When former stand-up comedian Rob Jenkins decided to get in on the food truck craze, he didn’t think he’d one day become the target of possible arson for doing what he believed to be the right thing.
After years of traveling across the country, Jenkins decided to settle down in Odessa, TX and use $40,000 of his savings to buy a food truck. After all, food trucks have been estimated to be on track to become a $2.7 billion national industry by 2017. Why not seize a lucrative opportunity, and offer West Texas some good gumbo, catfish po’ boys, and blackened alligator? And so last April, Jenkins got PoBoy’s and Rich Chic’s Cajun Kitchen up and running.
Jenkins, a liberal in a conservative area, knew that politics could have possibly gotten in the way of business, but it didn’t. That is, until a white supremacist assaulted Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and took nine lives.
When many stores began taking Confederate flag paraphernalia off of their shelves in response, Jenkins offered Odessa the opportunity to trade in Confederate items for free meals. Then, he went one step further — he told them that he’d pile all the Confederate items together, and torch it all.
This did not go over well.
“We got a lot of hate mail with a lot of people saying ‘Burn the truck down,'” Jenkins told the Washington Post.
In an attempt to ameliorate the situation, Jenkins announced that he’d donate some of the things he’d received, such as Confederate money and a book of Confederate soldiers’ stories, to a Dallas museum, but it didn’t help much. “Maybe could have the Scimitars and Cossacks [biker gang] pay you a visit you sniveling snake,” wrote a Facebook user with a confederate flag profile picture on the PoBoy’s Facebook page.
“Why don’t all these ‘I’m offended’ people just get into that truck and well light it on fire,” wrote another user. “Problem solved.”
As idle the threats may have seemed, it wasn’t all big talk. On July 29, someone did set the food truck on fire.
“They burnt my business like they said they would,” said Jenkins. “My family is left with nothing.”
Although Jenkins read the writing on the wall and suspected arson, authorities were unconvinced.
“The fire marshal said it was started in the engine and he ruled out arson because we had locked the doors on the truck,” said Jenkins said, who admitted that while there was a gas can for the generator inside the truck in the area of ignition, there couldn’t have been a reason for a locked, unoccupied truck to have burst into flames in the middle of the night.
“It’s really odd to me that at 1 a.m. in the morning a fire would start in a parked truck,” he said. “And it’s really odd for a fire like that to happen mysteriously the way that we had been threatened.”
Worse, Jenkins had no insurance on the truck, because it was simply too expensive.
“We have to start all over again from scratch,” said Jenkins.
Fortunately, the community came together to help Jenkins out, regardless of whether they agreed or disagreed with him. Owner of rival food truck Midnight Munchies, Kimberly Vandiver, set up a GoFundMe campaign, which has raised over $7,000. Others helped Jenkins and his wife salvage appliances from the scorched, ruined hulk of their former food truck. Best of all, a local pastor sold Jenkins a new truck for next to nothing.
“I’m not religious but people keep telling me that they are saying prayers for us,” said Jenkins, who stands by his actions and words unapologetically. “That’s pretty much what has brought my spirits up.”