It was only shortly after it opened this spring that Asheville-area food truck Kabobby McGee’s grabbed the top prize in the Oskar Blues Loaded Up and Truckin’ Food Truck-Off competition with its distinctive doner kabob sandwiches and white chicken chili. Xpress recently spoke with owner Ryan Falconi about why he started the business, why the truck is bright orange and what he hopes will happen next.
Mountain Xpress: Did you go to culinary school? What’s your background?
Ryan Falconi: I went to Johnson & Wales in Charlotte. I stuck around after I finished my associate’s [degree] while a lot of other people went out into the field. I finished the bachelor’s program and learned the management side — accounting and all that stuff — that I really didn’t have any experience with at all. I hunkered down and graduated with a great GPA. After that, it was kind of expected that I would go into management, so I was doing catering, I worked at the Ritz Carlton as a cook, and then I went into management for Compass Group, but I just didn’t want to get into all that. I ended up leaving that and started studying wine. I was a waiter trying to get into the sommelier thing. I got a few certifications and then moved to Washington, D.C., and sold wine for retail and was the sommelier on Capitol Hill, but they threw me into management. I was hired as the sommelier but was actually the assistant manager. Then, my father passed away. I had a little money from the sale of his house and wanted to do something with it. I started thinking about ways to get back to my roots. I’ve always enjoyed cooking — you learn something new every day.
How did you decide that getting back to your roots meant operating a food truck?
I had not had a doner kabob sandwich since 2009, when I was in Germany studying wine. A doner is like a gyro, but much better. It’s on thicker bread, not just a pita, and has more toppings — cucumbers, tomatoes, coleslaw dressing, meat from a spit and more. It’s actually a Turkish dish. There are many Turks in Germany. They started coming over during the millennium, so when I was there in 2009, these little shops were all over the place. In some bigger cities like Berlin and London, you can find the doner, but other than that, you don’t see them much. I do mine on focaccia because that’s the closest thing I could come up with. Basically, I started the truck so I could have a good doner.
Where do you get your ingredients?
The meat is all Halal-certified, and you can only find that in larger cities, so my meat comes from places like Chicago and New York City. Everything else is local — all the bread and vegetables.
What’s the truck’s history?
It’s from New York and was originally a Little Debbie truck. Someone in Winston-Salem redid the inside for me. I had it painted orange to stand out. Plus, psychologists say that the cold colors turn off your appetite. This is a warm color, and you can see me from a mile away.
What’s with the name – Kabobby McGee’s?
I’ve always been a music fan, so it’s a play on the Janis Joplin song – “Me and Bobby McGee.” I thought it would stick.
What else do you sell aside from doners?
They’re the big sellers, but right now I’m rolling with chicken chili, falafel, a pork sandwich and a grilled chicken salad. I always have gluten-free and vegetarian options, too. I’ll likely change the menu up based on the seasons.
Where can people find you?
Green Man Brewery has been great. I’m there two days a week, and on Fridays, I’m at Habitat Brewing in Asheville. I keep Saturdays open for special events. Our Facebook page has updates. My girlfriend, Lea, has done a great job with marketing, setting up festivals and does some cooking, too.
You won the Oskar Blues Loaded Up and Truckin’ Food Truck Off in April. Tell me about that.
There were about 17 trucks and 200 judges out of 2,000 people. I’ve only been serving food in Asheville since March, so the win really took me by surprise. It was our first competition. It was great! We had two items for judges to sample: the doner kabob sandwich and the white chicken chili.
I’d love to open a brick-and-mortar place. I’m creating a name and waiting to see what happens with a location, interest rates and all the rest.