Meet Hazlet’s Food Truck Chefs

HAZLET –Food trucks make town festivals more fun. Besides serving a need, they offer a dash of local personality. But a good food truck can be hard to find when you need one. The township learned that in late September when Hazlet Day fell on the same day as Middletown and Union Beach Day, and many food carts were already booked.

To encourage more mobile vendors, Hazlet’s elected leaders recently created four annual food truck licenses. Three entrepreneurs rushed to submit the paperwork. Each has staked out a spot on Hazlet’s section of Route 36 East to capture the hungry Jersey Shore traffic. The fourth license is still available.

Ritchie Legotte of Hog Heaven
“Not much healthy food at Hog Heaven, I’ll tell you that much,” said owner Ritchie Legotte of Hazlet. “We get yelled at.”
Photo by Alex Nazath

HOG HEAVEN

Owner: Richard Legotte

Location: 56 Route 36 East, at the BP gas station lot

House Specials:

  • Stuffed grilled cheese on Texas toast with pork or chicken, $10
  • Quarter pound hamburger, $5
  • Half rack of ribs, with a side of cornbread or baked beans, $14

Richard Legotte is the owner of Hog Heaven, which will soon be serving from the parking lot of the BP Station at 56 Route 36 East.

“We do a lot of pork, and it’s a taste of heaven,” said the 41-year old barbecue chef who friends call “Big Ritchie. “The food’s really good.”

Legotte grew up in an Italian family in the Bay Terrace section of Staten Island. His grandfather always had some kind of barbecue pit going, and he took an interest. After high school he went straight into construction. But his dream to be pitmaster was always smoldering in the background.

He moved to Hazlet where he lives with his wife, Michelle, the co-owner of Hair Dynamix. About a decade ago, a layoff notice provided the spark he needed to pursue his plan to run his own food truck. Hog Heaven was born. In 2013, he acquired a 10-year government contract to serve beachgoers at the National Park Service’s Sandy Hook in Area D. During beach season he is there seven days a week. The 30-foot long trailer has a porch in back with a smoker, and usually lot of loyal fans out front.

Legotte has always wanted to have a roadside food truck in his hometown. In the past, he has been allowed to do some occasional events, like the PBA cornhole tournament and Hazlet Day. “We’re pretty popular with lots of repeat customers. That’s why I’m excited about the highway,” he said. At the BP, which some still know as the old Hess gas station, the hours will likely be Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A second truck is being built so he can serve both locations at the same time, with help.

Until then, Legotte is working the kitchen at the Union Beach American Legion Hall where he makes his own sauces and cole slaw from scratch and serves up the bar food. But he’s getting ready to hit the road once it warms up. “We will be on that highways before Feb. 4,” he promised.

Bill's Dog House
“I bought a hot dog cart,” said Bill McGuire of Hazlet. “My wife said, ‘Well, if it doesn’t work out, you’re going to be in the dog house.’ That’s how I got the name.”
Photo by Alex Nazath

Bill’s Dog House

Owner: Bill McGuire

Location: 844 Route 36, at the Advance Auto Parts lot

House Specials:

  • Sabrett hot dog with sauerkraut: $2. With chili or cheese, add .50 cents.
  • Meatball (4) on a sub with homemade tomato sauce, $6
  • Sausage, onions and red/green peppers on a roll, $6-$7
  • Homemade amaretto and pineapple cheesecake, offered occasionally

Hazlet resident Bill McGuire, 64, has been a familiar, genial presence at the summertime concert series at Hazlet Day in Veterans Park, as well as other local events. Now that he has a year-round permit, you can find him regularly anchored in the Advance Auto Parts parking lot on Route 36 East from noon to 3:30 p.m., five days a week, weather permitting.

McGuire grew up in Brooklyn and moved to Hazlet in 1986. He worked as a printer for 35 years. “I was a first pressman. I ran webs, Heidelbergs, the big machines. It was great.” After the industry changed and his shop closed, he worked for a time as a substitute Hazlet school custodian. Bill and Nancy’s McGuire’s kids went all the way through the school system. Son Bill, now 35, is an aerospace engineer working on global GPS systems and daughter Jeni, now 33, is a chemical and biomedical engineering supervisor at Medtronic.

To make money, McGuire decided to buy a used hot dog cart. In the past three years he’s worked long days, traveling around town, pausing briefly at places like Pep Boys, Midas, Union Avenue Body Shop, car washes and construction sites, serving up lunch to contractors and office workers without any downtime, picking up news along the way. “I know a lot of people in town. We talk about cars, sports, politics.” On the beat his regular customers will share stories of a winning lottery ticket, sad stories about their health, the loss of a beloved pet. “I get a lot of old timers. They stop in and they put their two cents in. They want to be heard,” he said.

He is grateful to have been granted a food truck license by the township and has gone to meet the other vendors. “There’s room for everybody on the highway,” he said.

Comfort Food Coach
“It’s been a dream of mine since my 20s. I wish I could have had this from the beginning,” said chef Michael Swientnicki of Middletown. His wife, Pam and son Jonathan posed for a photo.
Photo by Alex Nazath

Comfort Food Coach

Owners: Michael Swientnicki. and Pam Romero of North Middletown

Location: 370 Route 36 East, in the At Home Recreation parking lot

House Specials:

  • MP Bomber – Pork roll, sausage, hash browns, egg and cheese on a Kaiser roll. $8
  • Sloppy Joe (his grandmother’s recipe) $4. With fries, $6.
  • Deep fried hot dog, $2.

After 39 years as a Class A master mechanic in a car dealership and a stint as an assistant manager at Sears Auto before it closed, Michael Swientnicki is finally living his dream – inside a food truck he had custom designed in Virginia.

The name of his venture came easy. Jersey pork roll and Italian sandwiches are his specialties, and nothing makes him happier than handing someone over the counter a sandwich they are going to relish.

“I put my heart and soul into everything I cook,” he said.

His wife and business partner, Pam, can confirm that, as the beneficiary of his passion for homemade dishes. “He does all the home cooking, and he’s an excellent cook. He cooks on the truck, comes home and cooks dinner,” she said. All the bread comes in fresh from Staten Island.

His winter hours are 10 to 3 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Come the good weather, he will extend his hours all day. He loves to talk to everyone, but he doesn’t shake hands. Just fist bumps. It’s more sanitary, he explains.

“Stop by and enjoy your ‘comfort food,’” said Swientnicki. “It’s a Jersey thing.”

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