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Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 01 November 2017 17:22

Meat smoking was just a hobby for Tony Roy of Fredonia—then it became Mr. Tony’s Barbecue, and it’s been truckin’ along at high speed ever since

Tony Roy wasn’t worried.
Despite the housing market tanking and the American economy collapsing into a historic low a decade ago, Roy’s more than 20 years in the building and remodeling industry told him that people would always take care of their homes.
“They stopped,” he said.
“But they ate.”
Fortunately, the Town of Fredonia resident had just what people were looking for.
Roy’s meat-smoking hobby was to turn into a full-blown barbecue food truck business. Today, Mr. Tony’s BBQ holds regular hours in three area communities and makes stops at various events across the state and country.
Last Thursday in Grafton was Roy’s last day of the season for roadside business, when he sold more than 100 sandwiches. During winter, Roy fixes up the truck, plans next summer’s schedule, plows snow and does catering, usually for large-scale events for 100 people or more.
It was Roy’s first career that sparked his second.
Roy remodeled the kitchen for a Harley-Davidson executive who knew Roy smoked meat. He was asked to cater a party of 100 people, so Roy brought over his equipment on a snowmobile trailer.
“From there, it just exploded,” he said. “I got so many calls.”
A few months later, Roy bought a pit for $5,000 and he was off.
The rest could be called brisket barbecue history.
Roy began with a tent at Big Joe’s gas station on Highway H in the Town of Fredonia, only minutes from Roy’s home. The owner, he said, had always wanted to add a sandwich shop.
Roy ended up building a little hot dog hut and eventually his own trailer with air conditioning to provide relief from the summer’s heat.
Business wasn’t booming right away.
“We were doing well enough to justify it,” Roy said.
Then he was asked to join Grillin’ in Grafton, a festival featuring a parade, fireworks, food and music held the weekend before the Fourth of July. Roy planned ahead and figured he brought enough food.
“We sold absolutely everything I thought would get us through the weekend on Friday night,” he said.
Roy resorted to shopping in the middle of the night to restock, and he wasn’t picky. Any part of the pig would do, even the better cuts that wouldn’t traditionally be used for barbecue.
“I needed meat,” he said.
More needs followed. Roy is on his third trailer and biggest one yet, a 31-footer it took him a month and a half to build. It has a galley kitchen and a Lang 84 Deluxe smoker that can hold 700 pounds of meat.
Along with his truck that carries extra refrigeration units and pulls the trailer, Roy gets eight or six miles per gallon, depending if he’s in the city or on the highway.
Roy has taken his beef, pork, chicken and ham to several different states and competes in Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned events and has a second-place plaque for brisket. The man who taught him how to make brisket took third, he said.
Earning credibility wasn’t easy. First, Roy had to find a place to park his truck, and municipalities all have different regulations.
While food trucks are popular today, few knew about the industry back when Roy started. Some municipalities at first wouldn’t even talk to him.
After going through all the legal hoops, Roy found places to do business. He had one of the first official barbecue food trucks in the state, since vendors at county fairs are considered concession trailers, he said.
“This is a self-contained restaurant. It just happens to be on wheels,” he said.
The food truck is just as much work as it is fun. Roy rises around 2 a.m. to start smoking meat. By the time he is done cleaning up after a day of serving, it’s 8 p.m.
Those are just the weekdays. At weekend festivals and events, Roy only retires to his hotel room to shower. He naps in a zero-gravity chair in his truck.
“It’s really not a job. It definitely is a lifestyle,” he said.
It isn’t at all like the 2014 movie “Chef” or reality TV shows depicting the food truck industry, Roy said. They skip over the red tape and regulations Roy goes through before he can park somewhere and open up shop.
Selling in different communities attracts more attention. Municipal health departments like to inspect out-of-towners. This year alone, Roy has had 12 inspections, which he is required to help pay for.
During the roadside season, Roy is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. three days per week. On Mondays, he parks at Advanced Auto Parts in Port Washington. On Tuesdays, the truck is a block off of Highway 57 south of the Ozaukee High School, and on Thursdays he is at NAPA Auto Parts in Grafton.
Tuesdays are spent shopping, and Fridays are for prepping for weekend events.
Roy has developed a following. He said one workplace in Grafton even shifted its lunch hour so employees could eat at his truck.
Each day, Roy checks the weather before arriving and parks his truck according to the wind so people’s money doesn’t get sent into orbit.
But the truck needn’t be sitting in a commercial parking lot to attract attention.
“Heck, we’ve got people pulling into our driveway asking if we have food,” Roy’s wife Kris said.
Kris, who also works as a part-time accountant, makes up half of Roy’s hired hands.
“It has its moments,” she said. “It’s better than sitting at a desk most days.”
Roy said he likes that his truck serves dishes faster than fast food. Customers are often handed their sandwiches along with their change.
While it’s a career he didn’t expect, it is one of passion for Roy, a Grafton native and the youngest of eight children.
“Dad always put food on the table, but with seven older brothers and sisters you better be quick,” Roy said.
So Roy learned to make himself snacks after coming home from school.
Decades later, his two children got him a Brinkman smoker for Father’s Day, and he started playing around in  his backyard.
Roy’s hobby-turned-livelihood calls for long hours, but the work is easier on his back and knees than remodeling and building.
And it fits his personality. Quick with a smile and a quip, Roy said mingling with the cast of characters who approach the truck is one of his favorite parts of the job.
“I’m a people person,” he said.
For more information, visit www.mrtonysbbq.com.

 
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