When Jheron Nunnelly was young, he used to take lunch to his dad at work. He remembers handing him a barbecued brisket stuffed potato and often grabbing one for himself.
When Nunnelly was given the opportunity to open a food truck, the memory of those stuffed potatoes returned.
He and his wife created an array of recipes fashioned around loaded baked potatoes, which would later become the menu for the Mr. Murphy’s Stuffed Potatoes truck.
Nunnelly opened the stuffed potato food truck in July 2019. It offers a variety of toppings and smoked meats that can be served on top of a potato, a salad or a plate of nachos.
The menu offers eight topping combinations, ranging from “The Mediterranean” — a Greek salad topping with smoked chicken — to “Barbecue Style,” with a choice of either smoked chicken or pulled pork with cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce.
There's also a "Chicken, Bacon & Ranch" potato, a "Spicy Bacon and Bleu's" version, "The Sloppy Joe" and the familiar "The Loaded" potato with bacon, cheese, sour cream and chives.
“You can do a lot of things with potatoes,” Nunnelly said. “We try to give you a different idea of what you think when you get a stuffed potato.”
The truck prides itself on fresh ingredients, he said. The produce is fresh, the lettuce is organic, the chips for the nachos are house-made and Nunnelly smokes the meat himself.
While Mr. Murphy’s parks at some locations regularly, Nunnelly said the schedule is mostly a guessing game. He uses Facebook daily to let his customers know where and when the food truck will be in Columbia and around mid-Missouri.
Every other Tuesday, the truck parks at Columbia Orthopedic Group for lunch, and every Friday afternoon, the truck parks at O’Reilly Auto Parts in Mexico, Missouri. Customers can also find the truck at Logboat Brewing Co. in Columbia every Wednesday evening.
The truck has also stopped in the lot of Restoration Chiropractic, Shepard Park, Veterans United on Industrial Boulevard, at Cooper's Landing, in Fulton and in Centralia.
Sadie Rock worked at Mr. Murphy’s last summer and noticed customers who would travel beyond their hometown to eat at the food truck. Nunnelly’s customer service and great food kept customers coming back, even from out of town, she said.
“It’s not just food to him,” Rock said. “He likes to get to know his customers. We have people coming back all the time.”
Customers such as James Schade visit Mr. Murphy’s every time the food truck is in sight. Schade lives across the street from where Nunnelly often parks the truck in Mexico, and he stops by every time for a stuffed potato.
While Mr. Murphy’s is relatively new, Nunnelly has been running his own catering business, Food Party, for four years. He said the decision to open the food truck was a “spur of the moment thing” that stemmed from an opportunity with his catering business.
Food Party had catered events for a food pantry in Columbia, and the pantry needed a food truck for its summer program. They gave Nunnelly three months to get a food truck up and running for the program, and he stepped up.
“Once the summer program was over, we had a food truck. It was like, ‘What do we do with this now?’” Nunnelly said. “It just went right into Mr. Murphy’s.”
Nunnelly began working in restaurants at the age of 13. He started out working at fast food joints and eventually began a job at Lucky’s Market. Even though he didn’t go to school to learn how to cook, he said he learned most of his culinary skills from working at places like Lucky’s Market.
Nunnelly picked up cooking as a hobby outside his jobs in the kitchen and decided to start the catering business, Food Party. After catering his stepbrother’s wedding, some of the attendees recommended his food to others, and his business started to grow. Nunnelly offers multiple catering menus for Food Party along with an option for customers to build their own menu with almost any recipes.
Even though the food truck almost started by coincidence, Nunnelly plans to operate Mr. Murphy’s for the foreseeable future. He hopes to purchase a bigger trailer than his current one, a small 6-by-9 unit that Nunnelly believes could be the smallest food truck in Columbia.
Mr. Murphy’s still offers catering services where customers can reserve the food truck for weddings, rehearsal dinners and other events.
His goal is to have two Mr. Murphy’s food trucks in operation and some day open a restaurant and brewery.
Until then, Nunnelly will continue serving up spuds in his trailer.