- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

WEST FRANKFORT, Ill. (AP) - In West Frankfort, the road to building a food truck culture is a lonely one. And right now, Sean Hopkins seems to be the only one driving it.

As he serves up gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches out of a trailer-turned-kitchen, Hopkins knows he sticks out in his hometown.

Since May, Hopkins and his friend Bob Whittington have been trying out the meal-on-wheels trend, traveling around Southern Illinois and beyond, to festivals and fairs. When he’s not selling grilled cheeses miles away, he sets up the Say Cheese truck on Main Street in West Frankfort.

His routine is rather simple: Send out a Facebook post of where he’ll be, go to Kroger for extra ingredients and sodas, and find a good parking spot. Over the last few months, more and more people have started to trickle to his truck.

“I’m always moving around, trying to get people to know who we are,” Hopkins, 40, said. “When I’m in town, it’s cool how many people show up just through the magic of the Internet.”

At lunchtime Friday, a steady line of customers gathered around the truck parked just off Main Street. Among them was Mandy Davis, a social worker, who cradled a Styrofoam box with a grilled cheese inside. She likes the tomato and basil one, and sometimes adds bacon.

“Who puts bacon on a grilled cheese?” Davis said. “These guys do, and it’s just so good. The mixtures they come up with are just a little bit out of the ordinary.”

As it turns out, Hopkins likes going against the grain. After working in restaurants for 15 years, and going to culinary school in Louisville, Hopkins was tired of following somebody else’s menu.

“It was kind of a dumb, ridiculous idea at first,” he said. “We both just knew we wanted to do something else, so now, we’re a food truck.”

West Frankfort residents have enjoyed getting a taste of gourmet grilled cheeses, paired with the food-truck style.

“I think my favorite thing is it’s not around every day, so you get excited when you see it out,” Davis said. “People will walk around looking for that truck because it’s that good, and different.”

As the orders come in, Hopkins lines up more slices from the Wonder bread bag and slops a glob pre-mixed cheese on top. If he makes it just right, the cheese oozes on the sides but doesn’t burn. He’s only had one or two customers complain that the sandwich was too messy for on-the-go eating.

“I mean this is the good stuff,” he said. “I’m always trying to think of a new concoction to surprise people.”

As far as the choice for grilled cheese goes, it was more by process of elimination.

“There wasn’t anything like it, and it’s a comfort food you can rely on,” Hopkins said. And, he said, it was better than another corn dog stand or any kind of food on a stick.

“It’s fun to be different, I’ve always stuck out, with tattoos, beards, and sometimes purple hair,” he said. “I put a lot of my personality in this and people drive and honk because it’s Sean the weirdo.”

Still, he would like others around Southern Illinois join in the food truck business.

“I would like to see more a food culture here, when you get a bunch of them together, it creates a cool scene and I think we could pull that off,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s weird to be the only one out here.”

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, http://bit.ly/1QUIjxP

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com

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