The long and winding Gillespie Road runs from Sooke Road to East Sooke Road, ending at a T-intersection where Jamie Sellar has parked his food truck TasteBuds for more than four years.
The green motif hints that the food could be cannabis-infused — “That’s how we draw you in,” jokes chef Jonathan Duquette – but they grill top-of-the-line burgers in four types: cheeseburger, pork, jerk chicken and veggie.
Duquette, formerly found in a fine-dining kitchen, thinks food trucks became a safe space during the pandemic when regulations were changing seemingly by the day. Restaurants pivoted to take out, but he says the uncertainty still scared customers off.
But TasteBuds, where he’s been grilling and toasting for a year, provides a safe way to have a social connection still and be part of the community. Instead of travelling around like a mobile food truck, TasteBuds is rooted to that parking lot, open from noon to 7 p.m. every day, offering good food and friendly hellos.
Sellar is looking at starting a second location closer to Victoria to save on burger-commute time for some loyal customers to drive for an hour to get the Royale Burger. But he isn’t interested in going to where the crowds are, preferring to let people make his burger a destination.
For one thing, every time you drive one of these old trucks, something’s bound to vibrate loose. But mostly it seems to be good business to stay in one spot where folks always know where to find you. And there aren’t a lot of other restaurants in East Sooke
Dakota Whitten, chef at the Sooke River Grill. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
On Sooke Road, on the west side of the bridge, is another new establishment: the Sooke River Grill. Chef Dakota Whitten was working at the well-loved Sooke eatery, Route 14, but when he was offered a chance to run a new truck, he didn’t think twice even though it was winter in a pandemic.
It opened in December, and the lifetime Sooke local says he’s already been able to hire another chef and three part-time cashiers. Down the road, he could picture himself moving indoors to a typical restaurant, but for now, he’s all focused on making the best food he can.
“The food is it. That’s all we have,” he says, gesturing to the tidy kitchen. He’s working on developing the seating area, but food trucks live or die by customers’ reaction to the food.
With the laser-sharp focus on just food, it means costs are also lower, which for successful trucks means staff can get paid well and maybe have some work-life balance, typically unheard of in the restaurant industry.
Kelly Johnson runs The Food Truck for his uncle, Edward Tuson of Black Market Meats. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
The enduring love of outside food has not escaped notice at the District of Sooke, trying to encourage food trucks in municipal parks. Its efforts haven’t paid off, though. A motion inviting food trucks to park at three parks this spring and summer has so far gone unanswered. It seems more common for trucks in Sooke to stay put.
Such as Edward Tuson’s new truck in Sooke Brewing Company’s parking lot. Tuson owns and runs Black Market Meats, a specialty deli that brings the bacon to Sooke, literally — the thick cut stuff is a top seller at 400 to 600 lbs. a month.
His truck is a no-nonsense white cube with a no-nonsense name — The Food Truck — serving all sorts of cured meat sandwiches, burgers, tacos and pub-style snacks. It opened in November, and business is strong enough that Tuson’s considering starting a pizza truck in a separate location.
But like Sellar, Tuson has no interest in following crowds from place to place. The Food Truck doesn’t even have a steering wheel. And don’t even bother asking if he’d start a restaurant. The answer is no.
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