SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — It’s been five years since two Marines — and brothers — have been planning the launch of their business, The Cheesesteak Hustle. Octavius “Ray” Raymond and Isaac Foster followed through on their dream to open their first restaurant, despite Covid-19 modifying their goal a bit.
“During the pandemic, it didn’t make sense to open a brick-and-mortar right away,” said Raymond, who served in the Marines for a little over eight years. Once he noticed food trucks were operating full speed and succeeding, he put his business degree to work and shifted his plan.
“Everybody can keep their distance, and it is out in the open and safe with a food truck,” Raymond said.
The truck made its first stop in March, and to date has already parked at over 100 events in their hometown of Jacksonville, as well as in New Bern, Morehead City, and other nearby cities and beach towns. Earlier in the week, the brothers officially expanded their hustle into Wilmington. Raymond said they have booked upward of two dozen or more events locally, with more to come, through the end of the year.
“We were at Broomtail last night,” Raymond told Port City Daily Thursday. “We got a lot of good feedback from the customers — great crowd. They loved it.”
Foster — who received a culinary degree from the Art Institute in San Francisco after he got out of the Marines — said he’s flipping around 100 cheesesteaks or so per event. The Cheesesteak Hustle is rolling out six days a week; Foster operates the day-to-day operations of the truck, while Raymond has a day job managing a coffee shop. On nights and weekends, they come together to oversee all events.
“Ray is really responsible for getting this off the ground,” Foster accredited, “and helping me at the same time.”
Foster said his brother began pushing the restaurant idea as a joint effort in 2017, specifically as a way to help Foster get back on his feet. The 38-year-old was going through a hard time in California, coming out of a divorce and the military.
“And at the time, I was homeless, sleeping in my car for about six months,” Foster revealed. “I told Ray when he kept bringing it up, ‘Yeah, yeah, but I’m trying to get back on my feet,’ and Ray said, ‘I’m going to work on this business plan. We are doing this.’”
With his brother’s help, Foster transitioned into a shelter and eventually secured his own apartment. Last year, Raymond called again: “I have a plan.”
In November, the brothers finally pulled the trigger. Raymond ordered the truck and Foster made his official move to the East Coast in January. Together, they built out the trailer, which came outfitted with a three-compartment sink and hood system only.
“Then we bought all the equipment, put everything inside, and had a welder secure it for us,” Raymond said.
Normally, Raymond said the low end cost of a food truck can run around $25,000. He said they were able to work within budget restrictions by taking on much of the work themselves.
“We kept it simple,” Raymond said.
Foster calls his brother the “backbone of the business.” “He really made this happen — from the infrastructure into doing cheesesteaks,” Foster said. “I originally wanted to make gourmet grilled cheeses.”
Raymond admits he’s more of a “barbecue person”; throughout his life he said he was always working the smoker or grill. But he wanted to stay away from the North Carolina staple because barbecue food trucks are a dime a dozen.
“I love cheesesteaks and I haven’t found any, you know, good cheesesteaks here,” Raymond said.
The Cheesesteak Hustle uses all grass-fed ribeye, without hormones or preservatives. It doesn’t veer from traditional cheesesteaks either — no chicken or veggie offerings. The menu remains relatively simple: seven items, including the sandwiches served simply (cheese only) or loaded (onions, mushrooms, jalapeños). Though, the founders did get a little creative with The Innovator: a loaded cheesesteak, also topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
“I like to put chips on top of sandwiches,” Raymond said.
He tried various styles and flavors during a test-run of the menu before landing on the Cheetos. Raymond said he used his eight children to gauge the menu’s success.
“That’s a lot of different taste buds going on in the house, so if I can get something that all of them like, I’m on the right track,” Raymond said.
The food truck also tops one of its cheesesteaks with fries, which come doused in homemade garlic seasoning. Diners can order fries separately, loaded with Philly steak and the Hustler’s secret house sauce — a sweet yet savory, mayonnaise-based condiment that Foster and Raymond created.
“It feels good just to wake up every day and work for yourself. You know?” Foster said. “All the sweat and tears is not in vain — you get more out of it for yourself and your family.”
Menu items on The Cheesesteak Hustle range from $9.95-$13.95. The truck will be parked in Wilmington in coming months:
- June 12: Mad Mole Brewing, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- June 1: Broomtail Brewery, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- July 3: Broomtail Brewery, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- July 5: Flytrap Brewing, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- July 14: Flying Machine Brewing, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- July 19: Flytrap Brewing, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- July 31: Edward Teach Brewery, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., and Mad Mole Brewing, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Aug. 7: Edward Teach Brewery, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., and Mad Mole Brewing, 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Aug. 28: Wilmington Brewing Co., 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Sept. 11: Edward Teach Brewery, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., and Wilmington Brewing Co., 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Sept. 18: Edward Teach, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
- Oct. 16: Edward Teach, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
- Oct. 23: Wilmington Brewing Co., 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.
- Oct. 29: Edward Teach, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
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