In 2010, when Ian Burris was in ninth grade at Riverside High School, he started selling homemade cold-cut sandwiches to classmates in gym. The next summer, he launched a lawn-mowing business. Then he opened ShrimpandPasta's Boutique, an Instagram-based clothing store where he resold customized jerseys and limited-edition sneakers he ordered online.
His next venture landed him on probation for marijuana possession in 2016. He was living in Wilmington after dropping out of Cape Fear Community College. But instead of losing his initiative, Burris moved back to Durham and opened late-night food-delivery business ShrimpandPasta's Dankery, its name winking at his prior enterprise. From 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. each day, Burris cooks his munchie-friendly food in his new food truck, takes orders through Instagram DMs, and deploys delivery drivers to Durham doors.
The Dankery's menu is structured around the $7 "dank tray," which comes with chicken or vegan tenders, wings, or a shrimp burger, with a side of fries (homestyle, garlic parm, or bacon queso). Customers can choose from eighteen different flavors to add to their entrée, ranging from Buffalo-blue-cheese sauce to lemon-pepper dry rub.
"[In Wilmington], I had given up on college soccer and was living with friends," Burris says. "I would make them food all the time because I love cooking. Eventually word spread, and people that I didn't live with started hitting me up for food as well."
Though Burris had left the weed business behind, he still had entrepreneurial energy to burn. He got the Dankery started in his parents' garage with two fryers he bought at Bed Bath & Beyond. He marketed himself on Instagram with the handle @shrimpandpastasdankery, posting menus and food photos. His network of high school friends, paired with his established Instagram presence, allowed him to quickly gain a loyal customer base.
"I learned about the Dankery because I went to high school with Ian. I ordered his food once and haven't stopped," Mollie McCullough says. "My friend and I always plan nights to order it, and we place orders as early as possible, so we're first in line. It's almost a ritual." McCullough's favorite Dankery item used to be the bacon-queso fries, but now that she's a vegetarian, she opts for the soy tenders, which she finds just as satisfying.
Word about the Dankery spread around Duke and N.C. Central University's campuses, providing Burris with a massive clientele of hungry college kids. Though his customers are usually young people craving tasty fried fare after most restaurants have closed, he says that the demographic widens every day.
Burris, now twenty-one, bought a food truck in December 2017, and he has hired a handful of employees. He doesn't use the truck for deliveries; he just wanted his own cooking space and pick-up spot. He says he fulfills sixty to seventy orders a night, and he foresees a brick-and-mortar location in the future.
Burris learned how to cook from his parents, but when it comes to running a business—cleaning, budgeting, managing other people—he's self-taught. He always hated having authority figures talk down to him, so he endeavors to treat his employees as equals.
"If I don't want someone scolding me, I don't think my employees would like that either. Even when I'm frustrated, I try to talk to everybody calmly, so we don't start panicking on the truck," Burris says.
In hindsight, Burris is glad he had to move back to Durham, and he takes pride in being a Durham business owner.
"I can't think of a better place to run the Dankery," he says. "More people here are getting hip every day. All my clientele are really dope people. Durham is my city. I'm happy to see it grow. I feel like it's been evolving with me, growing up as I have."
One of his chefs, Stacy Silver—a model, rapper, and tailor—shares with Burris both a love of the Bull City and a certain bravado.
"I have big dreams in life, and I'm going to see those dreams come true, but no matter what, I will never resign from the Dankery," Silver says. "Even if I have five-hundred mil in the bank, I'm from Durham, so I'm going to come back sooner or later, and when I do, I will be on the truck."
Burris utilizes Instagram stories to promote his product and offer words of wisdom. A typical story might start with a photo of Frank's RedHot seasoning with the caption, "Ask about hot fries," then transition to a series of videos in which Burris preaches business lessons he has learned.
"Don't be afraid to push your limits, it's key to growth," one reads. "A true hustler earns his customers' business every single day. Always re'd up. Every tray I sell determines if I'll sell another [100 emoji]," says another. The story finishes with a close-up pan over a dank tray, set to Outkast's "So Fresh, So Clean."
In addition to advising followers on business, Burris advocates pursuing what you love at a young age, even if it means veering from the traditional path of higher education.
"Being in school had me at my lowest point. I wasn't good at it, and that made me feel like I wasn't good at life," he says. "I would feel bad about myself and completely miss all of my dope qualities because I was fucking up in pre-cal, when really my genius isn't in the classroom, it's in the business world."
Family and friends were skeptical when he first dropped out of college, but Burris stood his ground. He says he can always go back to school. Once the Dankery reaches the point when he doesn't need to be in the kitchen every night, he wants to start a business camp for Durham youth.
"I was never in a class where I was spoken to about potentially running my own business, so I had to go figure that out on my own," Burris says. "A lot of kids grow up thinking that they're not going to be shit because no one's telling them that there's a whole other world. I hope I can be that person."