Monthly Archives: June 2023

Racquet Center Open

Sports

Tennis Pickle Ball AugustaThe Columbia County Racquet Center, formerly Petersburg Racquet Club, has opened for play in Martinez.

No reservations are required to use the hard tennis courts, but reservations are required for clay courts. To make a reservation, call (706) 860-9288 or visit the office. Hours are 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily.

Construction of new pickleball courts on the former site of the swimming pool will begin this year, and they should be completed by early 2024. The Board of Commissioners also will set a fee schedule for the facility.

Street Eats

People
Food Truck Friday

Photos courtesy of Wallace Dickerson, Funnel Cake Lounge, The Crazy Empanada, Big T’s Seafood and Columbia County

The food truck and popup scene is cookin’ up fun all around town.

Some people might think food trucks are all about bringing creative dining options to customers. That’s not wrong, but we’ll let you in on a secret. Food truck culture really is about bringing people together and making them happy. And few things make people happier than sharing good food among friends.

“Everyone meets and greets each other when a food truck comes out,” says Andre Walker, owner and creator of Funnel Cake Lounge. “They can enjoy their meal or sweet treat and have a good time before they go back to reality.”

Mobile Food Culture
Reality for Andre is that his food truck has been good for business. He opened Funnel Cake Lounge in Martinez in 2021 and added the food truck in August 2022.

“A lot of my customers were coming into my store and requesting a food truck,” says Andre.

He initially opposed the idea because of the additional expenses involved, but ultimately he discovered that the customer is always right.

“I love it,” Andre says. “I regret not doing it sooner.”

Big T’s Seafood, which has been in business for 12 years and moved its restaurant to Grovetown in 2018, added a food truck in 2021. Owners Tim Daniels Sr. and his wife, Veronica, made the leap because they wanted to expand their reach in the community.

“We get to see people that we don’t see at the restaurant,” says Tim. “We get to go into different neighborhoods, and we’ve picked up a lot of new customers.”

For Nuni Hernandez, who went the popup tent instead of food truck route,” her foray into the mobile food culture has followed the ups and downs of her life. The Crazy Empanada owner first ventured into the concept when she saw a version of herself in the movie, Chef. In this 2014 film, a head chef trades his restaurant job for a food truck to reclaim his creative promise and reunite his family.

Opening her first popup in 2017 when she was going through a divorce, Nuni, a culinary student at the time, took her last $20 and bought enough dough to make 50 empanadas. She took them to the Augusta Market and sold every one of them.

“Movies can be inspiring. Movies can take you a long way,” she says.

Nuni EmpanadasNuni opened a Crazy Empanada restaurant in 2020 but closed it in 2022 when she lost her father. However, the fulltime chef would like to “get back out there” and do popups again.

“I love what I do,” she says. “I love to see people’s reactions when they have my food. People love everything about our concepts.”

Mouth-Dropping, Eye-Popping Food
Local food trucks are available for occasions ranging from festivals and community events like Columbia County’s popular Food Truck Friday to private gatherings such as office parties, family reunions, weddings, church outings and neighborhood get-togethers. Food truck operators say people typically reach out to them through word-of-mouth or social media, and their menus vary according to the size of the event.

Funnel Cake Lounge, which temporarily closed its storefront for remodeling from February to mid-June, limits its offerings for large events to keep the line moving. Nevertheless, 13 items including S’more Lovin, Banana Jamma, Plain Jane Powdered Sugar and Cheesecake Lover, plus the most popular funnel cakes – Strawberry Shortcake and Cookie Crumble – are always on the menu.

With other creations such as Oh Split, Counting My Dough, Driving Me Bananas, Where It All Pecan and Cereal Killer, however, the funn’l never end with this food truck. In addition, customers can create their own combinations with ingredients ranging from ice cream and cookie dough to nuts and gummy bears.

There’s nothing Andre enjoys more than seeing his customers’ reactions to the desserts. “I love to watch people’s mouth drop and see their eyes get big,” he says.

Big T’s serves fried foods including shrimp, catfish, tilapia, green tomatoes and hush puppies. Catfish is the most popular item on the food truck. For a private event, the menu depends on the customer’s request.

“A lot of people like food trucks for convenience,” says Tim. “They think, ‘I’ve never been to that restaurant, but I’ll try the food truck.’”

He says the key to his success is, “Clean, clean, clean – and fresh.”

With its Latin fusion menu, the Crazy Empanada quickly became known for its Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Brazilian foods such as Cuban sandwiches, empanadas, arepas, tacos and fried tostones.

“I get to tell a story with every food I make,” Nuni says. “I get to tell the story of my grandmother making me my favorite empanada. My Cuban sandwich is a reminder of my youth in Florida with my friends. I want people to feel like they’re in my house. I want them to have a great experience.”

Good Business Model
Food trucks run on generators, and standard equipment ranges from grills and fryers to freezers, warming cabinets to heating tables, sinks to refrigerators. They also have to adhere to health department regulations, and these three entrepreneurs say the mobile food concept has been a good business model.

“A food truck is really profitable if you do it right,” Andre says. “Since we’ve been under renovation, our food truck has been booked every single day.”

NuniFood trucks are fairly easy and economical to start, the operators say, and their mobility is a definite advantage.

“If your business isn’t thriving in one place, you can go to another,” Andre says. “It’s a good way to market yourself, and it’s a good networking tool. It gives you an opportunity to meet people from all over and expand. It has allowed me to take Funnel Cake Lounge to other cities, and people are interesting in franchising it.”

Nuni, who says presentation is just as important as innovation, agrees. “You can go anywhere. A restaurant cannot move,” she says. “Once you make a name for yourself, everybody wants you.”

In addition, Andre says food trucks are another revenue source for struggling businesses. He also lets his employees set their own schedules by staffing the food truck. “They can take a break or get their 40 hours a week to meet their sales goals,” he says. “They can be their own boss and help you grow your business.”

Tim has found that overhead isn’t as high for a food truck as it is for a restaurant.

“We get the food out because we’re not serving as much as we serve at a restaurant,” he says. “We actually reach more people because we can go to private parties and private events. We’re mobile, and we can move our business around.”

Funnel CakesKeeping up with demand has been the biggest operational challenge for Funnel Cake Lounge. Andre says he turns down 40 to 50 bookings, including about 10 in Columbia County, per month because the food truck is on the road so often.

He also says that driving long distances, weather cancelations and limited storage space can be disadvantages.

“People are disappointed if you run out of something,” he adds.

The biggest challenge in operating a food truck for Big T’s is staffing because it pulls servers away from the restaurant. However, Tim chooses the people that go on the food truck with him.

Overall, however, the food truck operators have found that these enterprises increase their accessibility to their customers and their customers’ interactions with each other.

“At a restaurant, people sit, order, eat and go. They’re more casual and connected when they’re eating outside,” Nuni says. “Popups bring people together because they get to talk and share and see when they’re waiting for their food. I hear people ask each other, ‘What is that? Where did you get that?’”

After all, novelty is a food truck staple.

“This is how people discover new foods,” Andre says. “With a food truck, you can take a risk. It allows for more variety, and people venture out to see what’s not in a brick-and-mortar store.”

Fried Sea Food AugustaFood Truck Fridays
The Columbia County Food Truck Friday series rotates among three different county parks. The hours are 6-9 p.m., and live music begins at 7 p.m. Bring chairs and blankets.

July 14
Gateway Park, Grovetown

July 28
Evans Towne Center Park

August 25
Evans Towne Center Park

September 8
Eubank Blanchard Par, Appling

September 22
Evans Towne Center Park

By Betsy Gilliland

 

Event Volunteers Needed

Sports

USA Cycling Masters & Para Road National ChampionshipsAugusta Sports Council is seeking volunteers for the USA Cycling Masters & Para Road National Championships that will be held August 22-27.

More than 300 volunteers will be needed during the week for event set-up and breakdown, registration, athlete hydration, course marshals and more.

This year’s event is expected to attract 600 to 800 athletes competing for national championships in road and individual time trials on Fort Gordon August 23-26 and the criterium in downtown Augusta on August 27.

For more information, visit greateraugustasportscouncil.volunteerlocal.com.

Vulfnik by Vulfmon

Listen To This

 Vulfnik by VulfmonIn the season of mixtapes and go-to road trip playlists, a new album to throw on the summer fire is Vulfnik by Vulfmon.

As the swirl of summertime is in full effect and the sun is in full-on-blaze mode, multi-instrumentalist Jack Stratton, aka Vulfmon — lead blastermind of the acclaimed quartet Vulfpeck — cannonball splashes his genius into a lush pool of pop-funk and catchy hooks that drench the ears and refresh the soul.

With a signature blend of eclectic vibes and gravelly vocals, this 10-track ear-hydration station of funky, quirky and infectious grooves churns out a sonic slushy of flavorful genius just in time for the boiling point of the season.

Catchy tunes like TikTok-ready “I Can’t Party,” soul-shining “Lord Will Make a Way,” Emo funk-fused “Nice To You” and yip-jumpy “Bonnie Wait” are right on-brand for Stratton, and, much anticipated by Vulfpeck fans, are being released successively, one week at a time via the Vulf substack.

As this summer cranks out the heat, crank up Vulfnik to volume 11 and keep it cooler than cool.

– Chris Rucker

Juicy Watermelon Cake

Desserts
  • Fruit Watermelon Cake1 watermelon
  • 2 cups grapes
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • Fresh mint, for garnish

Cut top and bottom off watermelon so it will sit straight. Cut away rind and smooth with a vegetable peeler. Place on cake plate or serving platter and garnish with fresh fruit and mint leaves. Makes one cake.