Joe and Kelly Pike used to barbecue as a hobby. They would travel hundreds of miles with their two rescue dogs, Hope and Grace, to compete in, and sometimes win, backyard barbecue competitions.
For seven years they grew to know and love other barbecue hobbyists. They formed what they described as their “barbecue family”. They were having fun, but Joe was incredibly stressed out and disenchanted with work as a robotics maintenance manager.
“Joe got up on his 49th birthday and said ‘I’m quitting my job and opening a food truck,’” Kelly said. And that’s what he did in August, 2015.
“I was tired of everything I did being for somebody else, not for myself,” Joe said. “This is something for me, and it’s a lot less stress.”
That may sound crazy. Especially when you consider that the start-up cost was close to $40,000. But the couple said they have absolutely no regrets.
“He loves it and he’s so much happier,” Kelly said. “He was not a people person before, but now, when he’s at the window with customers, he is Mr. Personality.”
MooChewSooey started out in Claremore, parked outside of Lowes just around lunch time. As they built a following, they started migrating toward Tulsa. On Facebook their truck has 50 five-star reviews, and they’re doing well for themselves.
“You can make a living, but it's a lot of hard work,” Kelly said. You have to be willing to put in long hours and take sluggishly slow and bustling busy days with the same enthusiasm.
The couple spent punishing but ultimately rewarding hours at every local food truck day, convention, and catering event they could find.
Until September, 2017.
In July, Joe started experiencing some minor digestive issues, which he tried to ignore for a few months. The problems kept getting worse, however, so Joe finally agreed to a colonoscopy.
In September he received the diagnosis — colon cancer.
“When they first told me ... it takes your breath away,” Joe said. “But you go through the sad and then you get angry. Then you want to fight, and I’ve been fighting ever since.”
Joe and Kelly immediately shut the truck down, promising their followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that they’d be back.
Surgery started in October, followed by seven months of aggressive chemotherapy.
During that time Kelly said she was amazed by the outpouring of support. “We were put on every prayer list in 20 miles, and we received so much love and kindness from out regular family and barbecue family alike,” she said.
The couple also received special support from a local non-profit, Joy in the Cause, and a local business, Stonebrook Day Spa, that gives free spa services to cancer patients.
As Joe was nearing the end of his treatments and beginning to recover, the couple opened the truck again, and for their first day back they attended a convention on April 7.
“Supporter who had been following the truck on social media came up and filled the tip jar with more money than we could count,” Kelly said, trying to disguise the emotion creeping into her voice.
A few weeks later, April 25, 212 days after the diagnosis, Joe rang the bell at the hospital, declaring he was cancer free.
Including Food Truck Thursday, the couple has done 24 events since being back in action, with a packed calendar in July.
“I’m grateful to be alive,” Joe said. “I feel almost normal, back to where I was.”
“Chemo was very rough, and fatigue is the worst lingering side effect,” Kelly said.
“I put on a lot of weight, so I’m fighting that battle, but I’m getting stronger every day,” Joe said. “No room to quit.”
“Thank you for waiting, thank you for praying, just thank you,” Kelly said to their customers. “The biggest fear when you shut down is starting over … thank you just doesn’t do it honestly.”
With a new appreciation of life, Joe said he is also happy to be back in his truck meeting customers and serving barbecue. Why?
“It makes people happy. You give them something to eat, they take that first bite, and it makes them smile.”