(The following article is 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 become no cooking nights. On Tuesdays, Lake Thyme Eatery, a food truck owned and operated by Stephanie Roberts, serves up preordered meals from a variety of weekly menus.
Lake Thyme Eatery demonstrates how creativity and modern technology and trends can produce a completely new food service business model. There is no brick-and-mortar restaurant; the eatery operates exclusively as a food truck. Roberts is the mother to a 14-month-old, Gracie, so operating only one evening per week suits her. She announces her weekly menus on Facebook and through an email mailing list. Customers preorder following the links she provides. They stop by and pick up their carry-out meals on Tuesdays.
Furthermore, the setup allows Roberts to exercise her culinary creativity and lets her customers enjoy variety, as she provides different menu options each week. They usually feature a main course or a salad choice and an optional dessert.
“Right now we’re open on Tuesdays from 4 to 6. We do preorders only for now. It works well with being a new mom,” Roberts explained.
“Each week the menu changes. We’ve done pasta, Thai, Greek, Mexican, German, fish fry, hibachi,” and more. When asked what her personal speciality is, she replied that the most popular menu items have been lemon garlic shrimp pasta and Greek night.
The truck sets up shop in the parking lot of Queen Bee Consignment Shop, located at 12126 Old Franklin Turnpike in Union Hall.
The story of how Lake Thyme Eatery came into being as this unique approach to food service demonstrates Roberts’ creativity, problem solving skills and resilience.
In 2020, Roberts and her husband Adam were living in Goochland. For about a year and a half prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, she had been running a new food truck there in Goochland called the Spud Bucket. It specialized in loaded French fries.
“I had a lot of fun with the original idea.,” she recalled. “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 of breweries and festivals, as well as catering at special events. Then COVID-19 and lockdowns hit, and everything changed. With special events and festivals canceled, Roberts lost a lot of business from events that had already been booked. Furthermore, she was pregnant, and with the uncertainty of health risks and the closure of many of her truck’s events, the Spud Bucket was parked.
Stephanie and Adam decided that with a new baby, they would like to live closer to family, so Adam got a job in Franklin County, and they moved to Hardy last October. This February, Stephanie reopened her food truck, now rebranded and with the new business model to fit her circumstances.
“With a new baby, I wasn’t interested at being at a brewery until eight or nine o’clock two or three nights per week,” she commented.
Just how quickly the eatery gained traction came as a pleasant surprise to the entrepreneur.
“I’ve been blown away by the reception. I thought it was going to take months to build up a customer base. But from the first few weeks, we had a following of loyal customers,” she reported. “It’s been a pleasure getting to know the regulars and seeing them each week.”
She added that some customers order faithfully every week. To engage them she posts informal polls on social media asking them questions such as “Do you want Grouper Tacos or Grouper Fish fry?” for Aug. 10 (fish tacos won).
“This is working great for me,” she said of the current arrangement. “I’m meeting my goals and can put creativity into the menu items.” As for future plans, she stated, “I would like to venture into more catering; a couple of caterings a month would be nice.”
Roberts noted that family members and two other women help her with the serving on Tuesday evenings. She does all the prep work herself.
The pair of degrees that Roberts earned at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte — an associate’s degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in food service management — are being put to use through her food truck ventures.
Roberts pointed out the advantage of a food truck business: “If something’s not working for you, you can come up with new business plan, revamp and turn it into something else.”
Read more stories in the current issue of the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper. If subscribed, view the e-edition version at www.smithmountaineagle.com/eedition. If not subscribed, pick up a print edition or subscribe at www.smithmountaineagle.com/subscriber_services.