The fast-growing landscape of food trucks around the Quad-Cities is filled with operators who dream about — one day, maybe — opening brick-and-mortar restaurants. Many hope to gain enough cash and customers through mobile eateries to afford a permanent space of their own.
But not Dawn and Grayson Hawk.
The Eldridge couple have “been there and done that” in the food business, and they only have one food dream — to be their own bosses.
In 2000, Grayson opened Trails End Cafe in Eldridge, but business slumped during a three-month stretch of construction work in front of the business. It closed in 2002. Together, they owned Bookworm Cyber Cafe, an Eldridge bookstore and restaurant combination that closed in 2012 because, the Hawks said, their landlord went into foreclosure. In between, and over at least the past 30 years, Grayson worked as a chef and Dawn worked as a waitress at various Quad-City restaurants.
“No matter how many kitchens you’re in and how much time you put into it, you’re still working for someone else,” Grayson, 55, said. “I was a little fed up with that. I kept thinking, ‘If I did a mobile business, no one could take it away from me.’”
So, in 2014, he bought a trailer on Craigslist for $500 and spent two years “stripping it to the ribs” and renovating the interior and adding a full-service kitchen. In April, Dawn and Grayson opened the on-wheels version of Trails End Cafe.
“It’s my old cafe reinvented,” Grayson said. “We finally get to work for ourselves and do our own thing.”
The menu, which the Hawks describe as Southwestern comfort food, includes tacos, walking tacos, a taco boat, burritos and a chimichanga. But it’s the fried ice cream and navajo frybread taco options that set this operation apart from the roughly 20 (and increasing) trucks, trailers and carts around the Quad-Cities.
The fried ice cream is a ball of vanilla ice cream covered in cinnamon, sugar and flakes, which is all frozen and at the ready to be tossed in the fryer. Grayson began making frybread, a breadier and thicker take on a tortilla, specifically for his food truck venture.
“It’s a signature dish; the one that people are surprised by and come back for,” he said. “We knew we had to do something nobody else was doing.”
They got into business just as the food truck scene is exploding around the Quad-Cities and as the city of Davenport works on an ordinance to allow food trucks to serve their fare curbside on public property.
“It’s completely taken off since we started,” Dawn, 47, said. “People want a different experience of getting outside and seeing their friends.”
The city’s food truck pilot program, which ended Tuesday, began with three participating vendors and wrapped up with 15 vendors.
And it's not only in Davenport. Last week, the Hawks participated in an inaugural "Food Truck Frenzy" outside the Scott County Library in Eldridge, attended by about 500 people and seven vendors, according to librarian Sarah Carlin.
"I really like food trucks, but they never come to Eldridge, so we asked a bunch of them to come here and they said yes," Carlin said. "It so awesome; it was like a tailgate party."
“A lot of new ones are cropping up and it’s like you want to get in on it while you have a chance,” Grayson said. “With all these new ones, you try to do something unique.”
The Hawks set up weekly at sites in Mount Joy, the Eldridge farmers market, outside KB Auto Tech in Bettendorf. Three days a week, they roll into the construction site of the new Kraft Heinz plant to serve lunch to workers.
Dawn posts their schedule on Facebook, but plenty of customers call Grayson’s cellphone asking where to grab a frybread taco that day.
“We never thought we’d be doing this six days a week, but that’s the demand,” Dawn said.
So, do they dream of having a brick-and-mortar spot again? Not so much.
"We love being able to make our own work day and travel," she said. "You can't do that with four walls in the ground."
As the weather gets colder, however, the pair may drive the trailer south to keep the momentum going.
“Now that we’re doing this, we don’t want to stop,” Dawn said. “We’re going to keep doing it until the snow starts flying.”