Soul Food on Wheels brings generations of flavor to the streets

Updated: Mar 25

Sharon Shaw-Burnett, co-founder of Soul Food on Wheels, receives a $500 prize from the #GetGoogled pop-up event.

For many people in this part of the country, neck bones, fried catfish, collard greens and cornbread is soul food. The flavors and aromas bring back sweet memories of their ancestors home cooked meals, ancestors who grew up during the days of farming and making food from scratch.

Today, it’s hard to find a place that is dedicated to making soul food with the love and care that older generations would have put into it. However, that is just what Sharon Shaw-Burnett and her husband, Ron Burnett set out to do when they founded Soul Food on Wheels.

The duo are winners of a $500 cash prize from our #GetGoogled pop-up event that was made possible in partnership with Builders and Backers. The pop-up event is part of a Websites4Good initiative to support sales growth for North Tulsa businesses. Sharon shares their story.

Sharon and Ron love to cook, it’s something they inherited from generations before them. Sharon’s great grandmother and Ron’s mother and great grandparents were the big cooks in their families. Ron has a huge family and his mother cooked for everybody, “they came from West Texas, everywhere [to his mom’s house]. They came for her cooking,” said Sharon thinking back on family traditions.

And for Sharon, it’s not much different, “I know my family loves it. They call and ask, "Are you cooking greens?" In a way, this is how Soul Food on Wheels got its start. Whenever Sharon would cook one of her family’s favorite dishes she always made enough to go around for everyone.

“The pandemic happened, things were shutting down and I said, “You know what?...I wouldn’t want a brick and mortar [building]. Let's go in together and get a food trailer.” So that’s what we did, joined together, purchased a trailer, and mixed our recipes.”

“Everything is homebased, everything is handmade… that to me is like comfort food because nobody serves it. They may have it, but it's different. We have food that we put our heart into, we put our love into because we love to cook,” she said. Ron and Sharon are on a mission to revive the forgotten culture of made-from-scratch, slow-and-low, Sunday-style cooking in the community.

“If you notice there is not too many grands living–great grandparents from back in the day, who actually grew the food, picked from the garden, grew chickens, chopped the chickens, cooked from what they had. And that’s what my grandparents did, they were like farmers so they had all the vegetables. They had, you know, the chickens for the poultry. I grew up around that in the summers, and I just used to watch my grandmother cook everything from scratch. From canning, to that apple butter, from them homemade biscuits and all of that, I watched her.

It was like every time I heard that rooster wouldn't matter, my grandmother was always in the kitchen at 5 a.m., seven days a week, 5 a.m.,” recalls Sharon.

photo courtesy of Soul Food on Wheels
The fried pork chops at Soul Food on Wheels are one of Ron's specialities.

Soul Food on Wheels has a large menu to choose from, “I do a lot from scratch, chicken and dumplings, beef tips and rice, salisbury steak, we have a lot.” And when people ask how she manages to make all those dishes she says, “Hey! Up all night!”

Ron plays a major role in the kitchen too. “He does a twist on how he seasons the fish. He has his own little mixture. He does the fried ribs, the catfish, the pork chops, and he does the gravy and pinto beans, and then I do the rest of it,” said Sharon.

“Also he has soul food tamales. And see, he learned how to make tamales from his mom. She told him how to make it and then he put a spin on it. He knows how to season that masa.”

There are certain traditional soul food dishes on the menu that might even surprise some folks, like pigs feet. “A lot of people don’t know how to cook it. But when they want the juice off your food then you know you got it,” said Sharon.

“A lot of times at the end of the day if there’s nothing left but the juice they’ll say, “Hey, can I buy the juice?” And I say, “I’m not gonna sell you no juice! If you want some juice, I’ll give you some juice!”

Now it’s one thing to throw down in the kitchen but if the quality of the ingredients is lacking then what’s the point? “A lot of people serve swai and not too many people serve the real catfish,” said Sharon. She's proud to serve quality catfish and knows her customers can taste the difference.

Swai fish is often desired for its cost efficiency, and its similar look and texture to catfish. Although it is considered to be a part of the catfish shark family, in comparison to U.S. Catfish, diners have noted differences in quality.

photo courtesy of Soul Food on Wheels
The trailer has gained a lot of traction over the past year through word of mouth. The catchy green paint job couldn't hurt either.

When you think about going to Grandma’s house for a big family dinner, there are a couple of things you can probably be sure of–one, you’re leaving stuffed–not full–stuffed, and two, you’re probably taking home enough leftovers to eat at least another meal or two.

That’s why Soul Food on Wheels is more like your grandma’s house on wheels. Not only are you going to get a homestyle meal infused with love, they’re going to make sure you get more than enough. “We give them what they pay for. We actually give a little extra,” said Sharon. I just love cooking and I love to see how the people enjoy it.”

And if you think you’re going to get a bite off someone else’s plate–then you might want to think again. “They’ll give up another $12 so they don’t have to share nothing on their plate. I kind of get a kick out of it when they do that cause I’m like, “Oh, it must be real good!”

Ron and Sharon have had quite a journey so far, “We started in March [2021] and this is without any type of advertisement. It’s all been word of mouth. All they say is,“Find the green trailer!”

“We started in the yard first and we had so many people coming, and they would be pulling up in the street and we would be like they’re not even moving. They would come back up to the window and I would say, “Sir, is there a problem?” “No, I'm coming to get two more trays!” They couldn’t even pull off. They would sit and that aroma hit them and they would eat the food before they even made it home.”

After experiencing trouble with their equipment due to freezing temperatures last year, they officially started taking their truck out to Oklahoma festivals and events in the spring and summer months. It’s at these events where they’ve typically sold out of everything they prepared for sale.

Soul Food on Wheels is currently closed for the season, but they plan to come back at the end of February or March, when the threat of freezing temperatures has passed. For now, we’re counting down the days to warmer weather and Ron’s soul food tamales.

In the meantime, Sharon has a piece of advice for those who are thinking of starting a food business of their own. “I tell everybody, get in the kitchen, find that niche, find that taste, and you have created something that you make that everybody may love.”

Sharon also encourages owners of other food businesses to keep going. She wants them to know that there is enough support in the community to go around for everyone. “Do what you know how to do. Don’t look at the next man. You promote your stuff like you’re the only one here with it.”

Stay connected on their locations and hours by following Soul Food on Wheels on Facebook, and once the temperatures warm up, make sure you keep an eye out for the green trailer!

Chelsea Sheets, Communications Specialist, Websites4Good

Tulsa native, Chelsea Sheets is a strategic communication professional and activist. Through her commitment to helping make Tulsa a better place to live, work and play, she partners with like-minded small, local businesses and non-profit organizations to help them achieve their goals.

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