At February’s Bar & Bat Mitzvah EXPO, one vendor attracted a lot of attention: a catering company called Southern Crust, whose presence was marked by its main attraction, a 1953 Chevrolet truck converted into a rolling kitchen.
“We’re not actually a food truck. It’s a catering truck,” company owner Bob Lewis said during a visit to his center of operations in Chamblee. Outfitted with a wood-fired pizza oven as well as beer and wine taps, the vintage vehicle also has refrigeration, a generator, a stainless-steel work area, water tanks, a triple sink and a PA system.
“We showed up there (at the expo), and everyone was looking for something new and different. They wanted something cool. Kids can get into this; so can dads, because we have beer and great pizza,” he said. “It’s a really unique system.”
The truck is a story in itself, Lewis said. Its shell was found rusting away in a field in Tennessee. He hauled it back to a restoration facility in Conyers, where a longer chassis was built and a new engine was installed.
The kitchen area — Lewis calls it “the box” — was assembled in Charleston, S.C., based on an idea by a local man he met through a mutual love of soccer.
The service, with former Apple chef Robert Echols at the helm, has been running only since October, but it has handled 45 bookings, Lewis said. “The majority of what we’re doing is birthday parties, wedding rehearsal dinners, corporate events. We served 300 pizzas at Sweetwater’s 20th anniversary party.”
The truck also serves up s’mores as one option for dessert.
On Saturday, March 18, the company was at the Jim Ellis car dealership in Chamblee to help launch the new Alfa Romeo sedan.
Lewis’ wife and son help him run the business. “It’s a family affair,” he said, calling them both “very big foodies. We import the best, non-GMO flour from Italy, and we have the best tomatoes and greens and fresh ingredients. We start from a good basis. It’s pretty hard to screw it up.”
The food is healthy and focused on the taste, Lewis said, and Southern Crust has already won a food award. “The National Association of Catering and Events had a showcase, a food competition called Taste and Trends,” he said. “I thought I’d pull away with a trend award because this is pretty trendy, but we came away with a favorite taste award.”
Southern Catering (www.southerncrustcatering.com) is by no means the only venture in which Lewis is involved, though. “I’m a serial entrepreneur — got a lot of other things going on,” he said. “I’ve got my event production company consulting some big agencies in town on marketing strategies. Just picked up a big contract with the U.S. Marines, reinventing how they recruit.”
The latter project also involves a truck. “I’m creating a challenge course on wheels, in a big NASCAR-sized trailer. It was (racing driver) Tony Stewart’s merchandise truck. Inside are all the assessments for mental fitness — sound effects, bombs going off, noise — and outside it’s all physical challenges — rope climbing, push-ups. Those things are standard, but not with a vehicle.”
Lewis wants to expand Southern Crust to three or four trucks, taking them into Nashville and Raleigh. “They are both hot markets with pretty good populations,” he said. “You put pizza and beer together, and it’s a pretty fashionable, palatable party on wheels. It’s a fun business.”