It was a typical Wednesday night for most El Pasoans, including Roman Wilcox. The sun had just set, the mid-winter chill setting in, and Wilcox had just braved I-1o at rush hour – driving from far-East El Paso to the parking lot at TradeCraft on Mesa Street.
However, unlike his fellow commuters, Wilcox had a smile on his face and a seemingly boundless supply of energy as he parked his food truck and rapidly began setting up.
Wilcox is the owner and chef of the ‘One Grub Community’ Food Truck. The truck, which sports a familiar El Paso City Lines Trolley-esque color combo of Green, red, white and black, is a common sight around various events and gatherings around the Sun City.
“We started this “officially” in early January, when we got our permit,” Roman shares, as he simultaneously begins firing up the grills and retrieves spices from the shelves, “but this was my friend’s food truck, and I was cooking with him for a little while until he got a job and put it up for sale.”
The truck was well-known to residents as “El Paso Wurst,” a Breaking Bad-themed food truck that featured gourmet brats.
“So the time came and he told me, hey – I’m working, you need to figure out what you’re going to do – so I worked the truck, like his employee and it caught on really fast,” Roman adds.
By this time, a couple of patrons from TradeCraft have made their way out to the parking lot and ask if he’s already taking orders. Wilcox leans out, greets them with a big smile and points them to the order window. In a flash, he’s back over the food prep table, seasoning chicken cutlets, then turning to stir the salmon chowder – simmering on the gas grill.
“Once we realized what we had, we finalized it all rather quickly and hit the street…but man…it’s a lot…”
Now, the first customer – menu in hand – asks if the veggie gyro is completely vegan; Roman quickly makes his way over to the order window and answers ‘Completely Vegan,’ and then explains the process he undertook to make the meal happen.
“It’s cashew-based, it’s homemade seitan…all vegan,” he says as the woman smiles and nods with approval, “and the lentil soup is great too.” Satisfied with his answer, the woman adds the soup to the order, and Roman is back over the grill flipping chicken breasts and stirring the soups.
Without missing a beat, Roman jumps right back into our interview.
“So, from an administrative stand point, I was sinking like a ship – I had to cook, and I had to do this and that – and my wife, she’s a city employee for five years sees this, quits her job and sets up full time with me…and now we’re full speed ahead.”
Not including his stop at TradeCraft this particular Wednesday night, Roman says he has five other events set for the week, then there’s first of what he hopes will be monthly, signature ‘Pay it Forward (PIF)’ events.
What started as a tip jar, evolved into a PIF jar, where the funds – including cash, credit card tips, and a percentage of the sales from the seasonal tamale and posole sales would all go to the first, planned event: feeding the residents of the El Paso Opportunity Center this Saturday.
With a bit of help from an Eastwood High fundraiser to top off the PIF fund, Roman and his truck will be bringing residents of the center a breakfast usually reserved for high end restaurants and typically not expected from a mere food truck – something he points to as another reason for his business.
“We’re very excited about this first event,” Roman says, again flipping the chicken and warming up the gyro’s flatbread, “it’s all so cool, because it reminds me of when I was working in kitchens, bringing as much of the good food to people who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to have it.”
Wilcox’s experience with bringing so-called ‘high-end’ food to those who wouldn’t necessarily have access to it dates back to his time with another community favorite: The Mustard Seed Cafe.
“I was there from 2013 through 2015 as the Executive Chef, I got with them because we were very like-minded, and our hearts were in the same place…it was a beautiful experience…and when it was time for us to go our separate ways, the whole concept of ‘Pay it Forward’ meant something to me then, but afterwards I knew I had to make sure that good food was available to everyone, regardless of what’s in their wallet.”
In addition to his passion to make sure the food remains accessible, is his determination to make sure local food producers get in on the action as well.
“Our menu is seasonal, and I’m beginning to work with farmers around here – Desierto Verde is the main one now – and tonight the radishes, spring mix, swiss chard, all locally produced…and it’s just beautiful,” he says, carefully placing the greens on the gyros, “and Friday’s menu will depend on how I do tonight, but it will be local…but it’s cool, man, it’s the freedom for me to make it however I want to.”
He also speaks of ‘displaced vegans’ and those who live in food deserts – surrounded by fast food, but lacking good food – and his quest to bring them into the mainstream, by bringing the food they like, directly to…or at least close to where they live.
All made possible now by his truck.
With the line of customers growing, enticing smells beginning to waft from the food truck, and orders filling the railing above the grill, Roman’s pace picks up; one minute serving soups, the next locking the table into place right below the order window, setting out the truck’s trademark chalk so patrons can draw or write on the lower third of the truck.
Roman smiles as his patrons begin digging into his creations, watching as they share pictures of their food and check in via social media; within minutes, more people appear and his tasks for the night are set – preparing food, explaining the process and smiling the whole time.
“What it just comes down to – for me – is that I could feed a thousand people bologna sandwiches for $500 bucks, but I’d rather feed 50 people an amazing, full, clean meal…something that’s gonna nourish them and something that’s going to bring dignity and respect to the individual as a person…because everybody has a right to a good meal.”
And with that, a new set of chicken cutlets are tossed on the grill and Roman disappears into the flavorful smoke, as customers line the sidewalk, awaiting his creations.