as well as tofu fries, which she said are “really yummy, and I don’t even like tofu.”
After years of the food stop having different owners, Truckle said she has “decided this is where it stops, in these hands right here.”
“I love it,” she said. “I think that, if you love cooking, it’s definitely where I’d rather be. It’s a rewarding job on so many levels.”
Little Mama’s Snack Shack (14445 Hwy 35) is open until Sept. 22 this year, usually from 11 to 7 p.m.
This is the Huffman family’s second year operating Huff’s Hut just outside of Wilberforce, but this new version of the chip truck comes 25 years after Lynn and Rick operated a Huff’s Hut in Wilberforce’s downtown area.
“A property at the end of our road that we’ve always liked came up for sale, and we bought it thinking it would be a great place for a chip truck so that’s how it came to be,” said Lynn. “Mind you, there’s a lot more detail getting a chip truck going then it used to be, 25 years ago.”
It’s Lynn and Rick’s son, also named Rick, who is usually the staff on hand at Huff’s Hut, which claims to offer the “best fries in the GTHA.” GTHA? “The Greater Tory Hill Area,” Rick said from behind the window.
“I’ve always wanted to open a cafe, but they’re not easy to come by,” said Lynn, who said she and her husband have also worked at different fairs, operating a t-shirt press, and enjoy being entrepreneurs. “I guess we like that kind of thing.”
Lynn said when Huff’s Hut reappeared, “the town was all thrilled with the fact that we were opening again.”
Customers include contractors and cottagers, but Lynn said there’s a variety of people who visit.
“You put out good product, and you know what, you build customers,” said Lynn. “We like thinking the locals support us, so that when the cottagers are up, it’s extra, it’s great.”
One woman, Lynn said, approached the Hut saying she thought she had heard the name before.
“She couldn’t remember when or how it stuck in her mind,” she said. “I mentioned [the previous business] and sure enough, that was it, all those years ago.”
The menu has remained relatively the same, though Lynn said pizza fingers that were popular 25 years ago are hard to come by at a decent price nowadays. And the fries, of course, have to be fresh cut fries.
“It’s not a recipe, it’s how you do it,” she said. “You have to pre-do fries. You can’t just cut a fresh cut fry, throw it in the fryer and cook it straight through. Well, you can do that, but it doesn’t make a great fry.”
Though regulations are different and the process of opening a chip truck has changed, the popularity of the food stop in Ontario =has survived all those years even as diets have changed.
“If you’re looking for healthy food you’re not going to a chip truck,” said Lynn. “People like it because it’s fast food. You’re not sitting and waiting half an hour for a meal. It’s kind of, in and out. When it’s really busy, you know you’ll be waiting longer if you pull up and see a lot of cars. Usually you can plan in and out in 10 minutes.”
Lynn said her family is always adding embellishments to the hut to improve it - awnings, decks, covers.
“Our business is still growing, but the chip truck supports it,” she said. “We’re not getting rich by any means, but it supports the growth.”
Reopening 25 years later has been a learning experience for Lynn and her family.
“It’s been, not a smooth ride getting there, but we’re there now,” she said.
Huff’s Hut (1725 Loop Road) is open from 11 a.m. until about 8 p.m. for the month of September.