David Ulsh talks about pigs in the road and pool tables in the truck while he pulls cooked chicken off the bone and puts it right on the griddle. He pours some homemade barbecue sauce on it and chops it up again.
Ulsh and Lisa Ambrose opened Flippin Chicken Bento in the big yellow trailer in Rice Hill in November after Ulsh sold his semi-truck and trailer he drove for 30 years. He said business has been warming up with the weather.
“It’s just something that she and I have wanted to do for years,” Ulsh said. “It’s just something that we both enjoyed doing and we thought it would be a nice little thing to get going.”
They purchased the business license with the intent to copy a bento box trailer model Ulsh had seen in Portland, but the more he talked about it, the more people asked for barbecue and he didn’t want to pay to change the name.
“Actually, I was going to do chicken and rice bowls, pork and rice bowls and a couple people hit us up and told us ‘you know there’s no barbecue between Roseburg and Cottage Grove,’ ‘okay, then we’ll throw that in there too,’ and it’s been the business,” Ulsh said.
Nathan Smith lives in Yoncalla and has become somewhat of a regular for the trailer, making it a point to stop whenever he is driving by.
“It’s convenient,” Smith said. “Quality and quantity of the food is not like some other places where you pay that much for half as much food. It also reminds me of barbecue at the fair — personable. And consistency. It’s always consistent. If it ain’t right, I’ll come back next time and get it.”
Smith asked for the coleslaw, but Ulsh said he wasn’t sure if Ambrose had finished it and didn’t want to give an inconsistent product, so Smith took the macaroni and cheese instead.
“She makes all five side dishes from scratch, no box, no can,” Ulsh said. “She even makes the barbecue sauce. We strive for quality. She makes everything fresh every day, sometimes twice a day. She doesn’t make big, big batches, that way it stays fresh all day. I want quality, she wants quality.”
Ulsh hoped the food trailer would be his retirement fund as well as a fun way to meet people and cook.
“Who do you know that can retire?” Ulsh asked. “I remember as a child, my dad could retire at 60. I’m going to have to do something besides retirement and this is easy enough to do, even for a 70-year-old. It’s a lot of work, but it’s easy work.”
He and Ambrose have talked about extending the hours, but the trailer is comfortably warm in the morning with the meat cooking, and very hot by closing time at 6 p.m.
“We have no life outside of this,” Ulsh said. “We get here at 9 and leave at 6 and when it’s hot, we just want to get out of here. When it’s 90 outside, it’s 100 in here.”
He hoped with the truck stop across the street, the food truck would pull in all the people stopping there, but he estimates about half of his customers are locals and only half are from the truck stop.
“I like making people’s bellies happy,” Ush said.