In Praise of Johnny & Mae's
You may have noticed something a little out of the ordinary hanging outside of St. Thomas Anglican Church on Military Road this past summer, and that was perhaps the hottest food truck in town, Johnny & Mae's. (Full disclosure, this writer is not one to frequent any church, so it is quite possible that the parish/food truck combo is much more common than it might seem).
On any given day since opening in May 2019, customers could expect line-ups, sell-outs, and heaping portions of food at a reasonable price at Johnny & Mae's. Self-proclaimed "husband and wife dream team" Alicia and Kyle McKenna are the brains behind this operation and they spoke to The Racket about their big summer hit.
"Kyle is the head cook behind Johnny & Mae’s and he’s also the mastermind that comes up with our daily menu," said Alicia via email. "I work the window and manage all the social media." Together they run Johnny & Mae’s and get by with a little help from their "awesome staff, family and friends." Johnny & Mae's is named after Kyle's grandparents Johnny and Mae. "We always said if we ever opened a restaurant or food truck we would name it after them."
The opportunity for that food truck came about when the McKennas worked for Hitchen the Kitchen in 2018 which took part in the St. John's Night Market organized by Aaryn Ballet, owner of Scout. The event took place in the parking lot of the St. Thomas Parish.
"[W]e reached out to the parish [about the possibility of hosting a more permanent food truck] and they were very open and welcoming to us," said Alicia. "We’re so grateful to have found an awesome location to call home, and the parish has been so awesome to work with. We really appreciate all the support they have given us."
According to the couple, not only the church but the whole congregation have been nothing but warm and welcoming to Johnny & Mae's. "We love being a part of the St John’s community and everyone in the area has been so supportive," said Alicia. "The St. John’s Night Market also took place in the parish parking lot all summer and it was a huge success." The market also included other food trucks like Poco Loco as well as jewelry, clothing, and photography from local vendors.
There has been an upswing in the number of food trucks found throughout Newfoundland. We were curious as to why this might be a more appealing option compared to a restaurant and Kyle provided a number of reasons. "You can bring your dog. You can eat outside. You can be messy. There’s no worry about having sauce run down your chin and elbows. You can bring it home or back to work. It’s high quality, drool-worthy fast food."
The menu at Johnny & Mae's was developed to spark nostalgia and childhood memories; basically the adult version of comfort food. "We make food like mac and cheese and fried chicken with honey. We like to take the food that everyone loves to eat and just put our own twist on it," said Kyle.
Johnny & Mae's never freezes or microwaves anything and every item is cooked fresh each morning. "We use many local ingredients and we prepare everything by hand at the start of each day," added Kyle. Johnny & Mae's goes through a half-ton of potatoes every day, and each one of them is hand-cut by their staff.
The food served at Johnny & Mae's seems to be about opulence and indulging in terms of ingredients and portions and we were curious as to why the McKennas decided to present their food in this way.
"We prepare our food the way we like our food!" said Kyle. "If that happens to be over-indulgent or over the top, then I guess we're a little over the top!" He said the goal of Johnny & Mae's is to make sure no one ever leaves the truck feeling hungry or underwhelmed.
"Our loyal customers and followers really love our style of food and our 'over-indulgent' menu," said Kyle and added, "[i]f you're hungover you know where to go!"
The most popular menu item at Johnny & Mae's is their Big McKenna burger which consists of two beef patties, shredduce, extra pickles and "Dirty Sauce". This burger dates back years to when the couple ran a catering company. "[The burger is] obviously close to our hearts because it's named after us," said Kyle. "It's also one of the only menu items that we make every single day."
The Big McKenna will remain a permanent fixture both as a menu item and as a memento to this busy summer. Alicia, Kyle, and two of their staff all got the burger tattooed on them by Jordhan Peggy of Skin City.
Besides the Big McKenna, Kyle said that their next most popular menu item is any iteration of the fried chicken sandwich. "It doesn't really matter what the toppings are, whatever chicken sandwich we have on the menu always sells well."
We managed to try their Obese Chicken sandwich, which certainly lived up to its name. This burger consists of two pieces of fried chicken breast dipped in garlic hot sauce and topped with shredduce, pickled jalapeños, and spicy parmesan mayo. If you are a lover of hot sauce and basically carry it in your bag everywhere you go (swag) you need to try this thing.
This was actually the second attempt at trying Johnny & Mae's as they were sold out the first time we went, a nearly daily occurrence. Johnny & Mae's has sold out every day they were open this summer except for two; both days were raining. "We are blown away by the loyalty of our customers and all the people that line up for our food," said Kyle.
Some of those loyal customers are "repeat offenders" and have known the McKennas since their catering days. "We're so grateful to have so many supporters and people that genuinely love our food and what we do," said Alicia. "Our customers and regulars are what makes this job so fun and enjoyable." She and Kyle have grown close with a number of regulars and they are so grateful for the support. "Besides our customers, the entire city has been so supportive. It's crazy how many people reach out to us just to share kind words or tell us how happy they are for us."
If you haven't had the opportunity to try Johnny & Mae's, or you want to come back for seconds, thirds, or an umpteenth helping, there is just a little bit of time left. The McKennas will be closing down for the season the last weekend of September. After that, they plan to take a well-deserved baycation to either Bonavista or Port Rexton. They will be flying off to Kyle's home province of Prince Edward Island in October to spend some quality time with family, including the real Johnny and Mae.
Then it's off to Vietnam, which Alicia refers to as the couple's "home away from home". "We will travel and food tour before we head back to Canada in the spring," she said. "This will be our third year spending the winter in Vietnam living in a small town called Quy Nhơn. It’s a quiet beach town with amazing food and cheap beers."
After the sabbatical, the plan is for Johnny & Mae's to come back bigger and better than they were this summer. "We are absolutely blown away at how Johnny & Mae’s completely took off," said Alicia. "Our following has expanded well beyond the limits of St. John's and we are already thinking about how to keep everyone feeling full next season."
"We are stoked to come back in the spring to keep our deadly followers full of our dirty sauce," concluded Kyle.