(Above: Matthew & Ashley O’Brien, owners of the Jolly Hog. Photo by Jordan Mady.)
You’ve had a side of fries or salad, but have you ever had a side of laughter? That’s exactly what you’ll get from the new Jolly Hog food truck on Carp Road which opened on June 22. In this instalment of our continuing Stittsville food truck series, we meet the husband-and-wife combo behind the new venture. They also wanted us to inform you that they’re proud to offer Equator coffee and all-day breakfast sandwiches.
JORDAN MADY: Please state your names and your involvement in the Jolly Hog food truck.
MATTHEW O’BRIEN: I’m the cook/owner/co-owner of the Jolly Hog food truck.
ASHLEY O’BRIEN: I am the owner/co-owner/bookeeper/assistant.
MB: The everything else. She’s the rock. Keeps me grounded. So, in turn, keeps everything grounded.
JM: So, you two are married?
MB: Oh yeah, we’re married.
JM: For how long?
MB & AB: Six years.
MB: And three weeks… or something.
JM: Tell me how you two met.
AB: It’s not a great story.
MB: We met in a bar in Almonte, where we’re both sort of from. Well, I’m from Almonte, she’s from Pakenham. Almonte-ish. Anyways, yeah, met in a bar and did not fall in love. I had to court her like oldschool.
AB: *laughs*It took a while.
MB: It took a while. But I was very attracted to her. I wasn’t going to let that one up. And finally I convinced her. Convinced her to go out with me then convinced her to marry me. And we have two kids together. Two daughters (four & one – 17 months).
JM to AB: What do you like about him?
AB: He’s crazy. *both laugh* I don’t know. He’s funny … interesting?
MB: She took psychology in university and my dad jokes that I’m her study case. Trying to figure me out, piece me together.
JM to MB: She’s a psychology grad, and you are?
MB: I’m a chef by trade. I just don’t like to use the word chef. Especially nowadays. The knowledge that true chefs have is so extraordinary and amazing and their focus and their patience – all the things it takes to be what I think a chef should be. It’s truly amazing what’s going on now. I’m still in pursuit of the knowledge, you could say, but I’m just being honest with myself. I just don’t have the … discipline, I lack discipline, my character lacks discipline. And not in a bad way, I just don’t have to discipline I need to sauce that plate perfectly a thousand times in a row. I went to Algonquin College, I worked in 12 kitchens and she thinks I talk too much.
JM: That brings us back to the Jolly Hog. How did that get started?
MB: When I was 12, I wanted to become a restaurant owner. The more restaurants I worked in, the more problems I saw and it was either time to get out or jump right in. But I didn’t want to own a restaurant anymore so five years ago when the food trucks really started to hit the scene, I started to think about it a lot more. And Ashley used to run an ice cream shop for several years, and we both kind of always had a vision to own a business together.
JM: What was the timeline like?
AB: Very short.
MB: Very short, actually. It all started with this location. The girl who’s working in the truck right now, Danika, her mom owns this land and she’s an accountant in the house office here. And I said the word food truck in the kitchen I was working with Danika at, and she said ‘OH, my mom wants to rent out a spot to a food truck’ and I was like ‘REALLY?’ and within a week I met Danika’s mom and she was really lovely and very chill. It was a really good meeting. She said shouldn’t look for anyone else and I said I wouldn’t look for any other locations.
So as soon as the location came to be, we buckled down over the winter did our business plan up. We found a company called Venture Food Trucks – they run out of Napanee (actually a sister company of Willy Dog, which is the world’s largest hot dog cart maker, believe it or not). They had the option to customize a truck and when I told them what I wanted, it happened that this truck was their show truck, originally, for the Toronto Food Show. They had never used it or anything but they brought it to the TFS to show it off and we got to choose the colours and help with the logo. Here we are! So yeah, let’s say from October 2014 to three weeks ago.
Even though we’d been thinking about it for years, we didn’t buckle down. I’m a procrastinator. I don’t start on anything until I feel I need to or it’s too late. I manage to make it happen, anyway. You know, it always comes together. I’ve discovered that the few times in my life when I haven’t procrastinated, it doesn’t go well.
JM to AB: Do you like that he’s a procrastinator?
AB: Not always, *laughs* I’m more a perfectionist. I want to know what’s happening, I want to have a plan.
JM: You’ve been open for just under a month. How’s it going?
MB: The feedback on the food has been better than I even thought it would be. People seem to be over the moon when they do eat the food. So yeah, it’s going well. Havin’ fun. I think Ashley is having fun. Yeah, yeah. It’s fun. It doesn’t feel like work which is probably my favourite part. There’s moments where it feels like work because it’s not going my way. Like this morning when my power in my truck wouldn’t turn on and it just turns out that I didn’t plug the truck in properly.
AB: Oh my god *laughing*. Why do you tell people this?
MB: And then it got fixed and BOOM. Happy days.
JM: Sounds like you have a lot of fun around here.
AB: There’s a lot of dancing … music.
MB: Oh yeah, you gotta dance. If you don’t dance in life, you won’t get anywhere. At least not happy.
JM: How do you folks differ from the other Stittsville food trucks?
MB: Well, we’re trying to keep things fresh and different. For instance, ‘Wiches Cauldron does sandwiches and we do sandwiches. I was actually trying to stay away from sandwiches because they do sandwiches so well. But it’s pretty hard to not take something great and put it between two pieces of bread. Because that takes almost anything from here to here. Just escalates food. They’re also on the cold side of a sandwich – the fresher, lighter side. Ours are mainly cooked. Pulled pork on a bun, even though the Red Shack’s got pulled pork, we wanted to try something different. So we put some sliced red onion on it, parsley sauce, caramelized onion mayo, plus I heat the pork up in a barbecue sauce that we make from scratch. And then, of course, our pickled pineapple is kind of what transcends the sandwich. It’s the little things like that that make us different.
JM: Do you have a message for the community of Stittsville?
AB: I think he’s said plenty. *laughs*
MB: Have I said too much again? I’m sorry. Yeah, we really appreciate the community of Stittsville. They’re fantastic.
AB: I think people should just give it a try. I know a lot of people are set on fries but there’s a lot of other great food out here, not just at our truck but all the other trucks.
MB: You mentioned there’s a lot of food trucks out here. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t know if everyone sees it that way, but when people find out there’s a big community of food trucks out in the West end, it could really draw people from other places to come check us all out.
(Extra points for those who catch the Wedding Singer reference!)