Jesse McDonald

I grew up in midtown Memphis, playing sports and making mostly good grades. After graduating from Central High School, I moved to Murfreesboro for college. I changed majors a few times before ultimately settling on a degree in business administration. I took a job at FedEx to help with college expenses and eventually reached a management position with the company, but although my education complemented this job, a new passion had begun to grow in me.

Sick of the standard college fare, I had begun to cook more and more at home. Between watching online tutorials, binge-watching the Food Network and experimenting with flavors and techniques in my “test kitchen,” I developed a passion for food and began to cook for friends and family. But when they suggested that I should pursue cooking as a career, I initially shrugged off the idea.

Over the years, I kept in touch with a childhood friend and learned he had started a cooking competition team in Memphis. He raved about how much fun he was having, so I made the trip to join him at the Southern Hotwing Festival one weekend. After a long day of sampling delicious wings and watching how the teams interacted with each other, I knew this was something I wanted to do. I not only joined my friend’s team, the New Wing Order but began a Nashville chapter so we could more easily participate in competitions all over the state. This gave me the opportunity to go against some world-class “pitmasters” cooking a wide variety of Southern specialties. Over time, I refined our recipes until we landed the coveted Grand Championship at the Southern Hotwing Festival. In the past four years, we’ve placed no lower than third in this competition, which features more than 60 highly skilled teams.

While the competition cooking was going on, I also jumped headfirst into the restaurant industry in Nashville, my then-home. First, I worked with a start-up company that dealt with restaurants all over the city, which helped me learn both the best practices and the worst ways to work in a competitive market. Next, I became a chef-turned-general manager at a fast-casual sushi restaurant. This experience proved invaluable in encouraging me to become more creative with my food as well as teaching me the ins and outs of running a restaurant operation.

Then, an opportunity came up to help manage a startup food truck. I had been intrigued by the food truck industry for some time, and the thought of getting a brand-new operation off the ground was too good to pass up. In a market of 100-plus food trucks, my truck became known as one of the top 10 in the city within a year of my beginning to manage the operation.

These experiences led me to my next goal in life: to start my own food truck with menu items I developed. The next question: Where should I operate this food truck? For years, my wife Cindy and I had talked about moving back to Memphis. It’s where we met, where we I grew up and where we I wanted to raise our my daughter and soon-to-be-born son.

In recent years, Memphis has experienced a sort of culinary renaissance. No longer just a destination for world-class barbeque and soul food, Memphis is seeing new restaurants open constantly that focus on a wider range of fare—Jamaican, Venezuelan and Ethiopian, to name just a few. The food truck scene is also burgeoning, with new trucks rolling out every few months.

While these trucks offer an eclectic mix of specialties, one Memphis classic was sorely missing: hot wings. In Memphis, hot wing restaurants are just as prolific as barbeque restaurants, but no mobile operations were bringing the product directly to the consumer. In wings, I saw an opportunity to realize our dream of starting a new life in Memphis.

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