It doesn’t get more “New Jersey” than what this Garden State food truck is serving up. Jersey Roll brings hungry patrons exactly what they expect when they hear the word “roll” in NJ; juicy, tasty pork roll. It’s a simple concept, but the end result is worthy of being part of The Best New Jersey Food Trucks.
Jersey Roll was founded by two childhood friends from Southern New Jersey, John Fels and Bobby O’Donnell. Though they are both more familiar with construction and landscaping, their entrepreneurial spirit gave way to a new idea. Both men love to cook, so the decision to share their favorite dishes with the rest of NJ was easy.
Their plan? To simply “wing it.” As it turns out, that thorough approach paid off. Fels and O’Donnell’s top-notch takes on traditional pork roll are a huge hit. In fact, in just two short years, Jersey Roll has made huge progress in the NJ culinary industry.
In 2018, Jersey Roll opened a brick-and-mortar on the north side of the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Then, for 2019, they brought a second food truck into their fleet. As a result, they attend twice as many events throughout the year. In addition, they’re even serving food at the popular Hooks Bar & Grill in Seaside Heights. But for Fels and O’Donnell, this is just the start.
Co-owner Fels sat down with Best of NJ recently to share Jersey Roll’s journey so far.
The Best New Jersey Food Trucks: Jersey Roll Interview
Best of NJ: You and Bobby have been friends since tee-ball, which is very young. Talk about your friendship and how it impacts Jersey Roll.
John Fels: Yeah, we went to elementary, middle, and high school together. It was really cool how we were able to get this going; because we kind of went our separate ways when I went to college. He had his own business going in construction, and I had a landscaping business.
About four or five years ago, we started going to food truck events with our wives; and we had this urge to also do it ourselves. We didn’t really have a concept at first, but then we came up with this idea for pork roll; because this is what we have for breakfast every day. We cook this; we’ve grown up with this. Every time we stop at a store, it’s “pork roll, egg and cheese,” every single morning [laughs]. So we said, “Let’s do it,” and started a food truck based around that. We figured there are enough people in New Jersey who love pork roll.
So we started with one truck two years ago. Then that winter we bought a second truck, and we built it out and just started with it this year.
BONJ: What is the draw of pork roll? Why do so many New Jerseyans, including myself, find it so tantalizing?
John: It’s the taste. And the flavor. It’s everything that you want in the morning. Where bacon sometimes is a little too much of one thing, pork roll is a little bit of that something; and it’s easy to eat in the morning. It pairs awesome with egg and cheese. And we’ve just taken that to a whole other level now with the sandwiches we (Jersey Roll) make.
BONJ: What types of items do you offer on the truck?
John: We have the standard pork roll egg and cheese; then we came up with a breaded pork roll with melted provolone and marinara called the Dirty Italian. We do loaded tots, we call it Dirty Pig; which is tater tots topped with melted cheese and pieces of pork roll. Then we do a Jersey Burger, with burger, pork roll, egg and cheese. Jersey Tropics, which is pork roll and pineapple with barbecue sauce. Finally, there’s the Pork Roll Cordon Bleu; chicken tenders and pork roll topped with a cheese sauce.
BONJ: Which ones are the most popular?
John: The pork roll, egg and cheese is number one. We also do a fat sandwich, which is pork roll, tater tots and mozzarella sticks, and that’s popular. Then with the Dirty Italian sandwich, we actually won an award for it at Monmouth Park last year.
BONJ: Jersey Roll has made a lot of progress in a short period of time. What has that been like, and how much have you learned since starting the truck?
John: Oh, so much. I mean, it’s been such a learning experience. The food trucks are one animal, and the stores are a whole other animal. We really enjoy the food trucks. Bob and I still run the food trucks, because we love to be out here at events.
Sometimes we’ll have so-so events, depending on the weather and turnout and all that; and you just learn it’s part of the business. But there are still a lot of great events. We love seeing people enjoying our food all across the state.
Bob and I love getting people from out of the area come up to the truck. They ask us “what is pork roll?” and we’ll explain it to them. Some people say, “I’ve never had pork roll in my life, and I was told I have to try it.” You know what? You’ve come to the right place [laughs].
It’s something that we take for granted living in New Jersey. We’re just so used to having it every morning; but someone who comes here and gets to try it for the first time, that’s a great experience for them.
BONJ: You guys offer a few different catering packages. Can you give us an overview and tell us what types of events you can cater?
John: It was just sort of a niche that fell in there for us. We never thought we were going to do catering and do weddings and events like that. Weddings are a huge hit with the pork roll. There are a lot of people at a wedding; and their present as they’re walking out the door is a pork roll egg and cheese from a food truck. People love it.
We’ll also do birthday parties and events like that. It’s normally a 60-person minimum. Overall though, the weddings are a really good sweet spot for us.
We have the details of our catering packages online. We typically do the main three. One is basic, with one or two sandwiches to pick from. Another one is three-quarters of our menu, and then the third catering package offers our full menu.
BONJ: Tell us more about the store. Do you mostly get people for breakfast?
John: We get a huge breakfast crowd. We have a little dining area with about 18 seats inside—a cozy little breakfast nook. It’s not a huge storefront, but people keep learning about us and just keep coming back. It’s a nice little place to eat your breakfast in the morning and go right to the ocean. Then Hooks has the late-night crowd over there. It usually doesn’t get too busy until about nine o’clock at night.
BONJ: Where can food lovers find you online?
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All Images: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ