Featured image: Mike Roach and India Dillard pose in front of their truck. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
Some weeks Mike Roach eats fast food for four or five days.
He usually likes to get burgers but not from McDonald’s or Wendy’s. In fact, Mike’s burgers are not even made from meat.
Roach is the owner of Mike’s Vegan Cookout, a popular food truck that has been making the rounds in the Triad and beyond since April.
“I’ve been vegan for years because of my fiancé,” says Roach, who chops yellow onions in a commissary kitchen while on FaceTime. “I’m Latino so I’m used to carne asada but I was like, ‘We can give it a shot,’ and she made me this Gardein chicken with rice and it turned out excellent so I was converted to a vegan from her.”
That was four years ago.
Since then, Roach had been eating what vegan dishes he could find at restaurants and cooking with his fiancé, India Dillard, at home until he realized he missed eating comfort food.
“I missed the kind of stuff I used to eat when I got drunk,” Roach says.
In 2019, Mike’s Vegan Hot Dogs was born. Roach, who’s from Burlington, rented out a trailer in Chapel Hill and began selling a version of the hot dogs he sells on his truck now.
“Business was going pretty good, but I didn’t know anything about inventory, I didn’t know anything about business taxes,” Roach says. “I was failing. I was not making any money. I didn’t know what my profits were; I didn’t know anything.”
That’s when his friend decided to secretly stop by his truck and try his food. He loved it and reached out to Roach to become business partners. A few months later, they got a brand-new truck and rebranded as Mike’s Vegan Cookout, expanding the menu to include burgers and more. These days the truck makes a number of stops each week in Burlington, Durham, Cary, Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point.
On a recent Friday evening, the black and lime green truck sits in the parking lot at Natty Greene’s Brewhouse on Gate City Boulevard in Greensboro. A line of about dozen people has formed in front of the window where Joel, one of the truck’s main employees, is taking people’s orders for the new pulled “pork” sandwich. Inside, Rob, the cook, moves in sync with the beats from the long, tubular speaker that sits on shelf, spitting out tracks by Ghostface Killah and Notorious BIG. He moves swiftly, throwing Beyond meat patties and barbecue Delight Soy pulled-pork piles on the grill before drenching the latter in sauce. Nearby, Roach’s aunt, Lizbeth, preps the burgers that Rob makes by wrapping them in foil and putting them in a box. Behind her, Lindsay finishes off the orders by adding fries and sauces and calls them out the window. It’s a tight, greasy, delicious, well-oiled machine.
Half an hour later, the line has doubled in length.
Mike Robinson and Christy Newman have been to the food truck a few times before and return because of the quality of the food.
“It tastes like the real thing,” says Robinson, who ordered a couple of hot dogs.
They arrived early because they know the line gets out of hand if people wait too long.
“You know you gotta get here early because the line gets ridiculous,” says Newman, who got the Carolina burger which comes topped with chili, cheese, slaw, diced onions and a special sauce — all of it vegan.
Both Robinson and Newman say that they wish there were more options like Mike’s for vegans in the area. They point to Boba House, which has been open since 2003, as one of the only options for plant-based meals in the city. Another is the Well Café, which is housed in Sonder Mind and Body in downtown and is temporarily closed.
Roach, who stands in line with his fiancé, India Dillard, to order food for dinner, says he crafted the menu and infuses some of his Latino roots into the flavors. They use the popular Beyond meat patty, but employ a special blend of spices to add a little extra flavor. The Colombiana burger features pineapples, crushed potato chips, pepper-jack cheese and special sauce while the Lo Maximo has black beans, diced onions, bacon bits, jalapeños, mustard and special sauce. The Hola Amigo has guacamole, sour cream, jalapeños, banana peppers and nacho cheese. All of the burgers are offered as hot dogs too, with the same toppings. Roach’s favorite is the Carolina burger. He says he wanted to create a cookout food truck because he thinks the cuisine is fun and laid back.
“When you go to a brewery you want to have a beer with a burger and fries,” Roach says. “I put myself in that situation. If I’m going to a brewery, there’s usually no option for me to eat, especially in this town.”
Soon, because of the business’ popularity, Roach says they’ll be rolling out two new food trucks — one specifically for the Charlotte area and the other designated for the Triangle. The original truck will stay in the Triad. But his dreams go beyond just North Carolina, Roach says.
“I’d like to go above and beyond and open up nationwide and have a franchise,” Roach says. “I want to go on Shark Tank and see if they want to take this thing nationwide. That’s my ultimate goal.”
And with the number he’s doing now, it doesn’t seem like an unrealistic plan. Roach says he rakes in about 150 to 200 orders per day.
“People tell me all the time: ‘This is the best damn burger I’ve ever had,’” Roach says. “Those make me really happy…. It’s amazing to see how customers react and to see them come back.”
And since starting his journey four years ago, Roach says he’s completely committed to the vegan lifestyle. The business’s Instagram regularly posts the health benefits of moving to an all-plant based diet and the truck features a slogan that reads, “Animals are our friends. We don’t eat our friends.”
For those that remain skeptical, Dillard gestures to the customers around her.
“When it’s in this form, fast food, it’s easy,” she says. “But you can’t get this at McDonald’s…. The line speaks for itself.”
Learn more about Mike’s Vegan Cookout including the menu and the schedule for the future on Instagram at @mikesvegancookout and on Facebook.