Six Questions for Glocca Morra Grill’s Rhonda Evans
For Glocca Morra Grill’s Rhonda Evans, working in the food industry is like “wearing a comfortable pair of old shoes”. Rhonda grew up in her family’s restaurant, and was mentored along the way by doing every job imaginable. She went on to study and make art, then meet and marry a farmer, which where she became an integral member of the 6th generation, family-run Glocca Morra Farms. As a farmer and producer, her journey took her in new and exciting directions where she found herself teaching others about agriculture and food production, as well as organizing a popular community barbecue. Of course, one thing led to another, and year’s later Glocca Morra Farms added their very own mobile grill. Featuring fresh from the farm seasonal produce, artisan cheese, and local treats from the likes of Seed to Sausage and the MacKinnon Brothers Brewery, the Glocca Morra Grill serves up fare that’s a little bit different from other food trucks.
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?
Growing up in Newfoundland, at age seven, my parents took a leap of faith and decided to open a franchise of Mary Brown’s Fried Chicken in a small town named Clarenville. This became the starting point of my career you could say. I grew up walking to Mary Brown’s, aka “The Store” for lunch from our school everyday. I would walk in on busy lunch hour, mom would have my lunch ready for me, I would go back to the staff area and eat. Having more time on my hands as than it took to eat I would like to help out so I would wash dishes or do some other small little job that made me feel important before walking back to school.
As I grew older I did a little more and at age twelve I received my first pay cheque! I worked on Saturdays and saved spending money for a school trip to England! I continued to work for my parents until I finished high school. At that point we moved to Kingston where they opened another store and continued to work until 2015. Retiring after 39 years in the industry, they have had plenty of experience that I have learned from, I am very proud of my parents as they have been my mentors all the way.
Now that is my history. However, over the years I have done many other things as well. Art has always been a passion of mine. I went to school to become a graphic artist. I worked in the industry for a number of years. During this time I met and married my husband Patrick Doyle.
Pat was a full time dairy farmer, on the family farm working with his father. As we were married some of the dynamics of our farm changed. Pat’s father had a stroke that unfortunately took him form the farm to long term care. Pat continued to work at the farm, but it became unmanageable for a one man show to care for our herd. I was then we made the decision to stop milking, build our home on the farm and diversify. We added a farm stand off our gate, then a greenhouse, rental beds for folks to come do their own “farming in raised beds”, pick your own pumpkins….. over the years we just kept adding to what we were doing.
I began teaching some classes. People want to know about cooking, preserving, storing their veggies. We are able to provide them with all they need to do this great stuff, I even have recipes for them sometimes. I love sharing knowledge with people as I work here at the farm. I may have some things I can pass on to people, but in return I learn as much and more from my customers everyday! We also started doing Saturday BBQ’s here at the stand using a local producer, for fabulous sausages. It was a hit! People were coming just to have lunch with us! I was having so much fun.
Getting to the food truck….. For many, many years, long before the food truck industry seemed to launch itself into the Kingston area I had talked about taking our produce and using local products from this area and doing something with bigger with it. I was looking into working with a local mobile kitchen specialist when another family moved to this area and started a food truck doing something similar to what I was about to o. So I put this idea on the back burner.
As my parents decided it was time to retire they had to work to find the right buyer to sell their business too. It was a long process! Then it happened. A wonderful couple came along, they too were from Newfoundland, and Peggy and Charlie were ready to step up from their chip truck to a restaurant. When I heard about his I decided I had to talk to them about their business! I didn’t want their stationary truck but they had a trailer they were using to do mobile events… Do you see where this is going… Pat and I went to The Sheep dog Trials at Grass Creek Park to see Peggy and Charlie in action. Charlie asked me if I wanted to step in and work his grill. I did! Charlie said if you’d like to stay for the afternoon I will drop you off at the farm when we close around Six. Pat took one look at me smiled and said he was going back to the farm to work at our market and he’d see me later! He knew I had found my calling! The next day I went back to see Peggy and Charlie while they worked a busy lunch rush. I saw their were things to be stocked up on I jumped in helped out for a bit then we did the golden handshake, I was to be mine! At the end of this event they dropped their trailer off here at our farm and it all began to take shape. As part of our agreement I was going to fulfill the rest of the commitments they had made for the next few months but using my name and my menu.
One of the first calls I made after this purchase was to Mike Makenzie, from Seed to Sausage. I called to tell him I was going to use his products in our mobile kitchen. Mike was thrilled for me. He invited me up to his shop in Tischborne, to discuss menu options and he had great advice for me to move forward. That was to be the beginning of my menu development. Local is so important to me for every aspect of what I do.
2. When did your truck first open? Does it have a name? What are the specs of your truck and the kitchen? What’s special about your truck?
I renovated the trailer to make it what I needed it to be for the menu I wanted. There is a fryer, a grill and a three hole sink that all roll outside on the deck, which is the back door of the trailer. When I am set up it is a 10’x20’ footprint. There are two refrigerators with freezers inside, with lots of shelving and tables for working on. We use crock pots and an induction plate for cooking on inside the trailer. It is very clean and comfortable to work in. because I am cooking outside it doesn’t get as hot inside as it does in many other trucks.
The first event was launched one month after the purchase of the kitchen at The Kingston Fall Fair. I asked to move my location over to the barn and farm show area of the fair because that was the group I was supporting with my products. We were received by the community with open arms. As our farm is named Glocca Morra Farms it only seemed right to name it The Glocca Morra Grill.
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?
Glocca Morra Farms is open to the public at 10am, 7 days a week. Working The Grill has become an outlet to go on the road! I do festivals and events, several weddings and private parties. We use Facebook and our website to let people know where to find us. It works for us!
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, and have you ever had to retire an unpopular dish?
Our menu is always based on local! We change it up everywhere we go. I try to base it on seasonal availability of produce whenever possible. For example, today at the farm we will have fresh local strawberries for sale, therefore this weekend I guarantee the folks at Gemstorm will have several items made with these on our menu!
There are some things that we do and people expect to find such as “Seed to Sausage” sausages. Buns are over rated, so we grill flat breads add a fun twist to each variety. We work with local breweries to do our chicken and lamb dishes. Maple Syrup from Fosterholm Farms, Tomatoes from Forman Farms, Garlic from our farm… You get the idea!
Taco Sausage: this is a Caramelized Onion Pepper Sausage, served on a grilled pita with shredded cheese, lettuce and my homemade taco sauce!
Apple Sage Sausage: Served on a grilled pita with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette slaw!
Curry Yogurt Sausage: This is served on a grilled pita with a homemade Garlic Lemon Yogurt Sauce and Cucumber!
Drunken Chicken: Made with MacKinnon Brothers 8 Man English Pale Ale, Maple, Citrus ~ served in a pita with lettuce!!
– or – Served over nachos made fresh here on the truck, with cheddar!
Curried Lamb made with MacKinnon Brothers Crosscut Canadian Ale served with grilled pita $8.50 – or – Curried Lamb Poutine $10.00
We work really hard to get our menu ready for easy service. We do a lot of prep and have our crew working in stations so that we can usually get the orders out to the customers within a couple of minutes. I don’t think there is anything we have ever retired from the menu, our problem seems to be that we create something new and it’s so good that we just keep adding items! Our Drunken Chicken Nachos were a mash up that Adele and I created one day just by accident and decided it was so good we had to share it and that is becoming a great menu item.
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?
Food Trucks are a lot of work. Ours is a restaurant on wheels with a focus on bring a diverse menu to events. I don’t want to be traditional. That has become the name of the game so to speak for this industry over the past number of years. Themes – each truck brings a unique twist to what they think the crowd will like. Most venue organizers look for this when inviting us to do their events giving a variety to the participants or audience. There are several of us that work together really well to make this happen too. The Smokin’ Carnivore and I are great together. We help each other out whenever possible. We even check to see whose doing what so we don’t have too big a crossover. For that matter if one of us runs out of something and the other has extra… we share!
You ask about challenges and misconceptions… Everyone thinks that if I can cook in my kitchen and run a bbq than I can do a food truck. That’s just not true. It’s like someone that changes the light bulb saying I’m an electrician. Food Trucks are roving restaurants. There is a lot of work, a lot of prep and clean up, and overhead is large too, not to mention rules and regulations, licenses and insurances. People don’t see any of that when your passing out their orders though they underestimate what it really takes to be successful.
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 catering?
We are looking forward to all the events we have booked for the 2017 season. I believe we have almost every weekend booked between now and the end of September and several more bringing us into November. You will find us at Cataraqui Area this weekend for Gemstorm, Artfest in City Part July 1,2 & 3. the Sheep Dog Trials in August… Check us out on Facebook or our website for more information on how to find us and contact information.