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Hot chicken, shrimp and grits — here’s what’s working for one Gainesville area food truck
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Gonzo Gourmet chef and owner Brandon Wilson, right, prepares orders Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, with crew members Donna Edmondson, left, and Kim Coley at the Northeast Georgia Medical Centerin Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Brandon Wilson has spent the past nearly six years building a business on the go he hopes to turn into a brick-and-mortar restaurant before it’s all said and done. But right now, it looks a little different than he thought it would.

Gonzo Gourmet — a food truck that started in Knoxville, Tennessee, focused on serving fresh, local dishes — has hit its stride in the past year after serving Hall and the surrounding counties for the past three.

Wilson is often found driving the truck that hauls the Gonzo trailer, with its green and black logo emblazoned on the side, and cooking up dishes served at Food Truck Friday events in the area and local businesses like Tap It, Northeast Georgia Medical Center and The Times. The truck can only serve when it’s invited onto private property; it cannot park on a public street.

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The Gonzo Gourmet food truck serves folks Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, in the parking lot behind the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. The popular food truck joined two other trucks serving hospital employees and anyone else that dropped by that day. - photo by Scott Rogers

“It's been very, very good,” Wilson said of the truck’s success. “We're very happy.” 

Wilson said he usually has three or four gigs and serves upward of 300 people each week.

He had originally planned to grow the food he sold on the truck himself. But with the success of the business, he realized that was no longer feasible. Being one of the only local food trucks in the county demanded a little more than he expected.

“We've grown so much,” Wilson said. “We do have a mini farm here (in Dahlonega), but doing a full-fledged, everything coming from here, was just going to be too overwhelming.”

That doesn’t mean the business has abandoned those original farm-to-food truck plans. Wilson said he stays as local as possible. Most of Gonzo’s meats come from local farmers, Wilson said. 

“It’s all from locally sourced livestock, processed here in Georgia,” Wilson said. “And then, we still have our garden here on the farm. So during the good part of the season, about 50% to 60% of all the produce in our dishes from the food truck comes from our farm.”

What he can’t grow or what isn’t in season, Wilson tries to get from farmers markets. Every now and then, he has to make a trip to Kroger.

“But we try to focus on everything being locally sourced,” Wilson said.

One of the tried-and-true dishes Wilson sells is hot chicken. He said the cayenne-pasted fried chicken, modeled after what he saw in Nashville when he lived in Knoxville, has been a best-seller.

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The Gonzo Gourmet food truck serves folks Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, in the parking lot behind the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. The popular food truck joined two other trucks serving hospital employees and anyone else that dropped by that day. - photo by Scott Rogers

Abby Holst, a nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, where Gonzo recently parked to serve employees, said she has had Gonzo a few times and said she always gets the same thing — the hot chicken.

“This is amazing, compared to anything I’ve ever had,” Holst said. “This is just something different. This isn’t something we get every day, so to have them come here is awesome … The food is always unique compared to your average, ‘Let’s go get a hamburger or chicken.’”

More recently, Wilson said he has focused on shrimp and grits. He gets the grits from Nora Mill Granary in Helen, and the bacon is local, too. He’s trying to get a vendor that sells Georgia shrimp, but for now, he’s using shrimp from the Gulf. 

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Shrimp and grits from Brandon Wilson's Gonzo Gourmet food truck, pictured Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

“I do a Cajun shrimp,” Wilson said. “I make my own Cajun seasoning and I grill it ... Then the grits themselves are cheese. They’re kind of creamy, Cajun, cheese grits.”

Another favorite has been the North Georgia tacos served on corn or flour tortillas.

“It's a slow-cooked, Mexican-seasoned, local pork butt,” Wilson said. “It's got a homemade cumin-crema coleslaw on top with a fresh salsa. And oftentimes, during the season, we'll have our own fresh pico de gallo in place of the salsa or even a peach salsa to keep it more North Georgia-style.”

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North Georgia tacos with slow cooked pork, cumin crema coleslaw, Georgia peach salsa and cilantro served Aug. 2, 2019, from Brandon Wilson's Gonzo Gourmet food truck. - photo by Scott Rogers

Stephanie Savadge said everything looked and smelled good as she grabbed her food from the window, trying Gonzo for the first time during her lunch break at the hospital.

“It’s something different than what you would normally be able to get any other day,” Savadge said. “It’s different than every other food place you go to, which is fast food or a restaurant, so it’s neat.”

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Gonzo Gourmet's Kim Coley helps Stephanie Savadge with her food purchase Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

And that’s Wilson’s goal. He said he wants to provide food that’s different. 

The food truck allows him to run a business, market and experiment before diving into the big investment of a brick-and-mortar location. It’s a good option for young chefs, he said, noting that he knows of quite a few people seriously considering starting food trucks, one of which even works with him on a regular basis. 

“I think the desire is there, and I think there are more young chefs out there that are looking for the freedom of doing their cuisine and doing what they want to do like I did,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he thinks the area is going to see a boom in food trucks in the next few years.

 “That initial startup of a restaurant is intimidating and oftentimes not doable for these young chefs,” Wilson said. “And a food truck is an avenue that can get you into creating your own menu and creating your own food without a huge initial startup to begin with.”

The smaller startup cost doesn’t mean less work. Wilson said he’s working seven days a week and doesn’t sleep very much between tending his garden, prepping food and going to events. But it’s a life he was prepared for and a life he wouldn't change.

“At times it’s overwhelming, but it's nothing that I can't handle,” Wilson said. “I enjoy hard work.”

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Gonzo Gourmet chef and owner Brandon Wilson prepares an order Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers
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