Virus changes plans for West Virginia farm food truck owner

VICTOR, W.Va. (AP) — Nicole Linkfield had a busy summer planned for her Riverchick Farm Food Truck.

“I was scheduled for a lot of big fairs and festivals,” she says, listing events including Fayette County’s Mountain Music Festival, Snowshoe Mountain’s 4840, the Lewisburg Chocolate Festival and the West Virginia Food Truck Frenzy.

“But they all got canceled.”

Like many business owners, Linkfield, who opened her farm-to-table food truck in August 2019, says she went from excitement to concern when COVID-19 shut down her calendar.

But she regrouped and came up with a new plan that has not only kept her business afloat, but is also supporting other local farmers.

“If I were going to those festivals, I would have had to have ordered from a big food service provider and had frozen food and backup trucks of things,” she says. “When everything canceled, I decided we needed to stay here and feed our local people local food.”

So, on April 30, Linkfield opened up her food truck, which was named Best of the Blue Ridge 2019, serving customers from her Riverchick Farm in Victor.

She explains her menu, built around homemade crepes using eggs from her “tiny” 1 ½-acre farm, is not much different than it would be if she was traveling as planned. The sources of other food, however, are the exception.

“I get vegetables and herbs from local farmers,” she says. “My meat comes from Simms’ Farm, two miles down the road. I get trout from Mountain State Trout in Pendleton County. In July, I have an order in for chicken from Deep Mountain Farm (in Fayetteville).

“So, I can give the people who live in this community, food from this community,” she continues. “And I think people are really excited about that.”

Although Linkfield, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., grew up in the restaurant business, she says she never intended to own her own restaurant.

“My dad owned two restaurants, and I went from hostessing to waiting tables to bartending and managing and catering,” she says.

Her journey to Fayetteville is not uncommon, as she says she visited on a rafting trip in 2006 and decided to become a guide.

“I loved the lifestyle, the outdoors and the restaurants,” she says. “That’s why I stayed. I love West Virginia. It’s beautiful and the Fayetteville community is like family to me.”

Through the years she also worked in various capacities at restaurants like Adventures on the Gorge, Pies and Pints and Charlie’s Pub.

Still, she says she had no intention to open her own restaurant. Not even when she bought her own farm in 2015.

Not until last year.

“I turned 40 and I decided I couldn’t be a waitress forever,” she says.

And she says there’s probably some genetics at play, too.

“Even though I didn’t think I wanted to do it, I guess I’ve always been drawn to it.”

She says although some people use a food truck as a stepping-stone into a mortar and stone location, that’s something she’ll never do.

In fact, she says she’s happy she operates a food truck rather than a restaurant given the current dining restrictions.

Customers can sit at two picnic tables or outdoor chairs, spaced at appropriate intervals, if they wish to dine outside the food truck.

And she says people have been taking advantage of the seating.

“I thought people would just take their food and go,” she says, adding tables are cleaned after each use, “but I think people are missing the dining experience. It’s a pretty safe environment when you’re not right up next to someone else in the fresh air.”

Linkfield says she plans to take Riverchick to various locations in Fayetteville and Oak Hill — each county requires a new health permit — throughout the summer, but expects to park at her farm at least one week each month.

Because she sources fresh food from local farmers, her menu changes each week, but always features some creations involving crepes.

So far, she says she’s offered beef crepes stuffed with lamb burger, a pimento steak, grilled beef breakfast sausages, and pulled pork sandwiches.

“Crepes are a lot of fun because you can put anything in them that you can put in the sandwich, so you get a lot of room for creativity,” she says.

Crepes are the backbone of the menu, but she says she’s become best known for her handcrafted coconut milk ice cream.

“It’s made right in the truck,” she says of the dairy-free, vegan-friendly creation. “Our strawberry ice cream is just coconut milk, sugar and strawberries. That’s it.

“It’s better than ice cream you get in the store.”

Linkfield says it was “scary” when everything she had planned for her first full season as a business owner shut down.

But as she’s shifted her focus in the short term, she says she might change her plans for the long term, too, focusing on feeding the community instead of traveling to as many big events.

“I’m really happy with the direction of where things are going,” she says. “Just being in the farming community and having this tiny farm of my own is really a dream come true and having people come here and see how it all works.

“This community, here, is what makes me successful, and I want my community to be successful, too.”