A Minnesota food truck owner hopes to inspire other veterans to follow their dreams.
Shaun Holley always wanted to be a chef. The 29-year-old grew up in Eagan but was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, so his first cooking lessons were in grandma's kitchen, making comfort food classics like biscuits and gravy, creamed corn, okra, and fried chicken.
After earning his degree from Le Cordon Bleu in 2009, Holley got his first taste of the culinary world as an intern at Solera under J.P. Samuelson.
But food isn't his only calling. Holley is also a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard. And in 2011, a deployment for Operation New Dawn put his culinary career on hold. As a cavalry scout, Holley spent about a year providing security for convoys and escorting troops in and out of Iraq.
When he returned to Minnesota, Holley wasn't sure how to transition back into civilian life. He hadn't been in the kitchen for awhile and wasn't confident about his skills.
Though he eventually got back into it and worked at a string of high-end restaurants in the Twin Cities, being a chef wasn't always peachy – it was long hours and high stress. With his military duties on top of that, Holley was burning the candle at both ends. He didn't want to give up his passion, but something had to change.
"It got to a point where I really wanted to just do my own thing," he told GoMN.
Holley put cooking on the back burner again, and started bartending – a job where he could make the same amount of money working half as many hours. It allowed him to squirrel away tips for his new dream: owning a food truck.
Holley dreamed of being his own boss. And he had a vision to make upscale restaurant food accessible to more Minnesotans.
"I wanted to use high-end ingredients to make homegrown, simple food that's done really well, at a reasonable price," Holley told GoMN.
He found another veteran who believed in the concept and agreed to be a silent partner. They bought a truck that they found on Craigslist, and within about nine months, The Fabled Rooster was ready to hit the streets.
The Fabled Rooster
In order to own a food truck in Minneapolis, you have to have a commercial kitchen space. After securing a partnership with the Oak Park Community Center in north Minneapolis, The Fabled Rooster rolled out in September 2016.
Most days, you can find the truck parked outside of a taproom in the Twin Cities, but the crew also caters weddings and other private events.
Holley says the best way to find the truck on any given day is by checking The Fabled Rooster's Facebook account.
So what's on the menu? Plenty of homage to Holley's southern roots.
You'll find items like barbecue pulled pork, smoked ribs, fried green tomatoes, cheesy grits, and a crawfish po' boy. For some events, Holley will roast a whole hog.
The offerings are always changing slightly with the seasons.
"We try to keep our food sources local, that's part of why our menu changes so often," Holley says.
Between creating recipes, prepping food, cooking, planning events and organizing the schedule, managing employees, and all of the other back of the house duties, Holley has a lot on his plate. That's where his time in the military is paying off.
"I'm using a lot of skills I learned in the military – things like time management and problem solving. Even my mechanical experience has helped when it comes to operating and maintaining the truck," Holley said.
That's why Holley promotes The Fabled Rooster as a veteran owned and operated business – he wants to inspire veterans to find their passion and run with it.
"Unfortunately in our society, veterans that get out of service have one of the lowest productivity levels in the country," Holley said. "We want to show veterans that it's possible to take the skills you've learned in the military and apply them in the civilian world. You can accomplish anything you want."
What's the Fabled Rooster? It's kind of an ambiguous name. We picked it because we didn't want to be stuck to one particular type of cuisine – we want to be able to keep our menu seasonal and always rotating and changing. So we picked the rooster because every culture has a rooster represented in it, whether as a deity or on some mythological level. The fabled part represents how we tell our story through our food.
What's your favorite thing on the menu? Either our pulled pork sandwich or our ribs. Customers love the fried pickles.
What's it like operating a food truck in Minneapolis? Times are changing. A few years ago the rules were really strict, but over the last year we've seen a lot of progress. Last fall, a pilot project tested having trucks downtown after bar close. Minneapolis is definitely working on changing the laws to become a more food truck-friendly city.
What can Minnesotans do to help with that? It sounds very corny, but write your local government, senator, city council – let them know that you want food trucks downtown til 2 a.m. There aren't a lot of food options downtown at those times of night when people need substance in their stomachs. And it puts sober eyes of the food truck operators on the streets. I think having food trucks around could actually make downtown safer.
What's next for The Fabled Rooster? We want to give back to the community, so we plan to start cooking free meals once a month out of the Oak Park Community Center. We want to bring people together and get families eating together.