Ronnie Woods, a bail bondsman in Mexico, has always loved old cars and barbecue. So when he had a chance to get into the food truck business last year, he went for it. Now he plans to open a restaurant in Vandalia early next year with an automotive theme.
“I enjoy doing cooking versus bailing people out of jail,” Woods said.
Woods currently operates his barbecue food truck, Up in Smoke Food Shack, in several towns along Highway 54 and Highway 19 including Montgomery City, Mexico, Bowling Green, Louisiana and Vandalia. The truck serves the general public and also does the occasional lunch for area businesses, events and staff at the Bowling Green prison.
The truck typically comes to Vandalia on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. unless there is a schedule conflict. When it’s in Vandalia, it always parks in front of the old service station on Highway 54, next to the Dairy Queen.
“We’re actually going to take that old service station and convert it back into what looks like a service station, but we’re going to put a restaurant in there to seat 30 to 40 people, something like that,” Woods said.
He says he used to race cars, for 15 years, and also owns a 1955 Bel Aire and a 1966 Deuce that he takes to car shows.
“If it’s car related or something old and nostalgic, we’re all about it,” said Woods, whose mother, Rene Orton, of Curryville, helps him with making sides for his food truck. “I thought if I turned it back into a service station and made it a barbecue joint—we’re going to put some old nostalgic car stuff in there, patina it and stuff like that—it’ll be cool.”
Woods grew up in Vandalia and graduated from Van-Far in 1993. He also has a brother who works for the City of Vandalia.
“Vandalia’s been pretty supportive of it, and everybody I know down there is just pretty excited we’re going to put in a restaurant. It’s something different.”
The goal is to have the new restaurant up and running for a grand opening by March 31 if he can get all of the construction done. He said that some contractors are backed up six to eight months.
The restaurant will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Even when it opens, though, he says he still plans to keep running the food truck. His food truck, which is technically a renovated food trailer pulled by a truck, serves mostly barbecue and sides but has some special dishes you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
“We call it a food shack,” Orton said.
Wood said he has always loved to barbecue. He specializes in smoked barbecue and pulled pork, but there are a lot of options and variations. He also has weekly specials to keep things interesting such as a jalapeno sausage rolls, smoked meatloaf, chicken wings, tacos and nachos.
“We do a barbecue burrito once a month, and a lot of people are like ‘What is that?’ It’s just brisket, baked beans and macaroni. Basically everything you get at a barbecue, we put it in a burrito and roll it up and grill it.”
The main menu normally includes a pulled pork dinner, brisket dinner, grilled cheese pulled pork, grilled cheese brisket, pulled pork sandwich and pulled pork and slaw. There are actually seven different varieties of grilled cheese pulled pork, and all of the side dishes are always homemade and made from scratch.
“We don’t buy anything in a jug,” Woods said. “Everything’s kinda got our own little touch– that’s stuff that we like. We change our sides up, too, just depending on the weather, the season.”
Woods says he likes to keep things interesting for people and is always open to suggestions from patrons on something new to try cooking.
“If it’s something unique that we think will go over good, we’ll try it.”
Woods handles all of the barbecuing himself. He’s behind all of the meats, the flavor and the smoke.
“I’ve been barbecuing all my life,” he said. “I always did it for my friends, and my friends and my mom and all them always said, ‘Boy you can cook better than most anybody.’ So I kind of thought about it for awhile and decided I’m going to buy a food truck.”
Woods said he “bit the bullet” and bought the truck.
“I just jumped in–I didn’t know nothing–and it was crazy,” he said. “It’s been a learning lesson, learning the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts.”
One of the biggest lessons, he says, was gaining confidence in his cooking skills. Before he bought the truck, he says the only thing he had never tried making was a brisket. So he did some research, bought some meat and spices, and began experimenting. When one of his friends invited over the owner of a barbecue place in Jefferson City, he got rave reviews.
“It’s cool, you learn something and it pays off,” Woods said. “So it’s very humbling that people like my cooking.”
Another thing they’ve learned is that no two towns in Missouri are the same when it comes to what they like and don’t like.
“Some towns like macaroni salad, some towns like broccoli slaw, some towns really like nachos. Some towns like hot stuff, some towns don’t. Some towns want barbecue on everything.”
Woods says he doesn’t put barbecue on his pulled pork but lets customers choose for themselves.
“It’s just all natural seasons we put on it and smoke it,” he said. “So it’s moist and you have the option if you want to put sauce on it, that’s up to you.”
The truck also has a number of specials, some more regular than others. The special that he says raises the most eyebrows might be the grilled peanut butter and jelly.
“When we first started that, I was kinda scared doing it,” he said. “Now we sell 50 or more a week.”
Woods says he loves doing the food truck but is excited to open his restaurant.
“The food truck’s fun, but I think giving everybody a wider variety of stuff will be great,” he said. “There are some appetizer ideas that we have that we think people will enjoy.”
He also plans to expand the menu to include things like chicken tenders, pork tenderloin and frozen custard.
“The restaurant will have frozen custard shakes including an adult frozen custard with bourbon,” he said. “I wanted to expand my menu a little bit, so i just thought man, if we could buy a building where we had a bigger kitchen, we could do carry out. Well if you’re going to do the carry out, you might as well have places for people to come and sit.”
Woods plans to put the full view service doors back in the restaurant to where customers can see in. He says there will also be an open kitchen where customers can see the food being prepared.
“That’s what I want. I want people to come in and see stuff made fresh.”
Ronnie Woods operates his “food shack” in the parking lot next to Vandalia Dairy Queen. He owns the lot and plans to open a restaurant at that location sometime early next year.