GLADE SPRING, Va. — Monte Ward used to tell his wife he was going to retire one day and sell funnel cakes and snow cones.
“She said I was crazy,” he said with a laugh. “But look what’s happened.”
The career-minded couple recently took a leap of faith and turned their crazy notion into a thriving full-time job.
Just like that, they left their corporate life, bought a food trailer and opened VickyMon’s Fun Ol’ Cakes, a year-old business operating out of Glade Spring.
For Monte, it’s a lifelong dream that has finally come true. For his wife, Vicky, it’s the chance to help him live that dream.
“Growing up, I had to have a funnel cake whenever I went to the fair. I didn’t leave until I had one,” said Monte.
The couple travels year round to fairs, festivals and shows where they sell their sinfully delicious culinary specialties — funnel cakes, burgers and deep-fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, just to name a few. They serve hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of people during a weekend. Many of their catering gigs keep them in Southwest Virginia, while other jobs take them to places in North Carolina and Kentucky.
The husband-and-wife team, both 51, are excited they have been accepted as vendors for the 2019 Rhythm and Roots Reunion from Sept. 20 to 22 in Bristol, Tennessee.
When the weather turns cold, they find jobs in warmer climates like Florida.
“We can pretty much pick our own times to work,” Monte said.
Funnel cakes probably are the couple’s bestseller on the menu, along with the deep-fried Reese’s Cups — an item not commonly offered on food trucks. Other favorites are a variety of burgers, including “bologna burgers,” and lemonades.
Then there’s Monte’s spicy burger with jalapeno peppers, Pepper Jack cheese and his homemade horse-radish-based sauce.
Just for fun, they sometimes add items like chicken salad to their menu.
Their restaurant on wheels is easy to spot. “We fly the American and police flags to show our support. It’s on the trailer wherever we go,” said Monte, who is a member of the Glade Spring Town Council.
Not all a piece of cake
It also can be a hard job — low ceilings and hot days are part of it.
“When we had other jobs, we never had time to spend together. Now, we’re in a 20-foot box working side by side. It’s a different world, but we’re having fun,” said Monte, who recently left his job as assistant manager of Walmart in Lebanon.
“We’re getting to travel the country, see and experience different things and make a little money while we’re at it.”
Vicky said it’s a lifestyle she has come to love. The kids are grown, and they can afford to be “footloose and fancy-free.”
“You don’t have to clock in or report to a boss, and we get to travel and meet new people. We’ve met some phenomenal people on the road,” said Vicky, who left her job as a department manager at Walmart in Abingdon.
“But it’s also probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had,” said Vicky.
The couple agreed that operating a food truck takes skill, a business mind and a tolerance for working long hours in a fast-paced environment.
And when the event is over and the food truck closes for the night, there’s another job that awaits the couple the next morning.
“After every event, we take inventory of our ingredients, restock the shelves, place orders and clean the trailer,” said Vicky.
While you don’t have to be a chef, the owner of a food truck business must use quality ingredients and techniques.
“We take pride in what we serve. We won’t put food out the window if it doesn’t look right,” Monte added.
An appetite for business
When the duo isn’t traveling to gigs, they spend a lot of their time researching events and checking availability for food vendors.
“We’re booked up this summer,” said Monte. “We’ll be at the Washington County Fair beginning Sept. 9. We have three Fourth of July celebrations to work — Lebanon, Tazewell and Glade Spring.
“We’ll be at the American Patriots and Pastime car show in Blountville on July 27.
“We do a lot of charity work, too. We’ll be vendors at Strut Your Mutt Dog Show on June 22 at Warriors’ Path State Park in Kingsport that benefits Sullivan County Animal Shelter.
“We also will set up in the parking lots of local Walmart stores to help raise money for Children’s Miracle Network. A portion is donated back to this good cause.”
The couple doesn’t want their business to become routine for their customers.
“We’ve had opportunities to set up weekly at locations, but we don’t do that. If we’re there every week, it may get tiresome for people. But if you’re there once a month, people will look for you.”
One of the hardest things the couple had to learn when they started the business was how to prepare for events.
“It’s a good business, but a lot of people don’t take into consideration everything that goes into it,” said Monte.
“Learning how much food to bring is very difficult. We ran out of food several times last year. Basically, you guess based on size and length of the event, get a rough idea then add extra.”
Monte estimated he can use a 30-pound bag of funnel cake batter during smaller events and as many as four 30-pound bags for larger venues.
“Most events have repeat vendors and limited space,” he said. “When we first started out and tried to get into events, we were turned down a lot. But I would ask if there was any type of food they didn’t have or were looking for. If they told me, we would change our menu to fit the event and get our foot in the door. Needless to say, we found ourselves purchasing a lot of different equipment last year,” Monte said.
“Some events are larger than others. It all depends on the turnout and the weather,” he said.
“We’ve worked some strong events.”
The team traveled to Mount Sterling, Kentucky, for the Court Days festival last year. “They had 100,000 people there, and we were one of 38 food vendors to attend.”
The couple also must secure business licenses and approvals from health departments for every town they visit.
“Then, there’s always an entry fee for each show. They can range from $50 a day to $1,200 for two days,” Monte said.
“This can be a lucrative business, for sure. But, like anything else, you have to be willing to work at it.
“This is a wonderful lifestyle. Our business affords us time to spend with our families. And being able to travel and see the country is phenomenal. Life is good on the road.”