After nearly two decades working in information technology, Rich Rogers wanted to focus on his next chapter.
Knowing he’d have to do something after he left his job, he started roasting coffee on a whim, “and, man, it changed my life.” That spur-of-the-moment decision to roast his own coffee 20 years ago led to him starting a business selling his beans, naming it Mason Joe, 12 years ago.
“The more I gave it to people, the more they liked it, and then they asked, ‘Well, can you make coffee for me? Can you serve it?’ And I would do weddings and we kind of got into that mode of serving coffee and making it instead of just selling beans,” Rogers said. “And what I discovered was the reward for me, obviously the money was a reward, but the real reward was the fact I could hand somebody a cup of coffee or a cold brew ... I loved the fact that I could hand a cup of coffee to somebody and get their immediate response to whether it was good or bad.
“And, obviously, with us roasting coffee, the responses, the majority were good — people were like, ‘Wow, I’ve never had coffee this good’,” Rogers continued. “And that kind of planted that seed and that feeling of, ‘Oh, this is something I could do.’”
Once the business was viable, Rogers left his IT job and moved back to Tennessee from St. Louis, Missouri, and bought a more than half-century “old, rotten old camper and literally gutted it and built a little portable coffee shop on wheels.”
“And from that point forward, I just knew this was probably what I was going to do until I die,” Rogers said, letting out a chuckle.
Rogers is also the owner and operator of the popular Trucky Cheese food truck, which he bought from the truck’s original owner who decided to sell the business. Rogers said he wasn’t looking to get into the food truck business at the time, but said “if there was ever a food truck I would operate, it would be something like this.”
And so when the opportunity presented itself, Rogers jumped at the chance.
The pandemic, however, took its toll on Rogers, who is looking to sell Trucky Cheese to somebody who can carry it into its next chapter while preserving the things that made Trucky Cheese a local favorite — a business he wants to see continue.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic eliminated most large-scale events, Rogers had to bring his businesses to much smaller, less lucrative events and neighborhoods to make ends meet. Rogers said he and his employees had to work three times as many events for only a fraction of the pay.
Though he never had to lay off any of his employees — who he said are a critical part of their success — and actually hired more staff during the pandemic, Rogers got burned out.
“The reason behind it is, honestly, I’m 57 and I’m tired,” Rogers said of his decision to find a buyer for Trucky Cheese. “It is a lot of work. Anybody that runs a food truck will tell you that.”
As for Mason Joe, Rogers said the only reason they didn’t go under after shutting down the mobile trailer during the pandemic was the drive-through location in Elizabethton that opened in January 2020. But as the region continues to try and recover from the pandemic, Rogers said he’s looking to make some big changes at Mason Joe, including an expanded menu and outdoor seating, which would be a nice addition for a business located near the Tweetsie Trail.
“We look to expand,” Rogers said of Mason Joe, noting that they’ll be expanding their menu to add food items, a necessary move to keep his business alive. “We are expanding our menu, we’re going to start lunch, we’re going to keep it very coffee shop-ish, we’re going to do nice spring salads and things like that, some typical sandwiches, paninis.”
Rogers said he’s hoping to appeal to those people who want to support small businesses over the bigger chain stores.
“If you want to try something new, seek out the small businesses,” Rogers said. “Get online and find a place called streetfoodfinder.com, that’s a place where local food trucks can post their schedules, and you can look at a map and see where all the food trucks are.”
The drive-through Mason Joe location is lat 304 Legacy Drive in Elizabethton, and you can frequently find their trailer at Farmers Markets and other events. To keep up to date on where the trailer will be, you can follow its Facebook page, @MasonJoeCoffee. If you’re looking for one of Trucky Cheese’s classic cheese sandwiches, you can find the schedule at streetfoodfinder.com/thetruckycheese.
“I just fell in love,” Rogers said of the food truck business. “I’m even an introvert, believe it or not, by nature, but something about me needed that and this interaction with the public and this gratification you get when you’re serving good food or good coffee and getting an immediate response back — it’s almost like a drug, once you get a taste of it you kind of have to have more.”