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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

The Airstream

June 9, 2021

In 2020, America was running out of chicken tenders, masks, hamburger meat, hand sanitizer, and plastic gloves. But we were also running low on recreational vehicles. Everyone still wanted to travel, but no one wanted to get on an airplane if there were even any airplanes still flying.

There has never been a time in my life when I wanted to own a recreational vehicle. I have nothing against recreational vehicles, or the people who own them. It’s just not for me. The only reason I know there was a recreational vehicle shortage is because I was in the market for one. One might wonder, “Why is a guy who is not into recreational vehicles on the lookout for one in the middle of a global pandemic?” The answer is: Tacos.

After opening our new Tex Mex restaurant, we learned quickly that the kitchen was not going to be big enough to handle the patio seating that we were adding. We needed to be able to serve food on the patio, but we couldn’t do it at the expense of our guests in the dining room. This dilemma was solved when I started thinking about a food truck.

I’ve been on the verge of buying a food truck several times over the past decade but have been too busy to pull the trigger. Though— in the current dilemma of trying to feed patrons on a new 3,500 square-foot patio— a food truck seemed like the perfect solution. I didn’t need it to be mobile. I just need it to serve tacos, queso, nachos, and quesadillas to our guests on the patio.

I’ve always admired the design of Airstream trailers, especially the ones that serve food in Seaside, Florida. For those who have passed that cramped and crowded little section of US 30A in the panhandle you will know that there are always lines at the Airstream food trailers.

Back to the problem at hand. In 2020 there were no recreational vehicles, or Airstream trailers, to be found. Anywhere. Seriously, anywhere. I searched for weeks trying to find a used Airstream that I could rig out into a kitchen outdoor kitchen. After an exhaustive search I finally found one in the tiny tip of Brownsville Texas. But before I could send the company a check it was sold out from under me.

After several more fruitless weeks searching I finally reconciled to myself that there was not an available Airstream to be found anywhere in America. So, I started wondering if I could build my own structure that looked like an Airstream. So I called a few people I knew who are in the metal fabrication business. In the middle of my search, one of those friends called and asked, “Are you still looking for an Airstream?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’ve been looking all over the country and there are none to be found.”

“I was just on Facebook Marketplace and saw that there’s one for sale 10 miles away from you in Petal.”

“Petal Mississippi?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “I’ll send you the link.”

I clicked on the link right away and saw that there was a 31-foot, one-owner, Airstream for sale that had been put up for sale at 5 PM the previous day. I knew it was going to go fast and so I sent a message to the owner via Facebook. When I didn’t get a reply, I went to his Facebook page and looked at his friends list. I frantically started texting all of my friends who were his friends. I got a quick response of someone who knew him, and I got the seller’s cell number. I started rapid-texting him that I would like to buy his Airstream. Finally, 10 minutes later, I got a response. The reason he couldn’t respond to my earlier text was because he was talking with someone in Rochester, New York who was willing to buy the airstream trailer— sight unseen. “Don’t do it!” I said. “I’ll buy it right now, and I will bring you a check in the next 10 minutes.”

It took a little convincing— and an offer of three tacos for life— to talk him into selling me the Airstream, but after a few minutes he relented. On the way to pay for it I began to think of the process of converting an aluminum trailer into a Health Department certified food prep facility. The thought was daunting. Everyone I had spoken to over the past few weeks were in the business of converting Airstream trailers into mobile kitchens. I had never done that, and learned quickly that I never wanted to do it again.

I started wondering who might do such work in my area and thought I could probably take it to one of those truck stores that jacks trucks up and puts fancy wheels on them, but was worried that I could probably get ripped off because I know nothing about converting an Airstream trailer.

Then I thought of Patrick Bond.

Patrick Bond is a master woodworker. I don’t think there’s anything made of wood that he can’t create, build, or restore. I texted Patrick, “Have you ever worked with metal?”

“A little. What you got?” He responded.

I went on to explain my Airstream dilemma and let him know that he is the only honest person I know who does such quality work on pretty much anything. Over the past couple of years, he has created old mirrors from new, created and installed beveled glass windows, and built back doors for my house. I’ve also seen furniture he’s made. He’s talented, he’s honest, and he was willing to take on a project with which he had no experience.

The project proved to be way more complicated than originally thought, after a continual list of issues became apparent the deeper Bond got into the project. There were leaks, lots of leaks. Insulation was old, the kitchen equipment wouldn’t fit through the door so it would have to be loaded through a large window. But first a large window would need to be installed. Every issue that arose was met with Bond’s positive attitude and problem-solving acumen.

The finished product is perfect.

So, now the guy who never thought he’d own a recreational vehicle is the proud owner of one that will shell out Tex Mex food on a daily basis. The wise 80s sage, Ferris Bueller, said it best, “Life comes at you fast.” One day you’re trying to find hand sanitizer and rubber gloves, and the next day you’re shelling out queso from a shiny aluminum kitchen on wheels. We are a few weeks away from opening the patio, and our guests will have Patrick Bond to thank for the food they’ll consume. Who knows? Now that the pandemic has subsided, maybe I’ll buy an RV and hit the open road.


This week’s recipe: Four Cheese Dip

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