Abilene’s newest food truck has rolled onto the culinary scene to serve gourmet grilled cheese around town.
The Toasted Traveler, owned by Jason and Stephanie Blair and Allen and Amy Botkin, opened for business Nov. 22.
Only six months before the griddle was fired up, Stephanie was taking golf lessons from Allen. Blair discovered Botkin and his wife Amy own Hickory Street CafÃ© after many hours taking lessons. The two couples began brainstorming and tossing ideas around for opening a food truck.
“I have this passion for feeding people,” Blair said. “But I’ve never wanted to own a restaurant because I didn’t want to be tied down to brick and mortar and mortgages and that sort of thing.”
With food trucks growing in popularity, the Blairs and the Botkins got to work to give their idea the wheels to contribute to the growing fleet of mobile eateries around town.
“Allen loved the idea since he already had a restaurant,” Blair said. “It’s more fun and flexible; we can take it where we want and change up the menu whenever we feel like. It’s just a business model that really works for us.”
The Toasted Traveler serves fun twists on an American classic – the grilled cheese sandwich. With a blank canvas of bread and cheese, the truck has creative freedom to dazzle its customers with new creations.
“Grilled cheese is quintessential comfort food, somewhat easy to prepare,” Blair said. “It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t at least harken back to their childhood and find some kind of comfort in cheese and bread and things that mom made or grandma made. I want people to enjoy coming, I want them to get that warm fuzzy feeling out of visiting, and I think grilled cheese can do that.”
Blair is the brains behind the menu, crafting sandwiches as simple as bread and cheese and as complex as cinnamon cranberry goat cheese with apples. There may even be a glazed donut grilled cheese on the menu.
“I’m the creative cook behind everything,” Blair said. “I’ll take suggestions from anyone, but it’s funny that when you open a business, everyone has a recipe to share. The exciting thing about a food truck to me was the opportunity to be creative and do things kind of off-the-wall.”
Still in the early stages of business, Blair and the team continue to learn and figure out the logistics of purchasing ingredients for the sandwiches.
The Blairs and Botkins have commercial food accounts with Ben E. Keith and Performance Foods in Abilene, but have found purchasing from Sam’s Club is usually cheaper. The tricky part of the grilled cheese business lies in the bread that houses the adventurous creations. McKay’s Bakery and H-E-B on South 14th Street do special orders for the truck.
“We’d love to still find a third local bakery a little less corporate do orders for us,” Blair said. “We want to work in as many local products as we can.”
Opening a food truck is fairly simple. If you don’t already own a restaurant, the truck has to be equipped with a commercial grade kitchen and meet the health code that applies to a small kitchen. Beyond that, permitting requires the truck be parked within a certain distance of restrooms for customers and employees. As long as the truck isn’t parked illegally, business can proceed as usual.
The Toasted Traveler’s truck was designed by the Blairs and Botkins and was custom-built in Tennessee. The truck features a generator so it can be parked anywhere and not be tied down to electrical cords.
After their first few weekends, Blair said the demand for grilled cheese is higher than she expected, but they will be selective about the number of appearances the truck makes around town weekly.
“There’s a high demand for us right now, which I didn’t anticipate,” Blair said. “People really love grilled cheese and that is exciting. But we said going in to our business plan that family comes first.”
The truck will stick to two nights a week, with the exception of special events every now and then.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do things in the evenings and I have to be very careful what we commit to because I’ve got young children, and I want to spend time with them,” Blair said. “I was hoping to receive more of a lunch crowd following so that I could do that while my children are at school.”
Blair said she hopes to see the food truck industry continue to grow around town. There is already a sense of community and friendship between different trucks in Abilene.
“It’s more like a club than a competition,” Blair said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie which is what makes it really fun. We’re not really competing as much as making a trend. The more food trucks we have in one place, the bigger the crowd we’ll draw.”
The Toasted Traveler sits outside local venue The Mill on Saturday evenings and makes a few other stops throughout the week.
Blair and her team said they look forward to continuing to serve others with their comfort food.
“To watch it all come together, we’ve been very blessed along the way and things have really fallen into place for us,” Blair said. “To me it’s exciting because we really have something that people want. It’s fun to watch people enjoy your product.”