Mike Minor 2.0

After a sold out pop up at Made LV, I sat down with Mike Minor in a dark bar in broad daylight. He said a lot of things, but the one sentence that stuck out in my mind is this: “I AM Vegas.” He told me that he loves this town and having grown up here, is connected to it in so many ways and feels it is his responsibility to bring great food to the community in any way he can. And he has been doing that for more than 20 years.

The first time I saw Mike Minor in action was at Three Square Food Bank. My favorite local charity had invited me to be part of an audience in their demo kitchen. Several chefs cooked live and chatted with the guests, but he was the stunner for me. He was engaging, with an infectious smile and completely present in the moment, doing what he loved to do. Then I got to know him and I realized that who I saw at the Food Bank, wasn’t a “show persona” it was the real deal. He looks like a Rock-a-Billy guy with the tattoos, fabulous moustache, and the slicked back, on point hair. He rides a motorcycle and he IS a Rock-a-Billy guy with a love of Elvis and the genre. But, unlike a lot of Vegas natives, he doesn’t long for the old times. He embraces what is going on now, welcomes newcomers and tourists and knows that all change leads to great growth. His life mirrors Vegas in that homage is paid to the past while always making way for the new.

I had met Mike socially and professionally on many occasions and what I didn’t know about him could fill a book and he should write one someday. He quit high school to work full time in the culinary industry, going back at 20 to get his GED. He was the kid my mom warned me about. He never went to culinary school. He sucked when he first started and worked twice as hard as everyone else to get it right. He is a cancer survivor. He’s just a plain BAD ASS survivor!

Chef Mike and I at charity event Chefs to the Max in Jan 2014

Chef Mike and I at charity event Chefs to the Max in Jan 2014

He started working at age 13, lying about his age, to make his own money because he wanted to buy cool clothes. Mike has done literally every job in this industry from dishwasher and busboy to Executive Chef. He’s worked in every conceivable situation from a kid friendly pizza joint to a mecca of fine dining. With a smile on his face he openly admits when he started, he was terrible at everything, but his passion for the industry and food in general made him work hard to get better. In his mid-twenties, Mike was the youngest Director of Culinary The Hard Rock had ever seen. He was responsible for the west coast and loved his job. He says he learned something at every single job, but he credits The Hard Rock for instilling in him lifelong values and missions that still drive him today – “Love All, Serve All” and “Take Time to Be Kind”. The need to give back to the community he lives in, treating co-workers, clients and employees with respect and a friendly face, and being present in the moment are all things he learned at The Hard Rock. He admits when he started there in management, he was “in way over [his] head”, but he had a great general manager who took him under his wing and set him on a path for success. Leading by example and coaching Mike to be the best he could be. Mike said, “If it wasn’t for that leadership, I’d have been fired”. He remembers that and brings it with him to every job he has.

Flash forward and Mike is working as the Executive Chef for Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken at Border Grill. He traveled all over Mexico with them, learning from real people, not restaurants, how to create authentic dishes from every region of Mexico. And then he famously and amicably leaves that “dream job” to jump out on his own with his Truck U Barbeque food truck. Some might say he’s crazy, I say he’s crazy smart. He’s never been happier. He is making the food he wants to make and serving directly to the people eating it. There is no wall between him and the client. He gets to work with his best friend, wife Natalia, and his sister. His truck is completely paid for, the entire kitchen is brand new, retro-fitted into an existing frame that was custom painted to represent his flair, his style and who he truly is.

Offered the chance to compete on The Great Food Truck Race, he declined. Seven weeks on the road, cut off from his core clients, didn’t appeal to him and Natalia. He says he enjoys First Friday downtown because it gives him an opportunity to connect with the community, unfortunately you won’t find him at lunch time like you will some trucks. He cooks on demand and because everything is made fresh for each outing (nothing is reheated, or reused) it doesn’t make fiscal sense to drive around and hope to sell out. Anything that is left over at the end of an event is donated to the Las Vegas Mission (remember – Take Time to Be Kind and Love All, Serve All?). If you haven’t eaten from his truck, you are missing out. My personal favorite is the pulled pork sandWISH*. It’s magical. I don’t care for BBQ sauce, but I’ll eat Mike’s. It’s the perfect balance of sweet, salty and spicy. Friend John who eats a “paleo” diet splurges on the Burnt End Burrito. In fact, he said to me one day, “You have to try this food truck called Truck U. They have this burrito that I go off my diet for it’s so good.” Yeah John, I know all about it.

Pork Torta - Photo Courtesy of Big Tom Photography

Pork Torta – Photo Courtesy of Big Tom Photography

Money isn’t everything, but the ability to be true to who you are and make the living and the life you want to make IS everything to Mike. He’s really excited about what is going on in downtown and feels like that is the next step. He has a business plan for growth and a brick and mortar restaurant serving his barbeque is what’s on the forecast. Because truly good barbeque is a low and slow procedure, he envisions a lunch only place, starting the food the night before and staying open until he sells out. Mike and Natalia are looking for the perfect location to get started on their next big project. I, for one, can’t wait!

Mike has been approached more than once to be on TV and he would love that, but on his terms. Check out this sizzle reel for a proposed show. He and Natalia would like nothing more than to take their truck on the road and do as he did in Mexico with Susan and Mary Sue; learn to make regional specialties from the people who make them every day. Sourcing local ingredients, learning traditional techniques and meeting folks all across the country.

In the meantime follow Truck U BBQ on Facebook to find out where they will be and check out Mike’s websites www.chefminor.com and www.truckubbq.com Keep an eye open for appearances at Pop Up events like the one last week at Made LV. This is just a small snapshot of what happened there to see more, go HERE, Tom O’Connor took some great shots and go to his website Big Tom Photography to see more

Photo courtesy of Big Tom Photography

Photo courtesy of Big Tom Photography

Ceviche - photo courtesy of Big Tom Photography

Ceviche – photo courtesy of Big Tom Photography