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You Can’t Keep a Good Chef Down

Here’s a story of a man’s dream, how he failed, and how he bounced back.

A couple of years ago a friend took me to a restaurant called Roderick’s. My pal, John, was from Memphis, and said Roderick’s made the absolute best southern bar-be-cue outside of Tennessee. He was already on a first-name basis with the owner, and introduced me to him when we arrived. We quickly became regulars because John was right–nobody made a better bbq brisket than Roderick.

Roderick didn’t follow the first rule of a business–location, location, location. That would come back to bite him. He was in the middle of a business park. During the day, especially the lunch hour, you couldn’t get a table. Take-out was your only option. Dinner hour? Forget it. You had the whole place to yourself. He couldn’t keep the doors open with that kind of traffic and closed.

Five or six years ago, the city revamped the downtown area and opened a new theater. Both sides of the street filled with new shops and new restaurants and Roderick announced that he had a spot near the theater. Perfect location. The line wound go around the bloc, we figured. John and I eagerly awaited the opening, but it never happened. I never got the whole story, but the gossip was that there were various issues that couldn’t be worked out.

And that was the end of Roderick’s, or so we thought. He dropped off the face of the earth.

Roderick used to work in the tech industry but he wanted to run his own business. He knew how to cook the traditional southern way, something nobody else in our area could offer. He knew he had a winning combination, but it didn’t work as planned. What does a guy who when his dream of owning a restaurant essentially goes down the tubes? Does he go back to tech work? Does he give up?

Nope.

Two weeks ago some pals and I were at an event where a bunch of food trucks had gathered to provide snacks. Somebody told me the “bar-be-cue truck” looked good so we wandered over. Low and behold, the sign on the truck said “Roderick’s”. The guy behind the stove looked a little older but it was the same guy.

“Hey, ugly,” I said.

He turned around with a frown that quickly turned into a smile, and it was like he’d never gone away.

Roderick is running a mobile food truck now. He’s still serving his traditional southern food, though he offers fewer items than he did at the restaurant. You can get a pulled pork sandwich; half a brisket, lightly sauced, that you can cut with a fork; grilled chicken breast that will blow your mind; and fried cat fish. And, wow, I can’t forget the hush puppies. Those are fried balls of corn bread, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. Dip ‘em in the sauce from the baked beans. Delicious. Get the peach cobbler for desert, which he still cooks in a cast-iron Dutch oven like I used to do in the Boy Scouts, except he does it better. Crispy on top, gooey in the middle.

I asked Roderick how long he’d had the truck. Couple of years, he said, since the downtown deal failed. He can go wherever he wants, have less overhead, and take home more profit. He announces his locations via Facebook and Twitter, and people show up. He parks at one of the local universities regularly, which means he’s not too far from me–about a half hour’s drive. Yes, it’s worth it.

He wanted to know where John was. I told him John had gotten married and took his new family to Arizona. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, gave him John’s number, and listened as the two of them caught up.

When his restaurant plans didn’t work out, Roderick could have gone back to the tech industry. He’d have done well, but he was made for more than that. If he couldn’t have a brick-and-motor place, he found another way to make the dream happen.

I think he wound up with the best option. He can keep prices low and still make enough to live, unlike other restaurants which, lately, seem to raise prices more and more and provide less and less in return. The fact that customers will drive long distances just to get a taste of his cooking proves he’s doing something right.

Let this be a lesson to you. If one dream ends, go find another one. Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself because the original plan didn’t work out. Our country is full of stories like this, and it’s nice to see they’re still being written despite our current state of disrepair.

 

BRIAN DRAKE’s new thriller is The Rogue Gentleman: Mine to Avenge, available at Amazon.Com

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