By Brentney Hamilton | DallasNews.com
FORT WORTH — As outdoor temperatures begin their wintry descent, local food trucks must face one of the industry’s peculiar challenges: Keeping customers happy in uncooperative Texas weather. This week, Fort Worth truck Lee’s Grilled Cheese has parked and unpacked its kitchen in a new, stationary headquarters at 5040 N. Tarrant Parkway in Fort Worth.
Those who love the special appeal of “grills on wheels” will be relieved to know, however, that the truck is simply hibernating during a winter sabbatical and will return in late February or early March as the weather improves. But, the new, permanent store is here to stay as well, and co-owners Lee Perez and Keith Lee Weber are eager to continue the ever-evolving concept’s new experiment.
“There’s a lot of both good and bad that comes along with being truck-based,” said Perez. “Some companies refuse to work with your or don’t want to be involved for whatever reason. It’s their loss, though. We’ve formed some incredible partnerships to ensure we have fresh local produce and top-quality ingredients.”
He and Weber would rather accentuate the positive, anyhow, and they are focusing on the opportunities the new store has provided for growth and creativity.
The original truck operated mainly on a build-your-own format. However, each month would also bring a chef-created, rotating creation. The specials often featured unexpected and odd combinations, such as the Back Breaker, a sweet and salty barbecue pulled pork sandwich piled with sharp cheddar and a dollop of gooey mac ‘n cheese plopped directly on the sandwich. When developing the new store’s menu, Perez and Weber decided to permanently include the best-selling specialty recipes.
Aw, hell. Just put the Mac-n-Cheese directly on my sandwich (aka “Back Breaker”).
“There was limited refrigeration on the truck, but now we’ve been able to work in a permanent Top 10 of the former specials that have now become staples,” Perez said. “Customers can still choose their own adventure, or they can experience one of ours.”
Some of those crazy concoctions include the Bacon Fig Fontina, which a customer helped to develop; and the Cheddarlicious, a grilled cheese topped with Granny Smith apples and caramel — a twist on the idea of cheddar on an apple pie.
The store, which opened on December 31, already has a drive-thru, but Perez said they are waiting to use it until they’ve perfected the logistics in the kitchen. One new menu item that has benefited from the permanent kitchen space is French fries. The truck always carried potato chips, but customers often asked for fries, and that wasn’t feasible with the previous setup. In line with the cheesy theme, cheddar fries top the agenda for new menu additions.
Despite relatively quick growth, Perez still believes in running a homegrown, local brand. “We think big. Sure, we’d like to expand outside of Texas one day. We want to be huge,” Perez said. “But, it’s important that people know we are an independently-owned local company, and we’ll always want to best serve our hometown clientele.”