By Deborah Buckhalter | Jackson County Floridan
Alford major George Gay makes his primary living as a captain and crew member with the Marianna Fire Department.But about seven weeks ago, he started a lunchtime food truck business that he runs on his days off from firefighting duty. He’s forged a connection between those two parts of his life.
The name of his new business is emblazoned on the side of the bread truck he converted. It’s called Firefighter Foods, and some of his sandwich offerings have firefighter-related names. It is the only regularly operating food truck that Gay is aware of in Jackson County, and he says he hopes he’s tapped into an untapped market.
The truck can tow a pull-behind smoker that Gay uses to cook some of his offerings over pecan wood a few hours before he opens up at 10:30 a.m. each business day. Other things are cooked on the propane-fuelled cook tops in the trailer, which he also outfitted with his own custom-made steam tables.
He generally shuts things down around 1:30 p.m. unless he’s at a day-long festival somewhere.
He parks the truck at various key locations in Jackson and Washington counties and has a Facebook presence and blog, both searchable by typing in firefighterfoods. He also has an Instagram under the same name and in these ways lets potential customers know where his truck will be at any given time. He also pays attention to requests from people who visit those sites, moving to a location that has apparent high consumer demand.
Gay said his new business is a family affair. His wife, Melinda, helps him with customer care when she can, and 12-year-old daughter Peyton helps out on weekends and holidays when she’s out of school. He said that’s one reason he set up his mobile café. It gives his daughter some work experience, helps her earn some money for the extras she wants and will need when she goes to college, and it’s helping her build a work ethic that he hopes will last a lifetime.
Gay said he’s been pleased so far with how his daughter has taken to the work. It was her initiative, for instance, that convinced him to drive the food truck to the recent Sunland Fall Festival. She’s learning many business and financial principals, he said.
Gay said he hopes to have an employee trained one day to run the truck on days that he’s on duty at the MFD, but for now is building with his family’s help alone.
His menu will expand, but for now features items like slaw dogs, pulled pork barbeque sandwiches, chili dogs and one special item inspired by his father, who died in 2011. “John’s Scrambled Dog” was one of his dad’s favorite treats. It involves two beef hot dogs cut into cubes, two bun sets, onions, chili, mayonnaise, mustard, sweet relish, and cheese. At $7.25 with a drink and chips included, it’s the most expensive thing on his menu, which tops out at $5 for some the simplest items.
Gay said he had talked many times with his father about someday opening a restaurant, but kept putting the idea on the back burner and then morphed it into the food truck venture. He said he honors his father’s support and love by putting his favorite snack on the menu and naming it after him.
Gay learned many of his cooking techniques from his father, and honed some of his own as he cooked for charity events and in various barbecue contests.
And he’s learned enough about his customer base through the years to know this; Southern-style sweet tea is a staple on his menu of beverages.