Nothing says summer like a food truck meal, and nothing says a Barrie summer like Jerry Van Beek’s Fish and Chips Restaurant.
For 15 years, the local food stop has been serving up meals at 320 Yonge Street at the corner of Yonge and Huronia Road in the Giant Tiger parking lot. For the last five of those years, Donna Bean has been running the little truck by the road but says that’s not exactly what she had planned just under a decade ago.
“Believe it or not I was a dental assistant for 25 years before doing this,” said Bean. “But life changed seven years ago and I had a friend who had a chip truck and I worked for her for a bit. Three years into that, Jerry was looking for somebody and since being here I haven’t looked back.”
The manager/cook loves that she combines her two passions of cooking and meeting people, whether the restaurant is having a slow day or a busy one.
Typically Friday evenings from 5 to 7 p.m. are the busiest times and customers can see a 30-to-45-minute wait for their food. Bean says that despite the sometimes longer wait, people keep lining up and ordering what they have to offer.
“I think the appeal to people isn’t necessarily the food, though we make great food,” said Bean. “My feeling is it’s the person in the truck that makes folks come back. We in here run this every day, cook everyday and serve everyday and I would say because of that we tend to care more about what we do; there is definitely a lot of pride in it all.”
The menu for Jerry’s Fish and Chips is exactly what a classic chip truck would have; Alaskan Pollock, haddock, cod, pickerel, tilapia, shrimp, scallops and onion rings. But Bean says the favourites are exactly what you’d expect.
“Halibut fish and chips and our famous poutine,” said Bean. “Those are definitely the most popular items on the menu but sometimes we get people coming here for that and then they see the rest of the menu and end up seeing something they didn’t think of; that’s always funny to me.”
The approximate 16-foot-long truck isn’t nearly long enough for Bean and her crew of three and sometimes four. Like most eateries, there are down times and there are times where there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done. One recent holiday in particular the fish and ship truck stayed open, and Bean says she’ll never forget it.
“This past Good Friday was insane here,” said Bean. “We were open and prepared food-wise but we weren’t prepared mentally for how busy it would be; it was so over-whelming. We had people waiting an hour and half for their food, but to our amazement the customers were great about it and it ended up being no problems on their end at all; we however were exhausted."
As summer is obviously the best time of year for a food truck, should the inside of the truck reach 100 degrees they have to shut down and send the employees home. Other than that, Bean’s days start at 9:30 a.m. and go until the last customer has long been served.
“People think it is the serving that makes the biggest dent in our day but it’s the food prep and the other little things,” said Bean. “Usually I have fish that’s been thawing so I get here and cut fish. I get the fish into containers and get that ready. We have to make our gravy, which is made on-site every day. More times than not, someone’s already been in to prep the fries so that’s already done, but we’re always making tartar sauce, seafood sauce and coleslaw. So as much as you think it’s just a chip truck it’s a never-ending job because no matter how many orders go out there is always food prep that has to happen.”
With all the hard work, tight working environment and hot days, Bean says she wouldn’t change it for the world.
“I love it, I really do. I love the cooking and just being out here and meeting new people or seeing the regulars come in right on schedule.”