Food trucks deliver delicacies, diversity to Grand Strand dining options
The best places to eat in town aren’t always places, at least not permanent ones. For the fleet of food truck operators on the Grand Strand, the hottest spots to find hot food are wherever they park their mobile munchie machines.
After Horry County and the City of Myrtle Beach gave the green light to allow food trucks to operate in the area in 2017, the Grand Strand has seen a convoy of conveyable commercial kitchens converge on the local culinary scene. From street festivals to car dealerships, food trucks are popping up in some surprising places and serving surprisingly unique grub. Gone are the days of the “roach coach,” as modern food trucks offer an eclectic array of dishes.
Sure, there are predictable but delectable items like burgers and hot dogs. But today’s food trucks also offer comfort foods like mac and cheese, international cuisine like gyros and pierogis and fresh fare like salads and smoothies.
Perhaps the only thing more varied than the food lineup is the diversity of the vendors. We found four local favorites from different culinary backgrounds who agreed on one fact: Food trucks are fun, but they’re still work.
So you think running a food truck sounds like a good time? (Spoiler Alert: It is.) Before you kick the tires on the idea, step up to the window and order some substantive advice from these four Grand Strand food truck operators.
Kerry Ragland spent over a quarter-century in the traditional food and beverage industry, bouncing between the Virginia mountains all the way to New Orleans before having a realization: Perhaps his business should be mobile, too.
“I always ended up back in Myrtle Beach wondering what I wanted to do next,” he said. “I was bartending here in town when food trucks started to get big and I decided to build my own. I saved my money and worked on it as I could.”
It took more than two years for Ragland to complete the project, including sanding and hand-painting the snazzy silver exterior. As luck would have it, the paint was dry just in time for local governments to approve food trucks.
“I was the second one in the city and the third one in the county to get a permit,” he said. “I was ready in March 2017 and my first gig was the Myrtle Beach Food Truck Festival on April 1. I thought it was an April Fool’s joke.”
The popular event, which holds its fourth annual celebration April 3–5 at Burroughs & Chapin Pavilion Park, proved to be the start of much more for Ragland. In addition to finding an exciting new career, he also found a family.
“When I go to bigger festivals, it’s like an extended family reunion with the other (food truck vendors),” he said. “You see them at all these other events and they quickly become like family. I call them my food truck cousins.”
But it isn’t all food, fun and camaraderie for Ragland, who serves up Philly cheesesteaks and other hot sandwiches. As much as he loves his new gig, Ragland can rattle off a long list of hassles that come with running a food truck.
“Where I work in the truck, over the flat-top, it’s 160 degrees in the summer,” he said. “And there’s prep, cleanup, driving, permits, accounting, social media, plumbers, electricians, mechanics. Everything about it is a job.”
But Ragland says the pros outweigh the cons. Being his own boss, working a flexible schedule, enjoying family time, meeting new people in new places and seeing smiles emerge from his cheesesteaks make his new job likely his last.
“I’m a one-man show,” he said. “I have help but if my wife or kids get sick, I don’t have to go. I can work when, where and as much as I want instead of going to work the same place every day at a brick-and-mortar restaurant.”
Shannon Garrow can back up Chester Cheetah’s catch phrase: It ain’t easy being cheesy.
“I call it controlled, crazy chaos,” said Garrow, owner of EZ Cheezy Food Truck based in Socastee. “It’s a lot of fun, but there are things people don’t think about. Before you start one, make sure it’s what you really want to do.”
That wasn’t an issue for Garrow, who was finishing culinary school and trying to map out her next career move. Married with three children, operating a part-time food truck made more sense than working an overtime restaurant job.
“I didn’t want to go into a restaurant and work six days a week, but I wanted something where I could use my culinary training and have some freedom and flexibility,” she said. “When this one came up for sale, we jumped on it.”
Despite her gourmet expertise, Garrow found herself operating a food truck that specializes in the most basic ingredients—cheese and bread. But her culinary creativity has elevated the menu beyond the common grilled cheese.
EZ Cheezy offers five types of grilled cheeses, including one with mozzarella, pesto and tomato, with add-ons like avocado, bacon and ham. Her specialty is the Pig Mac—mac and cheese topped with pulled pork and sweet BBQ sauce.
Since hitting the road in 2018, EZ Cheezy has been a favorite at local and regional festivals, especially with the younger generation. Garrow landed a regular gig with the Myrtle Beach Sports Center feeding youth teams at tournaments.
“It’s a lot of fun to meet people and see repeat customers,” Garrow said. “I travel to a lot of festivals and it’s great to see their faces light up when they see us. I’m also serving a lot of healthy options, so we cater to all.”
But there’s nothing easy about running EZ Cheezy. In addition to the operation of the food truck and the time management issues of balancing work and family life, Garrow says there are pitfalls and potholes around every corner.
“My prep is easier than most because it’s mostly bread and cheese,” she said. “But you’re always going to have maintenance issues. Something is always breaking down. If you want to run a food truck, come jump on mine for a day.”
Rentko’s Polish Food
Jack Rentko’s ancestors brought their traditional Polish recipes to Northern Pennsylvania. A few generations later, after owning a restaurant and bar and running a pierogi factory, Rentko brought those same dishes to Myrtle Beach.
At the time, many Southerners thought a pierogi was an Italian sports car, not a Polish stuffed dumpling. But after introducing local taste buds to the delicacies, he is converting palates to Polish cuisine one pierogi at a time.
“My food is very popular with Northerners, particularly Pennsylvanians,” he said. “Pierogis, stuffed cabbage, halusky (noodles and cabbage), homemade sausage—they’re all recipes that were passed down, but I add my own touch.”
Rentko spent four years operating under a tent before taking the big step of purchasing a food truck in 2019. Despite getting a rude awakening to the realities of the business at his first food truck gig, things have only gone up.
“Tents were cheaper, but it was strenuous setting up all the equipment,” he said, “but with a food truck you just hook up to the generator and go. My first job was a disaster. Nothing worked right. It was a very stressful day.”
But festival by festival, Rentko’s black-and-red Pole-mobile has served Pennsylvania transplants and longtime locals alike. Rentko has also added more regionally popular dishes, like pulled pork barbecue and fries, to his lineup.
Rentko’s top seller hails from somewhere between Central Europe and the U.S.—London broil steak sandwiches. He slices and marinates the beef for two days, then slow cooks and smothers them with peppers, onions and au jus.
“If a festival starts at 10 (a.m.), I’m up at 6 because I have to put the stuffed cabbage in the oven, fry all the onions and peppers, boil the noodles ...” Rentko said. “I’m head chef and chief bottle washer, so it’s a long day.”
But the joy of spreading his cultural cuisine, especially his Hungarian grandmother’s famed pierogis, is worth it. “Now I go through 60 to 70 cases of pierogis (per event),” he said. “People come up to us just for the pierogis.”
Be Well Meals & Juice Bar
The bright yellow paint job reads “Be Well Meals & Juice Bar.” But calorie-counting patrons, vegetarians, vegans and others with dietary restrictions call her “Dorothy the Food Truck”—the only local health food outlet on wheels.
“She was a hot dog truck when we got her, but she went vegan,” joked owner Leslie O’Neill. “My husband drove her back in the middle of the night and here’s this bright yellow truck. I said, ‘It looks like the yellow brick road.’”
The Wizard of Oz reference gave birth to the name “Dorothy,” who underwent a major conversion from serving grilled meat sticks to healthier options like fresh salads, vegetable nachos, gluten-free mac and cheese and smoothies.
“People are so excited when they first see us and say ‘It’s about time,’ ’’ she said. “But at least in this market, there’s just too much demand for the other stuff. Honestly, it’s hard for me to hold my own in those situations.”
Dorothy’s transition came naturally to O’Neill, who also is a wellness consultant and runs a meal prep business. She hoped Dorothy would be a nice extension of her existing businesses, like Benito’s Rolling Oven has been to its brick-and-mortar location, but the time demands proved too much.
O’Neill recently put Dorothy on the market and hopes someone can invest the time it takes to make her successful. She said she will miss the fun days at local festivals and fitness center parking lots, but not her lost time.
“Putting Dorothy up for sale is bittersweet because I really wanted it to work here,” O’Neill said. “It’s a lot of hard work in the heat and in a fast-paced environment. I just don’t have time to run the truck, but I hope someone does.”
It just goes to show that running a food truck might not be for everyone, but ordering tasty grub from them is. For foodies looking for some of the best fare on the Grand Strand, just follow your noses to the local food trucks.