Like many people throughout the world, Darren and Patty McHale were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But they came through the other side as owners of Chalkboard Eats, a food truck with a tasty menu featuring made-from-scratch food.
Darren McHale has been a chef for about 27 years and has worked in several upscale establishments throughout Albuquerque and New Mexico. When COVID hit, he was let go from a position at a casino. He eventually went back to work for a small business but left after another spike in COVID cases caused staffing issues. The McHales decided to buy their own brick-and-mortar restaurant, but that fell through. Finally, in December, they purchased a food truck and opened Chalkboard Eats.
“What I love about this business is that I own it,” Darren McHale said. “I have the creativity to just continuously do my art as my grandma always wanted me to. And just doing what I love every single day.”
McHale’s love of cooking came from his grandma, who was known as the pickle queen of Las Animas, Colorado.
“I learned a lot from her, and you notice lots of old-school techniques,” McHale said. “But a lot of it was learned from a lot of really good chefs here in New Mexico.”
As you’d expect from a New Mexican chef, Chalkboard Eats offers plenty of chile, including homemade green chile cheese bread and green chile apple salsa. Friday afternoon, the truck was parked outside of Brew Lab 101, where McHale was prepping to open for service.
“This is 15 hours of pulled smoked pork, this is just chile beans, but I smoke my ground beef, I pick my chile pods,” McHale said. “I make my own stuff; I make all my breads and make everything I can. That’s our thing — we’re a scratch kitchen.”
McHale lives in Rio Rancho, where you can often find their truck at different businesses, but it also serves northwest Albuquerque. The menu varies each week, as do the locations where the truck is parked. But there are some staples.
Among the nine signature items that are always offered is the hot pastrami sandwich, which is “house cured smoked brisket, caramelized onions, grain mustard on green chile cheese bread.” And while McHale is proud of the menu he has created, he’s also proud of his prices.
“Our prices are very fair for what we offer and we’re not here to gouge people,” McHale said. “We just really want to do more business in Rio Rancho. But sometimes we just have to go where we’re invited so we can make a living.”
While McHale is making a living doing what he loves, he also wants to change the perception of food trucks and get to know people in the community.
“I feel like not a lot of people understand that you get quality food from a food truck,” McHale said. “I had to correct one person one time. His son said, ‘Oh, that’s just a roach coach,’ and I had to turn around and say, ‘Actually, no, it’s the food truck.’ I liked the food concept because we’re just different all the time. But what I really liked about the food truck also is the face-to-face interaction and having to live up to what you do every moment of the day. And just being able to interact with regulars. I mean, I have lists of names here. The people that you know that are regulars on my truck, you know that I’m so happy to see come back on a regular basis and have them say, ‘Damn, dude, that was so good last time. What do you have this time?’”