A week out from the Spring Garden Food Truck Festival, the guys behind The Great Escape still have to narrow down a truckload of potential menu items.
“We have 40 ideas for each category,” Sam Shumaker says. “We need three.”
Fortunately, they’ve managed to narrow the categories down to just two: The Great Escape will sell nothing but noodles and crepes, at least in the beginning. Shumaker and his business partners took a leap of faith in leaving their jobs at Nico’s Italian Restaurant and Bar in downtown Greensboro to launch a food truck, and they’re making up the new business as they go along.
“We’re good at being honest with each other,” says Dallas Baker, who co-founded The Great Escape with Shumaker.
A third chef, Jon Bohlen, rounds out the team. They have also done some catering work as The Great Escape, and Bohlen’s business card lists him as chef and entertainment director. (They have strong ties to the local music scene: Bohlen plays bass with The Leaves, as well as Matty Sheets and The Blockheads, while Baker is engaged to the namesake front woman for Emily Stewart and The Baby Teeth.) Their leap of faith was made easier by support and advice from relatives, including Shumaker’s father, an accountant, and Baker’s mother, who owns a house-cleaning business.
The three Greensboro natives range in age from 29 to 33. They all graduated from Grimsley High School, but didn’t meet until they crossed paths at 1618 Seafood Grille, Southern Lights Bistro and Nico’s. Bohlen once apprenticed as a chef with Baker.
“The independent restaurant business in Greensboro is a small world,” Shumaker says.
The food truck business in Greensboro is also a small one, though the fledgling industry has gotten a lot of attention lately from downtown restaurant owners, the media and the city council. The Great Escape will be one of the businesses participating in a two-month trial run to bring food trucks downtown in October and November, over the protests of some traditional restaurant owners.
They have a lot of work to do to get ready for next weekend’s Food Truck Festival and the two-month trial run downtown.
They bought a truck in July, a 1995 Chevrolet originally used to deliver Lance snack foods. (“Don’t go ’round hungry!”) The latest owner sold barbecue from the truck in the Lenoir area before opening a traditional restaurant — a long-term goal for The Great Escape, as well.
“I wish we had $250,000 to buy a brick-and-mortar restaurant,” Shumaker says.
Until that day, they still need to jump through some additional permitting hoops, adorn the truck with their business logo and make some minor changes to the stainless-steel interior before hitting the road. They don’t need the deep fryer for their crepes and noodles, so they plan to remove it and add some additional burners and a flat-top grill.
They will use fresh ingredients from local farmers . They’re still working out details for a kitchen that meets public safety codes to prepare food away from the truck. Reidsville is the closest city with a community kitchen that leases space, Shumaker says, so they’re looking into alternate possibilities around Greensboro, including churches and YMCAs.
Food trucks have been a big hit in other cities. The men have witnessed firsthand the long lines and lively atmosphere at Food Truck Rodeos in Durham, and they would like to bring some of that excitement back home to the Gate City.
“It works in numbers — you can’t serve a large crowd with one truck,” Baker says. “I’d love that food culture to be in Greensboro because we’re an artsy town, you know? We love stuff like this.”