Chef Randy Kellett is the owner and operator of Smokin’ Carnivore, an intrepid food truck specializing in mouthwatering smoked and BBQ’d meats. On the verge of their third season, Randy provides us with an all-access look inside the TRex Mobile’s kitchen, and offers his perspective pertaining to developing menus, and the local food truck industry. Just in time for Summer 2017, our feature interview with the founder of Smokin’ Carnivore launches our forthcoming mini-series exploring Kingston’s enduring food truck and mobile retail scene.
1. Tell us about your background as it pertains to cooking, the food industry and food production. How did your past lead you to decide to open a food truck?
For a summer job while attending La Salle Secondary in the early ‘70’s, I was working at the Bucaneer Restaurant highway #2. When I left to attend George Brown College’s Chef Training course, in 1973, I was told by the Bucaneer’s Owner to stay in Toronto and find a good hotel to Apprentice at. I did this and completed my Apprenticeship at L’Auberge de la Chaudierre Hotel in Hull, Quebec. My first Sous Chef position was at the Muskoka Sands Inn in Gravenhurst, Ontario. From there I came to Kingston and applied as Sous Chef at the not yet open Ramada Inn. Having worked with an impressive list of Chefs at various hotels, I was offered the Executive Chef Position at the tender age of 23. I successfully opened that Hotel, which is now Kingston’s Delta Inn. From there I traveled Ontario working as Chef & Sous Chef at some of the better hotels and resorts. Later on, I was wisely coached to seek a pensioned career, so I sought a position with the Federal Government where I taught a Cook Certification Program for 17 years.
2. When did your truck first open? Does it have a name? What are the specs of your truck and the kitchen?
I retired in January of 2013, and by January 2015 I was going stir-crazy. The Smokin’ Carnivore was to open the first week of June of that year, but due to health reasons we opened 2 ½ weeks later on John Counter Blvd. Smokin’ Carnivore Food Truck & Events is our official name, but we call the truck the TRex Mobile.
The truck is a 16’ Purolator Truck, Ford F350, which was converted by WillyDog’s Venture Truck division in Napanee. We had a set back on the first Truck we tried to purchase off of Kijiji. Being determined to get this food truck dream off the ground, and after some helpful advice from KEDCO, I decided to start again and WillyDog’s team got the job done for me. I had shopped both Ontario and Quebec for good used kitchen equipment for the TRex Mobile, and I soon learned there is no good used equipment. I went to local Restaurant suppliers Hendrix & MCL and fully equipped the kitchen with brand new quality equipment, similar to what I had used during my pre-retirement career. The TRex Mobile Boasts 2 x 100lb propane tanks, and a full size propane convection oven for large catering events. We can produce up to 200 baked potatoes in an hour or 160 Individual cornbreads at a time.
Next to that we have a 24” propane char broiler and then a double propane star burner stove where the magically tasty smoky gravy is prepared. We also have two 65 lb Pitco deep fryers. The vision was for fast customer service that would serve Smoked meats, some of which takes 16 hrs to smoke. So, my food is always ready and unlike some other Food Trucks, where you wait in line to order your food and then it comes out of a freezer and cooking begins. When your order is ready you are called to pick it up. Smokin’ Carnivore can produce 50lbs of fresh cut fries every 26 minutes!
Then there is my pride & joy, a combi, Smoke, Cook & Hold Alto Shaam. This unit was very costly but necessary to the Smokin’ Carnivore. In this unit we can smoke up to 100 Lbs of Beef Brisket or Pork Shoulders literally “In our Sleep!”. We even cold smoke Wilton Old Cheddar and Debriezini Sausages. Besides this excellent piece of modern meat smoking equipment we have the original Smoker Trailer from Web Vivian’s Ribs. Web was the original King of the Bar B Q in Kingston. He provided great smoked products to people at Lake Ontario Park and events all over the Province. This Cast Iron Smoker can produce upwards of 200 lbs of smoked product, it has eight Stainless Steel Rotisserie Baskets and has attended many a great BBQ event.
3. Regarding your business model, how do you connect with customers. Has this approach changed over time, and if so why? Finally, how does the bylaw restricting where you can setup shop affect your business?
In the first year, Smokin’ Carnivore sat in one location and relied on a website. We now move to where the business is, and use Facebook and Instagram to communicate with a loyal following of carnivores and herbivores. Our main events are at large workplaces where we come in and open up over lunch time and feed as many as we can. We book these at a rate of about twice a month. Some occasions are “Employee Appreciation Events” where the employer is providing a fixed meal or treat to the Staff. We do “Poutine Parties” in the mid-afternoon, and a rolling BBQ dinner involving over three shifts of staff.
I definitely see the need for stringent bylaws. It could get very chaotic if every food truck in the area descended on Confederation Basin for the summer! Personally I have found the City quite easy to work with. You just have to fulfill their requirements, and then you’re pretty good for the year. There is an easy method to getting clearance for a location, and once it is cleared, it is cleared for any licensed mobile food vendor. Unfortunately, once you have proven you are compliant, you have to do it all over again on January 1st the next year. There are concessions the City allows in relation to Private, Federal and Provincial properties. So, as this is where the majority of my lunch runs are, it works well.
4. What type of cuisine do you specialize in? How many items are typically found on your menu, and how often do you change things up? Which offerings tend to sell out the fastest?
We specialize mostly in Smoked and BBQ’d meats, and also provide a herbivore’s choice.
Typically we have “too many” choices. A jumbo hotdog and a smoked sausage for more economical choices, about 4 types of sandwiches, 5 sides, pickles, cornbreads and poutines! Our unique smoky gravy and Wilton’s white curd, make it a premium product that is very much in demand. Our poutine can also come with any of our Smoked Meats, (for the meat and potato types). Our approach to developing the menu is to start with what I like, see how the customer responds, and elaborate on that.
I would have to say that poutines and pulled pork sell the most, and for that reason we don’t let them sell out! We used to do “nothing but the best” chicken wings, but found it wasn’t feasible for anything short of the featured meal at a catered event. Jumbo wings are expensive, and with so many other choices they just weren’t feeling the love.
I am slightly limited to the number of rib racks I can smoke at once. I only serve baby backs and they may not be seen on the menu. I have a number of rib fans that know to ask, so if there are only a few racks of ribs available, they don’t go on the menu. If they aren’t asked for by “those in the know”, my brothers, my son and myself will see that they don’t go to waste!
5. Kingston’s food truck scene is precarious in that traditional business models are increasingly shifting towards a heavy focus on catering. Based on your experience, what are the most significant challenges and changes you’ve faced as a food truck operator? In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about owning and operating a food?
I am a past: President of the Canadian Culinary Federation, Chairman to the Board of the Kingston & the 1,000 Islands branch, and held various other industry memberships throughout my 29 year career. Through knowing so many Chefs in so many different lines, I have witnessed the move towards catering. This is why my truck’s equipment lends itself to large volume catering. We can easily go to an establishment that wants to provide a BBQ for 200 to 500 people. The biggest challenge as a food truck operator with respect to catering was to get exposure. Now that we are in our third year of operation, we are getting known.
I know all food truckers will probably say the same thing as to what the biggest misconception is to being a food truck operator…. “I thought I’d be making more profit?” There is an unimaginable amount of fees to operating a truck and following all the rules. Also, with each license, certificate and fee, come more expenses to get those first ones cleared. Many events want you there badly, but also want to charge a vendors fee or percentage to be there.
6. Looking towards the 2017 season, what surprises do you have in store for customers? Where will people find you and how do they get in touch for special requests?
For our 3rd year of operation we are pulling out all the stops! We are Celebrating Canada’s 150th with a Carnivore Tradition and serving up a Beaver Paddles! We make a beautiful Yeast dough, Deep fry it like an American elephant ear, we coat it in Cinnamon Sugar and give it a drizzle of Gibbon’s Family Farm extra dark maple syrup. When we have it, there’ll also be a sprig of fresh mint with that!
Our biggest update to the truck will be to source and secure a quiet generator.
Our two regular locations are at Gord & Kim’s NoFrills, where we hang out when we don’t have a commitment to an Event, and City Place. People can always check our website, or follow us on Facebook and Instagram to find out what events we’re attending. Other than that, phone (613-483-9756), and EMail ([email protected]) work just as well for corporate events, weddings, receptions, and whatever special requests our customers may have.