In 2013, entrepreneur Tim McRae set out on a new adventure. After years of experience in music and entertainment, plus his family oil business, he sought a new challenge. From this simple-yet-elegant origin, one of the most recognizable food trucks in New Jersey came to life. Today’s Best New Jersey Food Trucks spotlight features the “Where’s The Food?” Food Truck – better known as WTF? Food Truck.
With its big yellow letters, the vibrant red truck is undoubtedly hard to miss. Correspondingly, the color scheme reflects its owner’s lively and hospitable personality; but just looking at the truck will leave you asking yourself, “Where’s the food?” for real. That’s because McRae decided to leave pictures of his food off the truck.
It’s a WTF? Kinda Story
“We always wanted people to guess and come up to our truck to see what we make,” McRae says. “We wanted people to find out what WTF? was by coming to the truck.”
WTF? Food Truck has a menu of more than a dozen revolving items. Fan-favorites include the Heart Attack Burger; a juicy eight-ounce, locally sourced beef patty with four layers of Case’s Pork Roll, American cheese and crispy bacon. Then there’s the Shrimp Po’Boy; healthy fried shrimp, lettuce, tomato and homemade chipotle ranch on a roll.
But WTF?’s most dangerously addictive item, perhaps, is the General Tso’s Wings; jumbo fried wings tossed in General Tso sauce and served on a bed of French fries. This zesty treat will keep you lining up at WTF? again and again until it’s time to go home.
In Spring of 2018, Tim — alongside his wife and business partner, Lisa — are opening their first brick and mortar location; Every Monday through Friday, fans of WTF? Food Truck’s signature meals can visit the family’s home city of Ewing. Though WTF? Food Truck continues to attend local events, McRae and team have much bigger plans in store.
For this installment of The Best New Jersey Food Trucks, Tim and Lisa McRae discuss the past, present and future of their brand. Despite WTF?’s immense success to date, there’s an unshakable feeling that there is much more ahead.
The Best New Jersey Food Trucks: WTF? Food Truck Interview
Best of NJ: What is the story behind WTF?
Tim: “WTF” was a guerilla marketing technique to kind of shock people. It stands for “Where’s the food?” It was something that we played off of; and we figured a punchy name with a little sarcasm behind it would get people to check us out, and it did. It got people’s attention, and it got them to the truck.
BONJ: What made you get into the food truck game?
Tim: In 2013, I was looking for something to supplement my income. By trade, I’m an oil dealer. Tim McRae Oil is my own company. So, as an oil dealer, our basic months were basically October until late March/early April. April would roll around, and the season would be over with oil; and at that time, my wife was working a job, so I had to find something for myself to do. We were watching the Food Network one night, and they had the food trucks on there; as the food truck scene started to grow in 2013, we talked about it several times, and we just decided to do it.
BONJ: How was your first year of events after getting the truck?
Tim: We did some events, and a lot of them were smaller. Believe it or not, we started off on the paleo circuit. We were learning how to cook what we call caveman cooking. That’s high protein, low carbs. So it’s all the meats and fats you could want, just no carbs, no bread, stuff like that. So we started out in the fitness circuit.
Lisa: Our first major event was community day at TCNJ. That was our first major event, where we had a full menu.
Tim: We were nervous. But I can tell you we had two great cooks working with us. We did a cheese toast, which is a grilled cheese sandwich with maple syrup. We also did chopped turkey. Then we did cabbage, vegetarian dirty rice, and a few other dishes.
Learn By Doing
BONJ: Do you have any culinary experience?
Lisa: No, we have no formal culinary education. I grew up under my mom. She literally taught me everything I know—how to peel, cut, cook, everything. We have no real education. It’s just what we do.
Tim: And to top off what she said, it’s the same thing with my mom. My mom was the person who’d say, “Hey, come learn this now, because I’m not going to be here forever.” So she taught me everything; how to cook, clean, wash. She said, “Never wait on a woman to do anything for you.” So the first thing I learned how to cook was that cheese toast. As kids, we’d make that grilled cheese and put syrup on it, and we’d tear that thing up [laughs].
BONJ: What items do you offer on your truck?
Tim: Our top items are the Shrimp Po’Boy, the General Tso Wings, and the Heart Attack Burger. Those are probably the top three.
Lisa: But we rotate a total of probably 15 items into our menu, depending on the event. We kind of consider it eclectic comfort food. It’s not really strictly American, because my mom made mainly Polish food; so a lot of the comfort food I made was not really American—it was more European. So we call it eclectic comfort food.
Tim: That sounds good, because my mom? Straight soul food. I’m talking fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens.
Lisa: And then you transplant that into New Jersey with all the great Jersey stuff, with the pork roll and the burgers, and it’s just… yummy [laughs].
BONJ: Tell us about the new store you’re opening up.
Tim: First and foremost, we always wanted to have our own WTF? Food restaurant. It’s going to be on 1543 Parkway Avenue (in Ewing, Mercer County). It’s the food kiosk inside the Valero gas station. It was formally named Pop’s Place, and they closed it down [in 2015]. We’d go there for propane and to vacuum out the cars, and I kept asking, “Hey, Pop, when are you going to let me rent the place out,” and he told me to talk to his son.
So one day I sat and talked to his son about renting the place, and he said okay. We’ve been talking and going through our permits and different inspections, and we’re excited. This is our first brick and mortar restaurant. It was the perfect opportunity for a small restaurant like ourselves to come in and start our first brick and mortar.
BONJ: What’s in store for your future then?
Tim: We want to step up and evolve. So we’re going from our caterpillar stage into our butterfly stage with our first brick and mortar. It was a natural progression for us. Our dream is to have five stores. Our first one would be here in New Jersey. We want to do one in Richmond, Virginia, where we have family. We want to do one in North Carolina, South Carolina, and one in Florida.
Every restaurant inside is going to be themed differently and also be a venue for music performances. So the WTF? in Richmond is going to be set up like Trenton, with pictures of the bridge, the battle monument, Case’s Pork Roll. When people come inside WTF? in Richmond, Virginia, they’re gonna know that I’m from Jersey. No matter where I move to, I’m a Jersey boy, born and bred. So our next place is going to resemble New Jersey, and then we’re going to make every other place different. But we definitely want WTF? to be that different franchise—
Lisa: Eclectic [laughs].
Tim: That eclectic franchise [laughs]. I like that. So that’s the plan for WTF?
All That and More
BONJ: WTF? doesn’t only focus on food, you also have a music show. Tell us about that.
Tim: So in 1988 and ’89, I was in a rap group called Strong Peeps. It was me, my nephew and my brother, and we were doing shows throughout the area, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and then we started touring. We had a single called “Livin’ It,” and that single was a big record.
About three, four, five months go by, and I took a trip to Mexico with my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, and after we got back, I had 218 voicemails on my phone. And everyone was saying, “Yo, dude, your record’s blowing up!” and all that, and I was thinking, what are they talking about? We knew the record was doing okay, but what had happened was Kool G Rap had taken the record, flipped it over on the instrumental, and did a record to our song. His song was called “My Life.”
Lo and behold, that was the beginning of my music bug. From there, I went to management and have managed hip hop, rock bands, and as I grew the food truck business, I knew I wanted to get back into entertainment. So I thought, what better way than to go back to what I used to do, which was managing acts. So we started doing our WTF? Food & Music Series.
Food and music are two things that are always going to bring people together. If you have a food event, there’s going to be music; if you have a music event, there’s going to be food. There’s just no way to get away from it. So instead of just being a food truck, we started doing interviews and putting the spotlight on other food trucks and other food spots that we liked. We try and promote other restaurants.
Lisa: We’re true foodies.
Tim: Yeah, we’re foodies as well as vendors. We try and support other brands and other people, and WTF? Food and Music is another way to do that.
Lessons From the Road
BONJ: Foodtrucking is an enormous undertaking alone, and you’ve been doing it for five years. How much have you learned over that time?
Tim: I’ll let Lisa start off with that [laughs]. She came in, and she became my quality control person. I was “buy buy buy, spend spend spend;” she came in and streamlined everything. So what have you learned?
Lisa: You learned portion control.
Lisa: That was hard to get used to. In the beginning, we would go to events, and so much food would be wasted, because we’d overestimate how many people would be there. That was a big learning experience, to try and gauge our events.
Tim: The first thing you learn is that when you’re wasting money, you learn real quick what to cut out. So now, everything we cook is cooked to order. You do learn a lot, but the first thing you learn is portion control; not to waste money by cooking a lot of food. And you learn that people love food.
The next thing you learn is that there are a lot of good people in this business who will help you out, and then there are a lot of people in this business who are waiting for you to fail. But we’ve learned that most of these people are really cool; and we’ll network with those people and share different events with them. So you build a family and a network of people. And you learn how to work with each other, because you’re neighbors.
And the last thing you learn is that this business is fun, and it’s what you make it. I have more fun doing this than I have had at any other job. But food is my love. It’s our love, and I think it’s going to take us to where we want to go.