- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

RUSSELLVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Hugh Bui and Andrew Nix stand in their custom-built kitchen and discuss ideas and menu options for the following day.

Nix talks animatedly about locally grown blackberries he found that can be used in his signature blackberry barbecue sauce, and a new strawberry salad he’s created with locally grown lettuce and strawberries.

Bui asks about the new stuffed potatoes featuring pulled pork, and they talk about putting those on the menu along with their “wicked chicken” and waffles, and loaded fried rice with teriyaki chicken.

This eclectic assortment of food seems like it would be featured at a modern restaurant. All of these things, and more,can be bought from a food truck - The Flying Beetle Grub Shack.

Since its soft opening June 13, The Flying Beetle Grub Shack gained a number of followers who show up multiple times a week for the fresh flavors served from the brightly colored truck with the depiction of a flying Volkswagen Beetle on its sides.

“The Flying Beetle symbol came about because the image of a classic car like the Volkswagen Beetle that was flying, which is very futuristic, made me think of what we’re trying to accomplish with our food truck,” said Bui, the brainchild behind The Flying Beetle Grub Shack. “We’re serving up classic, traditional-type food but with a modern culinary twist. It’s classic meets modern, just like a flying Beetle.”

A smaller town like Russellville may not seem the most likely place to find a “classic meets modern” food truck, considering the recent food truck trend has seen these roving food stations parked in cities such as Huntsville, Birmingham, Nashville and Atlanta.

But Bui said that was the precise reason he thought the town could use some big-city flavor in a small-town setting.

“When I moved to Russellville seven years ago, one of the main complaints I heard from people was that there wasn’t a lot of variety in the kinds of restaurants we have,” Bui said. “I found that was definitely the case. I thought of complaining about it, too, but I realized there was no sense in complaining. Instead of complaining, I needed to do something about it.”

Bui said his original idea was to open a steakhouse with Nix, who he met on his quest to find out more about the restaurant business. Nix, a Belgreen native, studied culinary arts at the Art Institute of Atlanta. He planned to open his own restaurant close to home.

Bui said when they hit a few roadblocks in obtaining a restaurant loan, he began to rethink his approach and explore other ways to bring a fresh, West Coast-style dining concept to this small north Alabama town.

“I’m from Seattle, and food trucks are really big there, so I started thinking something like that could probably work here,” he said. “People in small towns deserve good food, too. We don’t have to just not do something because we think the town is too small for it to work.”

Bui said he began saving money in 2013 for the truck and the equipment they would need. He also learned the health department required food trucks to have a stationary kitchen to serve as a “home base.” With that information, he began construction on a custom-built kitchen behind his business, Russ Discount Package Store.

“There’s definitely a lot that goes into having a food truck,” he said. “It’s not just as simple as buying a truck and serving food out of it. There are rules and regulations, but we went by the book and follow all the rules to provide the best service we can.”

Once Bui realized The Flying Beetle Grub Shack would soon be a reality, he got in contact with Nix, who had been working in upscale restaurants in other cities. He also enlisted fellow businessman Tung “Tee” Nguyen and chef Marcus Reese to fill out The Flying Beetle Grub Shack team.

“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to come back home,” Nix said. “I never in a million years thought I would have the opportunity to make the kind of food I want to make in my hometown. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to get to do something I am extremely passionate about, and a chance to introduce some fun, organic, interesting food to everyone back home.”

And when he says “organic,” Nix said he tries to stick to using only locally grown produce and products in his dishes.

“We use local strawberries and blackberries and lettuce and tomatoes and farm fresh eggs, among other things,” he said. “We have contacted several local farmers and asked them about using their produce. I’ve even been driving down the road and when I’ve seen gardens, I’ve stopped and asked the people if they would be willing to sell me some things.

“To me, this is the best way to go. You’re not just getting fresh, healthy, organic ingredients that haven’t been genetically modified or altered by chemicals, which is a plus in itself, but we are getting the chance to help local farmers and growers sell their products. It’s a win for us, a win for them, and a win for our customers.”

Bui and Nix both said they plan to keep a community-minded emphasis as they move forward in their business venture.

“We are already planning to be part of the Watermelon Festival in August,” Bui said. “We also want to find ways to host community events and give back to the community in other ways. Community is very important to us.”

Bui said they utilize social media to post the truck’s location and the menus, which change daily, but they also use social media to interact with their customers.

“We want to make sure we are providing quality food people love,” he said. “So far, the response has been great. We are very excited about the future of The Flying Beetle.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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