When life threw lemonades at former chemist Gina Hayes, she made burgers, quesadillas, nachos, BLTs and fried bologna sandwiches.
She did it all from her humble Hillbilly Shack food truck, which is ensconced at a sweet spot on Trousdale Ferry Pike about 200 yards east of Tuckers Crossroads Elementary School in front of an old welding shop.
“I opened the day after the tornado (in 2020). No one had power around here. I thought we’d set up and provide food for the folks around here,” said Hayes, who has lived in the rural Wilson County community 14 years.
As for the name of her colorful kitchen on two wheels, she said, “I wanted something that was quirky and would catch you eye and that you would remember. Most people call us ‘the Shack.’ ”
Once chowhounds bite into her heapin’ helpin’ of meaty delights, however, it’s the flavor they remember over the name.
“The cheeseburgers and bacon burgers are the top sellers and then the quesadillas because you can eat ’em driving down the road,” she said. Other customer favorites include tacos, chicken cheese steak, pulled pork sandwiches, burritos and potato salad. “I don’t fry. Mostly everything is grilled. I don’t have a deep fry,” Hayes shared.
On the sweeter side she sells candied pecans, almonds and cashews, ice cream and soft drinks. Most of the meat dishes run $8. The Hillbilly Shack is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday. Peak hours are between noon and 1 p.m. and between 5-7 p.m.
“I always wanted to do something with a food truck. I hope to keep on doing this for a while. We’ll keep it going best as we can,” said the cook, who is assisted by her children: Sarah, 13, a ninth grader, and Joshua, 12, a seventh grader. They are homeschooled and take turns working the order window on alternate days.
“In summer we have a vegetable stand. We get all our produce from the Amish in Scottsville, Ky., and sell from mid-May till the end of October,” said Hayes while admiring the plump red tomatoes and juicy strawberries she had picked up earlier in the morning.
“I was a chemist in Nashville for 24 years. I analyzed soil and water samples for contamination for an environmental lab, and then the people who owned the business decided it wasn’t profitable enough and they closed it.”
As an aside Hayes confesses that she is “a forensic nut. I love the crime shows and mysteries. I would have enjoyed a career in forensics as well.”
The food truck story
Born in Maryland, she moved with her parents to Nashville as a child and attended David Lipscomb from kindergarten through college. “I was a lifer. I should have gone to culinary school,” she quipped.
She opened her food truck four years ago, setting up at festivals and shows in Middle Tennessee including springtime and Christmas events at the Mill in Lebanon and Bark in the Park and also doing a bit of catering.
“Then Covid hit and all of the shows got canceled,” she recalled. “When all the festivals got canceled, we knew the fellow who owned the property and he let us set up here. We get a lot of regular customers and folks from Grant, Murfreesboro and Mt. Juliet. I get a lot of bikers and people going on to Watermelon Moon Farm and Grant Cedar Mill. We’ve just gotten busier and busier. It all depends on the weather.
“We have a daily visitor. My neighbor’s chicken, Red, comes down about 1 p.m. and has shredded cheese, blueberries and lettuce. She sits here all day till 4:30 and then goes back home to roost.”
Hayes said the No. 1 question she gets asked by those who stop by is “Where is the nearest gas station? She tells them 13 miles east on the interstate or seven miles west. The next most-asked question is “Where is the nearest bathroom?” “I tell ’em Dollar General,” she said.
“A lot of people ask me do I make any money. I’m not in it to make a ton of money but be sustainable, and I want to make sure the food looks right and tastes good and makes the customer happy,” said the delightful proprietor of Hillbilly Shack, whose tiny kitchen is decorated with hillbilly dolls.
“I do want a café one day and it may work out. For now, I enjoy serving the community and working a few shows at the Expo Center. It’s so convenient. I’m happy right here, and I get to watch the traffic and hear all the gossip.”