Leslie and Justin Hanks found the perfect partner in each other in both life and business. Now they have combined their 50 years of food industry experience into a full-time food truck business.
Leslie Hanks' family has been in the food industry for as long as she can remember, even when she lived in the Philippines, where she was born.
After her mother's extended family settled in the Pensacola area when she was 13, they started a food vending business that worked festivals across the Gulf Coast and as far north as Tennessee. At the age of 15, she found herself joining the family business working festivals and honing her culinary skills. After high school, her love of cooking drove her to pursue a degree at Pensacola Junior College's culinary program.
Justin Hanks was born and raised in Fairhope. His food industry experience began at the age of 15 with his first job washing dishes and busing tables at the iconic Julwin's in downtown Fairhope. That first job led him to a life working the front of house as a server or bartender at every type of event, restaurant and resort you can imagine.
He has a natural gift of talking to people and making them happy.
When Justin and Leslie met, they knew they would work well together combining her knowledge of the kitchen and food production with his knowledge of working with customers. The only thing they had to decide was what food they were going to make.
In April 2017, the Tin-Tins Rock and Roll Food Truck made its first appearance at the Fairhope Farmers Market. The original menu featured Polish sausage, burgers, chicken skewers, gyros and Leslie's hand-rolled lumpia. Over time, the duo realized they rarely sold Polish sausage but that the pancit and lumpia were popular. They began to home in on a menu that would set them apart.
"We wanted our menu to be more gourmet and a higher quality of food. We have a burger, but it is the last thing I am trying to sell on a daily basis. I try to push the food that makes us unique. I always let people know about the lumpia [and] pancit, and our shrimp tacos are still our No. 1 seller. People come near and far for our shrimp and fish tacos," Justin Hanks said.
If you are not familiar with the food of the Philippines, you may not know about their delicious menu. Lumpia are a type of spring roll made of thin paper-like pastry wrapped around a savory filling. They are skinny and long, deep-fried and served crunchy and hot. Pancit is a general term referring to various noodle dishes in Filipino cuisine. Leslie's pancit is made with thin rice noodles with stir-fry vegetables.
Justin and Leslie Hanks strive to keep their food consistent and created a menu they could execute at a high level very quickly.
"How fast we are able to get food out and prepare your meal is something that separates us. Once you have ordered your food it will be ready in less than five minutes," Justin Hanks said. "We want to make sure everything is fresh and that you will be able to taste everything in your mouth."
The quality of the food, the speed of service and keeping customers happy is something the Hankses work hard at because the food truck is their sole income. Six months after opening, Justin Hanks was able to leave his job at Big Fish, a sushi and seafood restaurant in Orange Beach.
"When we started the food truck, I was still working at Big Fish. It is one of the best restaurants I have ever worked at. They were nice and worked with our schedule. After six months, I was able to say goodbye, and we haven't looked back," Justin Hanks said. "But we are very thankful to them because when we first started, they were in full support."
The Hankses have worked hard over the years to build up a regular clientele, and that paid off when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down.
"We had to adapt and keep moving forward. You must find ways to work with what you have, and we made it work," Justin Hanks said. "During COVID, we started doing all the neighborhoods. We would show up and run out of food because people were looking forward to something else after being in quarantine."
Expanding their reach into different neighborhoods has led to catering jobs, weddings, private events and golf tournaments. Justin Hanks said as of the beginning of July they already know their whole schedule for the month of October.
"People contact me months ahead of time to make sure they can acquire our services. A month is not enough notice. You want to get us as soon as possible because we already have weddings booked into next year. We like to do stuff with churches and schools. That is the fun part of what we do. Every day is a little different," Justin Hanks said.
Despite all the experience and years working in the food industry, the Hankses say their hardest lesson to learn has been having enough food. Their only negative reviews over the years have been when they have sold out. While it is a good problem to have, they hate to disappoint their customers.
"It is hard to judge the right amount of food to bring, so we are not washing food with pricing being so high now. We must find the happy balance. We never want to let anybody down, and I think that separates us, too. We take such strides toward customer service that we want everybody happy, and we do a very good job of trying to do that," Justin Hanks said.
The drive to be the best and make customers happy has been difficult over the past two months for the Hanks family. Like any business, there are hiccups that occur like sick children (they have two boys ages 5 and 2), and a neighbor who doesn't like the trailer being parked at their house.
"She has called the city and complained about our trailer being parked at our house, called the health department and had them visit us. There are rules we are supposed to follow, and we are trying to make sure we are in total compliance with those rules," Justin Hanks said.
He said the city found they were in compliance; the trailer wasn't too big, and it was parked in the correct location. They did have to find a new commissary due to their business coverage area no longer including Pensacola and add an awning to the truck.
They said while they are working with the health department to make sure they are complying and will continue to make their customers happy, they are concerned the neighbor's complaints will continue regardless. A work stoppage could impact their livelihood.
"I have several concepts that I know will be successful, but if I can't successfully staff a restaurant than I won't do it," Justin Hanks said. "Yes, I can make more money. It could be beneficial, but there are more challenges that come with a restaurant. Right now, we want our kids to get a little older, and then we will possibly venture into the restaurant world. For now, we are content with what we are doing."
Justin and Leslie Hanks both stressed one thing.
"We are very thankful for all our customers and their continued support. That is what we are most thankful for," Justin Hanks said. "There are people that love our food that are willing to do stuff for us to help. Our job is to work with people and make them happy."
If you would like to try the amazing food the Hankses are creating on the Tin-Tins Rock and Roll Food Truck, stop by the Fairhope Brewing Company's Mardi Gras in July event Saturday, July 16. For more information and upcoming events visit the Tin-Tins Rock and Roll Food Truck Facebook page.