A buttery, gooey grilled cheese is such a satisfying treat, it’ll make anyone smile. As a longtime cheese lover, I was more than excited when I got the chance to have a behind-the-scenes experience with Ruthie’s Rolling Café, the popular and growing grilled cheese food establishment.
About five people were standing in front of Ruthie’s when I arrived. The aroma of buttered bread on a hot grill filled the air. A small dry-erase board near the order window read: “Welcome D Magazine!” When I told the young woman at the window I was with D, the door opened. A blonde woman stepped out of the truck and introduced herself as Ashlee Hunt Kleinert, one of the two sisters who own Ruthie’s.
“At my grandmother’s house we used to always make grilled cheese sandwiches,” Ashlee said. “We were trying to think of something universal and appealing [for the food truck].”
Ashlee and her sister, Heather Hunt, launched Ruthie’s in 2011 after learning about the booming food truck business at a conference for event planners. They decided to open a food truck when they got home.
“We felt like the timing was right,” Ashlee said. “When we came back we were like, Austin has thousands, literally thousands, of trucks and Dallas has fewer than five. We better jump on this, let’s do it.”
When I stepped inside the truck, I was amazed at how accommodating and organized it was. Whitney Finkelstein was busy cooking sandwiches on the grill. Amber Williams was prepping and checking orders. Steve Machina, the manager and Ruthie’s first employee, was taking orders at the window. Ashlee and Taylor McDaniel, the director of operations, were standing at the far end near the driver’s seat. They weren’t bumping into each other, it was super clean, and the team worked well together.
Boxes of sourdough and wheat bread were stacked near the passenger’s seat. The truck had plenty of shiny, metal shelves and covered compartments that stored loaves of bread, jars of jalapeños, paper boats, plastic ware, gloves, and plenty more. A freezer below the expo station held tubs of Country Crock butter, fresh meats and cheeses, fruit cups and cake balls.
Next to the grill, an array of yummy meats, cheeses, and sauces were ready for sandwiches. Pulled BBQ beef, fresh turkey, ham and bacon, caramelized onions, sliced tomatoes, pesto, and Ruthie’s own “slob sauce” are among the options you have to doll up your grilled cheese. Steve created the “slob sauce,” which is a special blend of BBQ sauce and ranch dressing.
I asked if there was anything I could help with, since there was a bit of a rush and I didn’t want to distract them. Steve pulled out a huge tub of Country Crock and a loaf of sourdough.
While Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” played in the background (they like to keep the radio tuned to 92.5), I dutifully buttered bread until the rush was over. I liked that I was allowed to spread a generous amount of butter on the bread. A good grilled cheese has plenty of butter. Paula Deen would be proud.
Ruthie’s was one of the first five food trucks to operate in Dallas. Since then, they’ve added Ruthie’s Too, originally named Ruthie’s Cheesesteak Café, and Ruthie’s Rolling Creperie, which serves sweet and savory crepes.
“Crepes were something that we always wanted to do,” Ashlee said. “There are two [crepe trucks] in Austin and they’re just crazy busy. We’re giving it a try and I think it’s taking off.”
This year, Ruthie’s also started two philanthropic programs. Every month, the business donates 10 percent of sales to a different charity through the “Ruthie’s Dozen” initiative. Ashlee’s husband, Chris, came up with the second program, “Ruthie’s Random Snack of Kindness.”
“We’ll take the truck on a day that we’re not booked and we’ll go to a charity and feed them lunch,” Ashlee said. “We’ve gone to Family Gateway, which is for homeless families, and we’ve surprised them with a meal. It’s just a way to get involved in the community and give back as a food truck.”
With delicious grilled cheese delicacies, an honorable philanthropic drive, and a wonderful team, Ruthie’s is sure to keep your heart and belly happy.
Caren Rodriguez is a journalism senior at the University of North Texas. She has been interning with D Magazine since January. She loves learning and writing about food, wine and spirits almost as much as enjoying them wherever she can.