Updated: Jan 7
Published on AJC.com
It came down to the beignets.
The winners of the latest season of “The Great Food Truck Race” on Food Network NOLA Creations are Louisiana bred and born, pocketing $50,000 during Sunday night’s finale.
But the trio moved to Atlanta last year to lick their wounds and regroup after a contractor ripped them off in New Orleans and cost them their restaurant. The couple Darrell and Anna Johnson now lives in McDonough and Terrell Gaskin resides in Lithonia.
This show was their comeback and they proved their worth.
“We’re family,” Darrell said on the final episode. “We bonded. It was hard but it was worth it.”
Their journey on the show included some big wins and a near loss when they accidentally left some old food in a fridge and an inspector fined them $600. That nearly got them eliminated week three.
But they refocused and made it to the finals with a consistent vision, a fine-oiled two-man cooking duo and a great marketer in Anna.
Their menu hit the highlights of New Orleans cuisine: jambalaya, shrimp po boys, crawfish étouffée and beignets.
“We always had massive lines but also high expectations,” Darrell said in an interview. “We had to deliver each and every week. If you don’t, you get chewed out!”
Their final rivals Brunch Babes are home cooks who countered in the final challenge in Key West, Fla. with shrimp tacos and pork/beef burgers.
With three challenges for bonus cash, NOLA Creations won two, which made the difference in the end. The final challenge was turning key lime pie ingredients into a non-pie dessert.
Brunch Babes rejiggered their signature donuts. NOLA Creations, of course, did the same with their beignets.
In the end, NOLA Creations sold nine more than Brunch Babes, enabling them to pocket the $50,000.
“We had to do a recount, it was so close,” host Tyler Florence said.
Anna, in an interview after the finale, said she kept telling customers they were down to their last 50 beignets to encourage more sales even though they had plenty more. It worked.
NOLA Creations had nothing but respect for Brunch Babes, who came into the show with no real experience in restaurants the way NOLA Creations did. But they got better and better and figured out ways to win multiple challenges near the end, nearly beating NOLA for the win.
“I can’t call them home cooks anymore: they are true chefs,” Terrell said.
NOLA Creations hope to use the money to invest in a food truck first, followed by a line of spices and a retail restaurant. They envision a national brand.
It helped them during the competition that Darrell and Terrell have worked together for years in restaurants, which translated to the food truck business. Terrell said the experience allowed them to “fine tune managing our money better.”
Anna, as the business person, said she learned quickly that food truck locations matter big time. She worked hard to build relations with cooperative business owners willing to have them park in their lots.
During the show, the main tension was between Darrell’s need for quality control and Anna’s competitive desire to ensure they maximized sales hours. She would sometimes start marketing before they were quite ready. “Some other teams chose speed over quality,” he said.
In the end, the victory was a true team effort, they said.
“We carried each other,” Darrell said. “We all held each other together.”