The delicious, bursting aromas and joyous down-home vibes emanate from Mr. Wendell’s Mobile Kitchen, a food truck unassumingly nestled between two road bends at 3660 Malvern Ave.
Wendell Foote and his wife, Kristy, run the mobile kitchen with a true passion for food and serving others. Both create a welcoming atmosphere just with their personalities. Kristy Foote takes orders at the window and Wendell Foote prepares the food with a fire on the grill behind her, dancing as he works his magic.
Wendell Foote earned his stripes from the bottom up, first washing dishes at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort and working his way up the ranks to become a chef.
“I had the opportunity to start cooking and it was something I was very good at,” he said. “I found it was one of my niches, so I got more interested in it. I had a chance to rise under some good chefs. I worked there for 11 years.”
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Wendell Foote is a creative chef and has a knack for invention or simply taking an ordinary dish and elevating it. While working at the Pony Express grill in Oaklawn one day, he made himself a catfish sandwich for lunch. After going to the break area and returning to find his sandwich missing, his coworkers informed him that his boss wanted to see him in his office. He went to the office expecting to be in trouble, but he was surprised.
“When I got down there, he was eating. And he said, ‘Do you cook this?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, you said we could have one meal a day, so I made me a sandwich.’ He said, ‘that’s not why I called you here, I want to put this on the menu.’ They only wanted it at the Pony, as a special — one day a week,” Wendell Foote said.
“What it was, I just used grilled onions, horseradish, mayo, lettuce, tomato and catfish. And people loved it as a sandwich,” he said. While the same sandwich is not on Mr. Wendell’s Mobile Kitchen menu, it can be ordered if one wishes. “Get it your way” is the food truck’s motto, and Foote stays true to that promise, offering to customize everything on the menu to the customer’s wishes.
“When I left (Oaklawn), I went to the Embassy (Suites by Hilton) where I met my chef who actually gave me a lot of training, taught me all my mom’s sauces, and then I had the dream, ‘Man I wonder if I can start a business in cooking because I have a knack for it and I love feeding people and I want to see the smile on their faces when they eat our food,” he said.
He went on to work his way up from line cook to head chef and then sous chef in his time at Embassy Suites.
There he met his wife, who worked at the reception.
“Wherever you work, you’re going to go to the kitchen. So he made me a chicken sandwich and left there,” Kristy Foote said.
The couple opened Mr. Wendell’s mobile kitchen in May 2020, shortly after the pandemic spread. They had already committed to the business and bought their truck months before the pandemic hit and found that, contrary to what might be expected from nationwide lockdowns, business boomed.
“It was good because the restaurants were closed. It was rocky and not stable, but it was really good,” he said.
The Footes have plans to move the truck to a more central location in Hot Springs that allows it to be exposed to more foot traffic. It’s a testament to the quality of the food that it has survived so long in its out-of-the-way location.
“My chicken — I’m not bragging … my chicken is unlike any chicken you’ll ever eat. My catfish is unlike any catfish you’ll ever eat. My customers tell me I’ve got the best quesadillas. They they’ve ever eaten. We’ve been told we have some of the best beer. All of our food is great,” said Wendell Foote.
“We have our own special seasoning that we use, and we pretty much use it on everything. It’s so good. It works for everything. We’re just very proud — we really want your food to look good, we want food to taste like it looks,” he said.
“If you see a picture on Facebook and you say, ‘Wow, that’s a nice hamburger,’ my job is, when you come here, I go into full service mode. So I have to make sure that this hamburger looks exactly like that picture you saw because that’s what made you come and get it.”
Faith Castle, a former Miss Arkansas for America Strong, is a regular at Mr. Wendell’s Mobile Kitchen.
“This is definitely the best food truck in town, my whole office eats here at least two or three times a week — sometimes breakfast and lunch. It definitely has the best nachos in town, they’re my favorite. The breakfast nachos are really good. Almost everything I’ve eaten here has been great, I haven’t tried anything I didn’t like. The chicken quesadillas, this is probably our favorite at the office. You should check it out and come eat here, “said the Castle.
Q&A with Wendell Foote
Below are excerpts from the interview with Wendell Foote, presented in a question-and-answer format:
Q: Favorite meal of all time?
Answer: Catfish, I have more than one catfish. At any time and throughout the day, catfish.
Q: Go-to comfort food?
A: I would have to say a taco. I love tacos.
Q: Favorite restaurant?
Answer: Quetzal, our favorite. They amazed me. The first time I ate with them, they had some of the best pinto beans I’ve ever had, I couldn’t believe it. The food was so delicious, I have never had such fresh Spanish food. When I say fresh, I mean I scratched the plate. So we went back again — I cleared the plate. The third time, I scraped the plate. It was great food.
Q: Favorite part of working in the Hot Springs area?
Answer: It is a great opportunity. You can be really successful in Hot Springs, but I’ve learned this — stay consistent. That’s everyone’s thing, just stay consistent.
Q: Advice for someone starting out in the restaurant business?
Answer: Go into it thinking you like cooking. This is the first thing my chef taught me. He said, “Listen, don’t ever take a cooking job for money because you won’t last.” Because when you work in a restaurant, it’s one of the hardest jobs. You have to love what you do. I will say it’s hard work, but it’s hard work you love. The thing about it is that you can’t cut corners when you’re — let it be known on the business side. You put your mind to it, it’s what you want, you can do it.