You might have seen a red truck making its way throughout St. Francois County. It’s hard to miss the massive lunch lady graphic on each side of the truck and the phrase, “It’s on the table!”
Look closely and you’ll see Tom Abel behind the wheel of this local food truck. He and wife Julie are Park Hills residents and owners of a new addition to the community – a restaurant-on-wheels business called The Lunch Lady Food Truck.
Tom’s grandmother was a lunch lady. He spent a lot of time as a kid with his grandparents. In fact, many of his happiest memories are from time spent with them.
“There was so much love in that place,” he said. “’It’s on the table’ was what she would yell on holiday, Sunday or big family dinners, to let everyone know that food was ready.”
Tom said he can’t even say the phrase “It’s on the table” without imitating his grandmother. “I hear it in my head in her voice 100 times a day.”
Actor and comedian Chris Farley, who was best known for his very energetic, loud style, was a mainstay on Saturday Night Live for several years. He and Adam Sandler performed an iconic song titled “Lunch Lady Land” which was a tribute to school cafeteria cooks and sloppy joe sandwiches.
“I would be lying if I tried to say that Chris Farley didn’t have a little to do with it our food truck,” said Tom.
Together, Tom and Julie have a combined 50 years of food experience. Before beginning their new adventure, Tom was a manager at a local Walmart and Julie worked at area restaurants for nearly 30 years.
The couple have been married for 10 years. Tom said he really started cooking when Julie decided she didn’t want to cook anymore.
The couple credit their family for inspiring them to start their own food truck, which they officially put on the road this past October.
“I’ve been around good food all my life,” said Tom, “and I’ve tried to soak up knowledge from a lot of people.”
Julie agreed. “His family gatherings are always my favorite place to eat.”
And good food is what they’re serving!
In the few months they have been open, The Lunch Lady has already developed a faithful following of fans. They love everything Tom and Julie serve: fried chicken breast, pulled pork and sloppy joe sandwiches; a variety of tacos; pulled pork bowls; fried pickles; and more.
Customers can’t get enough of the chicken sandwiches and steak tacos. The sloppy joe is also a big hit once customers try it.
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The couple makes all of their sauces and spices, which includes their barbecue, ranch, chipotle, taco seasoning, barbecue rub, slaw dressings and marinades. They hand-bread all of their fried items; they do not buy frozen pre-made foods.
Right now, Tom said his current food favorite is the buffalo chicken sandwich or steak taco. Julie’s is the Buffalo chicken taco.
The couple plans to add a few seafood items to their menu for Lent and include more barbecue options in warmer months.
“But we will definitely keep our regular items on the menu,” said Tom. “We plan to keep kicking out good food and putting smiles on people’s faces.”
The Lunch Lady Food Truck has become a passion for Tom and Julie. They love their time spent together – both at home and on the truck.
“You would think being together all the time, all day, every day would be difficult,” said Julie. “But we love working together.”
There are days when things don’t go as smoothly as the couple would have liked. When they first got their food truck, they forgot to strap everything down before traveling to their next location. After much cleanup and a lesson well learned, that hasn’t happened since.
Sometimes little things happen like when their debit reader/POS system have issues with connecting to the internet.
A typical day on the food truck begins at 6 a.m. and ends around 3 p.m. or when the couple sell out of food. The workday is long and exhausting. From prepping food to cooking to cleaning, the couple work side-by-side to make delicious and house-made – or truck-made – food for their customers.
Tom said other tasks include “Julie making the food truck spotless on a daily basis” and a lot of trips to grocery stores.
“Even though we’re really tired after work, we are passionate about what we do and we love doing it together,” said Tom.
Currently the couple focuses on traveling throughout St. Francois County in their food truck. They also frequently visit Potosi. They are slowly building their list of places where they frequently set up.
“We try to decide by where the most people are, whether it is traffic or employees,” said Tom.
The couple are grateful for the support they have received from the community.
“The support and positive feedback from our customers have been overwhelmingly awesome,” the couple said. “This has been some of the most fun we have had in our lives.”
The Lunch Lady Food Truck can be reserved for events by messaging the owners through their Facebook page. Check their Facebook page called The Lunch Lady Food Truck and Catering to find their next lunch location.