Frank Holloway's night almost ended before it began. The acrid smell of burning fuel was thick in the Friday evening air, as a loud choking sound spit out of the generator beneath his food truck.
Inside the red cabin of Urban Entrees, Frank has buns stacked for hot dogs and hamburgers, and chili and cheese ready for chili fries. But without a working generator, he thinks he's going to have to call it an early night at his frequent weekend post on Rigsbee Avenue.
At times like this, Frank remembers the advice his mother gave him when he decided to join the family business: working in food trucks is never easy.
But just as he's about to leave, one of Frank's regular customers, an employee at Surf Club, walks by. He points up the street to Surf Club and invites Frank to use the bar's back patio—and electrical outlets.
"Come on back and serve, man!"
"You got a plug back there?" Frank asks.
"Yeah, let me just put in a word!"
And like that, Frank is back in business.
"I love this strip," Frank says. "People like him know my work ethic and and who I am."
The Holloways bring a new definition to 'family business.' Franks's mom, Carolyn Holloway, known as "Tootie," started a food truck in 2008. Now, Tootie, her husband, Herb, and their sons Antoine, Frank, and Sherrod have a food truck fleet that includes three trucks, with a fourth on the way.
Herb, who builds and maintains food trucks for the family as well as other businesses in the area, including Soomsoom Pita Pockets, is working on building the new truck. Antoine helps his mother in the Tootie's truck, while Sherrod operates his own funnel cake truck with his wife, Deona.
So it is more than likely that Durhamites who frequent the food truck scene, especially late-night, have eaten food linked to the Holloway family.
When Tootie started in 2008, she says only a handful of food trucks operated in the area.
"They weren't even thought about," she says.
Currently, Tootie owns a brick-and-mortar space (named, of course, Tootie's) on Angier Avenue. The storefront will become a restaurant soon, but so far only holds the family's cooking supplies, further proof that this is a family focused on food trucks.
Rapid growth in the food truck industry shows that this focus is paying dividends. The Emergent Research group and software company Intuit forecasted national revenues of $2.7 billion for food truck businesses in 2017. That's a four-fold increase from $650 million in 2012 revenue, the same study found.
A boom in local food truck business is far from the only change Tootie has witnessed. She was born in Durham in the 1950s and can name an endless stream of businesses and buildings across the city that no longer exist, mapping out a landscape few would recognize.
"I could talk to you for three days about Durham," Tootie says.
But while her hometown has changed, and perhaps more so than ever in the years since she has entered the mobile-food business, Tootie says the running of her family business has remained the same.
Tootie pushes her sons hard and stresses consistency, no matter who is in the kitchen. It's a problem other food trucks deal with all the time, Antoine says. Too many hands in a recipe, so the same recipes cooked on separate occasions might taste drastically different. Before Frank could run his own food truck, he worked seven years in his mother's business to make sure his service was consistent with the Tootie's legacy.
And that, Tootie emphasizes, is an integral pillar of her family's success: a focus on consistency and tradition in a city in the midst of so much change.
"A lot of my wisdom comes from the history of Durham," she says. "We had small hot dog shops, and people took pride in their food."
"The food wasn't processed," Antoine adds.
Tootie nods in agreement.
"I remember all the old restaurants where you could get a full-course meal," she adds. "Everything was made from scratch."
Like the food joints from Tootie's youth, Urban Entrees and Tootie's embrace a wide-ranging menu instead of specialty items. Their menus feature a classic spread of Americana, from hot dogs, hamburgers, and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches to cheese fries and BLTs.
The food is an effort to keep traditions alive, a nod to past family recipes and the history of Durham. It harkens to a time when a hot meal filled you up without thinning out your pockets. Take their juicy burgers, which two people hankering for a bite after two a.m. could easily split. Unwilling to reveal family recipes, Herb claims that the ubiquitous ten-dollar burger, found at newer sit-down restaurants, is not nearly as good as the burger his family sells out of its food trucks.
The biggest perk: it's half the price.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Family Style."