After nearly two decades of working in information technology, Rich Rogers wanted to focus on his next chapter.
Knowing that he should do something after quitting his job, he started roasting coffee on a whim, “and, man, that changed my life.” This impromptu decision to roast his own coffee 20 years ago led him to start a business selling his beans, naming it Mason Joe, 12 years ago.
âThe more I gave it to people, the more they liked it, and then they said, ‘Well, can you make me some coffee? Can you serve it? And I was doing weddings and we kind of got into this fashion of serving coffee and brewing it instead of just selling beans, âRogers said. “And what I found was the reward for me, obviously the money was a reward, but the real reward was the fact that I could give someone a cup of coffee or a cold brewâ¦ I loved it being able to give someone a cup of coffee and get their immediate response as to whether it was good or bad.
“And, obviously, with us who roast coffee, the answers, the majority were right – people were like, ‘Wow, I’ve never had coffee this good,'” Rogers continued. “And that kind of planted that seed and that feeling of ‘Oh, that’s something I could do.'”
Once the business was viable, Rogers quit his IT job and went back to Tennessee from St. Louis, Missouri, and bought a “rotten old motorhome over half a century old and literally got it. gutted and built a small portable cafe on wheels. “
âAnd from that point on, I knew that was probably what I was going to do until I died,â Rogers said, letting out a chuckle.
Rogers also owns and operates the popular Trucky Cheese food truck, which he purchased from the original truck owner who decided to sell the business. Rogers said he was not looking to get into the food truck business at the time, but said “if there was ever a food truck that I would run it would be something like this. . “
And so, when the opportunity presented itself, Rogers jumped at the chance.
The pandemic, however, has taken its toll on Rogers, who are looking to sell Trucky Cheese to someone who can wear it into their next chapter while still preserving the things that have made Trucky Cheese a local favorite – a business he wishes to see it continue.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out most large-scale events, Rogers had to move its businesses to much smaller, less lucrative events and neighborhoods to make ends meet. Rogers said he and his employees had to work three times as many events for just a fraction of the salary.
Although he never had to lay off any of his employees – who he says are a critical part of their success – and actually hired more staff during the pandemic, Rogers burned out.
âThe reason behind this is, honestly, I’m 57 and tired,â Rogers said of his decision to find a buyer for Trucky Cheese. âIt’s a lot of work. Anyone who runs a food truck will tell you that.
As for Mason Joe, Rogers said the only reason they didn’t sink after shutting down the mobile trailer during the pandemic was the drive-thru location in Elizabethton which opened in January 2020. But while that the region continues to try to recover from the pandemic, Rogers said he was looking to make some big changes at Mason Joe, including an expanded menu and outdoor seating, which would be a nice addition for a business located near the Tweetsie Trail.
âWe’re looking to grow,â Rogers said of Mason Joe, noting that they will be expanding their menu to add food items, a move necessary to keep his business alive. âWe’re expanding our menu, we’re going to start lunch, we’re going to keep it very coffee, we’re going to make nice spring salads and things like that, typical sandwiches, paninis.â
Rogers said he hopes to appeal to people who want to support small businesses over larger chain stores.
âIf you want to try something new, look for small businesses,â Rogers said. “Go online and find a place called streetfoodfinder.com, this is a place where local food trucks can post their schedules, and you can look at a map and see where all the food trucks are located.
Mason Joe’s driving location is at 304 Legacy Drive in Elizabethton, and you can frequently find their trailer at farmers’ markets and other events. To keep up to date with the trailer’s location, you can follow his Facebook page, @MasonJoeCoffee. If you’re looking for one of Trucky Cheese’s classic cheese sandwiches, you can find the schedule at streetfoodfinder.com/thetruckycheese.
âI just fell in love,â Rogers said of the food truck business. “I’m even an introvert, believe it or not, by nature, but something in me needed that and that interaction with the audience and that gratification that you get when you serve great food or great coffee and get an immediate response – it’s almost like a drug, once you taste it you kind of have to have more.