Food truck operators chug along on River Road

Russ and Su Rappe

While restaurants are adapting to take-out only models, Keizer’s resident food trucks are in their element.

“It really hasn’t hurt our business that much since all the restaurants right now are take-out only, that’s all we do is take-out,” said Russ Rappe, co-owner of Thai Food Express, the red food truck that’s recently appeared on River Road.

Rappe is relatively new to the food truck scene, though his wife, Su, has been operating Thai Food Express by herself for nearly four years. When they moved to River Road from South Salem, there were so many costumers Su had to recruit her husband to help.

Rappe retired from NORPAC Foods after 34 years to help his wife pursue her passion.

“She loves to cook, she loves to make people happy,” Rappe said.

While the warm welcome of their truck is encouraging, it is now their sole source of income. Even with the increase in business they are “barely breaking even.”

“I was going to move my prices up and change my menu before moving out here, but because everybody’s struggling now we kept them low,” Rappe said. 

Though the majority of their business tactics have stayed the same, Rappe has made some changes in light of the virus.

“I’ve got little Xs marked out over [on the ground] there so [customers] can stand and keep their distance,” he said. 

There is also a sign in the window encouraging social distancing and reminding customers the truck is take-out only. Prior to the pandemic, there was a sitting area behind the food trucks, but it is currently not being used due to the ban on sit-in dining.

Troy Campbell

“Unfortunately, now we can’t use it,” said Troy Campbell, owner of Uncle Troy’s BBQ, who helped create the outdoor seating space.

Uncle Troy’s BBQ is the bright yellow truck in front of the former Keizer Nursery and has been there for some time now.

They have also taken some safety precautions due to the virus. Campbell closed his truck in March and did not open again until the Friday, May 8.

“This is the best decision for myself, my business and my family,” he said in a social media post announcing the closure.

Though he is open again, things are not the same. Campbell is now operating on a Friday through Sunday basis. In addition to limiting his hours, Campbell has begun wearing a mask as he works.

During his break from barbecue, Campbell worked on keeping a positive mindset.

“I try to be as positive as I can, keep my mind as sharp as I could,” Campbell said. He worked on his carpentry skills, rearranged his business model and came up with new recipes.

“Instead of being negative about it and focusing on what I can’t do, I figure I’ll swim with the current, and as things change, I’ll adjust,” Campbell said.

He, like the Rappes, has experienced good business despite the pandemic.

“It’s good to know people actually care, because you really don’t know,” Campbell said, “I didn’t know, coming back, if I was going to sell anything.”

Though Campbell’s wife is still working and the truck is not their sole source of income, it is Campbell’s full-time job.

“People are trying to support local businesses, people who are at risk of losing it all, like I definitely am,” Campbell said. 

If Uncle Troy’s BBQ can weather the pandemic, it will celebrate its one year anniversary in July.

While some people are worried about the economy recovering, Campbell is concerned about the loss of community due to the pandemic.

“The economy will come back, we need to work on the community,” Campbell said. He went on to urge Keizerites to be kind to one another as we adjust to a new normal.

“After 9/11 there was a new normal when you went to the airport. Now it’s normal, I know I’m gonna take my shoes off, it’s a part of life now,” Campbell said, “It was tough when it happened but now we’ve moved on, it became the new normal, it’s for our safety.”

Though they’re living in uncertain times, both Campbell and Rappe expressed big plans for the future. Their landlord is hoping to bring in the Fruit Box as the third food truck on the site. 

“Thai food, barbecue and fruit box, that’s a good mix of trucks,” Campbell said.

They also plan to open up the outdoor seating space once the state restrictions on gathering have been lifted.

“They call [Pioneer Square] Portland’s living room, I want this to be like Keizer’s patio,” Rappe said.