WILMINGTON—The Joe Loves Lobster Rolls food truck is new to Wilmington, but owner and chef Tony Herndon isn’t new to the game.
Herndon’s family has run restaurants back through the 1940s in the New Jersey area. More recently, Herndon moved to Savannah, bringing the northeast staple down south. His first venture in Savannah was selling lobster rolls out of a converted hot dog cart.
Now Joe Loves is hitting the streets around Wilmington, with plans for a restaurant in the fall.
Joe Love loved lobster rolls
Herndon’s business was inspired by the death of Herndon’s cousin, Joe Love, who died suddenly in 2007 of pancreatic disease.
“He called me and said, ‘Tony, I think I had a bad burger,’ and that was that. Shortly after that he passed. It was very sudden, and very sad, he was such a young guy,” Herndon said.
Herndon said he named the business after his cousin – his image graces the Joe Loves logo – to keep his memory alive, but also because Joe Love had always been a fan of lobster rolls.
Savannah residents became fans, too. In short order, Herndon built up a reputation for his lobster rolls in the Savanah and Hilton Head region.
Moving to Wilmington
After five award-winning years, Herndon called it quits in October 2017. Why? As Herndon put it, “good help is really hard to find.”
One issue was Herndon’s two daughters, who had helped with the business for years, “retired.” Herndon said that, after one graduated and the other had a child, he’d run out of quality help.
“At that point, I decided to close up shop after a really good run,” Herndon said.
Herndon took some time off, but knew he’d find a new location. When his travels took him through Southport and Wilmington, he liked the area and decided it was time to get back in the lobster roll game.
Brick and mortar?
Since opening, Herndon has already started making the craft brewery rounds, with regular evening stops at Flytrap Brewing on Tuesdays and Wilmington Brewing Company on Friday.
Joe Loves food truck is also making twice-weekly trips to downtown Wilmington–as well as making the drive down to Southport.
So far, Herndon said the reaction has been positive.
“We’ve sold out, pretty much every time. We don’t leave with much,” Herndon said.
While Herndon came to town too late to get involved with the recent Food Truck Rodeo, he said he was interested in the Sunset Beach and Oak Island concert series.
When the summer is over, Herndon has–slightly–bigger plans.
“When this summer season is over, we’ll do a brick and mortar,” Herndon said. “It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, it could be 800 square feet.”
Herndon said he would like to find a place on Castle Street, a developing neighborhood where Joe Loves sets up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. He also plans on expanding the menu, to include a Rueben, a Philly cheesesteak, and the return of the wild boar barbecue sandwich, a dish of which Herndon is particularly fond.
“It’s a three-day process, but it’s amazing–12 hour brine, then smoked for 12 hours, then in the oven for 12 hours,” Herndon said.
In the meantime, Herndon has enjoyed hitting the streets and making fans.
“If you know what a lobster roll is we want to be the best you’ve had, if you don’t, we want to make you a convert,” Herndon said.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.