(The following article will be featured in the latest issue of Lake Life Magazine, available this week.)
For a growing number of people in and around the Smith Mountain Lake area of Franklin County, Tuesday nights have not turned into cooking nights. On Tuesdays, Lake Thyme Eatery, a food truck owned and operated by Stephanie Roberts, serves pre-ordered meals from a variety of weekly specials.
Lake Thyme Eatery shows how creativity and modern technologies and trends can bring about a completely new business model for the hospitality industry. There is no brick-built restaurant; the restaurant works exclusively as a food truck. Roberts is the mother of 14-month-old Gracie, so it suits her to only operate one evening a week. She announces her weekly menus on Facebook and through an email mailing list. Customers pre-order using the links provided by her. They come by on Tuesdays and pick up their take-away food.
In addition, the facility enables Roberts to unleash their culinary creativity and offer variety to their customers as they offer different menu options each week. They usually include a main course or selection of salads and an optional dessert.
“At the moment we are open on Tuesdays from 4 to 6. For now we are only making pre-orders. It works well when you’re a new mom, ”explained Roberts.
“The menu changes every week. We made pasta, Thai, Greek, Mexican, German, fish roast, “Hibachi” and more. When asked what her personal specialty was, she replied that the most popular menu items were Lemon Garlic Shrimp Pasta and Greek Night.
The truck will be set up in the parking lot of the Queen Bee Consignment Shop at 12126 Old Franklin Turnpike in Union Hall.
The story of how Lake Thyme Eatery was launched as that unique approach to hospitality shows Roberts’ creativity, problem-solving skills and resilience.
In 2020 Roberts and her husband Adam lived in Goochland. About a year and a half before the COVID-19 outbreak, she had operated a new food truck called the Spud Bucket there in Goochland. It specializes in loaded french fries.
“I had a lot of fun with the original idea,” she recalls. “I wanted to keep it simple. I spent a whole summer perfecting it – the cut of the fries, the toppings. ”
With her food truck she made the rounds at breweries and festivals and hosted special events. Then COVID-19 and lockdowns hit and everything changed. Due to the cancellation of special events and festivals, Roberts lost a lot of business with already booked events. In addition, she was pregnant, and given the uncertainty about health risks and the closure of many of her truck’s events, the Spud Bucket was parked.
Stephanie and Adam decided they wanted to live closer to the family with a new baby, so Adam got a job in Franklin County and moved to Hardy last October. This February Stephanie reopened her food truck, now renamed and with the new business model that suits her circumstances.
“With a new baby, I wasn’t interested in being in a brewery two or three nights a week before eight or nine,” she commented.
The entrepreneur was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the restaurant gained in importance.
“I was overwhelmed by the reception. I thought it would take months to build a customer base. But from the first few weeks we had a following of loyal customers, ”she reported. “It was a pleasure to get to know the regulars and see them every week.”
She added that some customers order faithfully every week. To get them involved, she publishes informal surveys on social media and asks them questions like “Would you like grouper tacos or grouper fish fry?”. for August 10th (won fish tacos).
“That works great for me,” she said of the current agreement. “I achieve my goals and can bring creativity to the menu items.” Regarding the future plans, she said: “I would like to dare to do more catering; a couple of caterings a month would be nice. “
Roberts noted that family members and two other women were helping her with serving on Tuesday night. She does all the preparatory work herself.
The two degrees Roberts earned from Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte – an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in food service management – are used on her food truck projects.
Roberts pointed out the benefit of a food truck business: “If something doesn’t work for you, you can come up with a new business plan, revise it, and turn it into something else.”
Read more stories in the current issue of the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper. If you’re subscribed, check out the e-Edition version at www.smithmountaineagle.com/eedition. If not subscribed, pBuy a print copy or subscribe to it at www.smithmountaineagle.com/subscriber_services.