When Craig Barbour decided to leave the mechanical-engineering track in school, it had less to do with physics and more to do with food. The former University of Maryland student decided to switch gears after he began selling his culinary concoctions for cash. Both his passion for cuisine and fear of a future desk job led him to relocate to Charlotte, where he eventually graduated from Johnson & Wales University and opened Roots (www.rootsfarmfood.com), a food truck specializing in healthy meals that primarily use fresh foods from local farms.
Creative Loafing: How did your past endeavors contribute to your use of locally grown fresh foods at Roots?
Craig Barbour: I really got into local food when I worked at Carmel Country Club. The chef I worked with, Mike Vergili, used to buy some from the local farms, but a lot of stuff we were getting in wasn't from local farms, just because of the huge scale of the country club. He couldn't buy everything locally, but everything he could, he would. There was no comparing what we were getting from the wholesale distributor to what we were buying from the farmers. My original business was called Co-Operative Connections, and what we did was drive to a bunch of farms around the area and find out what products they had. Then we would go to restaurants and sell them food directly from the farmers. But in doing that, I removed myself from the kitchen, and I didn't like that. So I said: "OK, how can I get back into the kitchen, use local foods, and be my own boss?" The food truck was the answer.
Have you found the rise in popularity of food trucks helpful or challenging for business?
It's been a sliding scale. When I started Roots, there was really only one other food truck in town, and that was Harvest Moon Grille. Now that there's a lot more, probably triple that many, the spots you have for the food trucks are sacred. There's starting to be cliques forming within the food truck scene, and it's a little bit strange. As long as the ones that are open serve good food, it keeps people eating at food trucks. If we start to get some food trucks that are poor quality, then it will start to reverse the stigma of food trucks and things could go back to people not eating at food trucks.
How is the Democratic National Convention going to affect your normal Tuesday through Thursday downtown lunch spot, at 3rd Street and Tryon?
It was going to be pretty impossible for us to have the food truck downtown for the DNC, mostly for security reasons. Any food going into the city would have to go to another location first for inspection, then it would get another inspection at security checkpoints, and then we could get to go set up. We would have to leave extremely early in the morning and cook our food extremely early just to serve lunch to people. Since we cook a lot of our food to order, it would be a difficult task. We rely on a quick transport of our food so that we can have it as fresh as possible for people. Logistically, it just seems like we'd be spending more money than we [would be] making. We'll still be at the Atherton Mill & Market for breakfast on Saturday.