WILMINGTON – A year ago, Kory Sanderlin officially opened his brick-and-mortar M&K Kitchen on Village Road in Leland, serving Southern-style home cooking. A year later, he resumed his activities in the street, where M&K made its debut as a food truck. Only this time around, Sanderlin is embarking on a new concept.
“I’ve been working 96 hours a week for two years,” he told Port City Daily by phone Friday morning.
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Starting a new restaurant and launching during a pandemic brought a lot of stress, Sanderlin admitted. Located in the former Mr. Frosty’s Subs and Ice Cream building, he and his family renovated the space for seven months at the start of the pandemic to open the restaurant.
By the time Sanderlin lit his “Sexy Food” neon sign last fall, M & K’s was at a disadvantage: The dining room was closed. Covid-19 mandates and capacity limitations were in full force for the 37-seat restaurant, so Sanderlin decided to focus solely on delivery and take-out.
A few months in 2021, he was taking steps to open an indoor restaurant, when staff members began to fall ill with Covid-19.
“I would say seven of the 14 employees were sick at one point or another,” he said. “I have siblings who work for me, nephews and cousins who work for me, so when Covid started to affect us, we would lose three employees for three or four weeks and a few for four to four. five weeks at a time because many live together.
Finding replacement staff was problematic, a nationwide issue affecting many industries since the pandemic. Next, Sanderlin said he noticed the restaurant floor was weak, so he contacted his owners about it.
“And they kept pushing back,” he said.
One day, during preparation, the floor collapsed while an employee was on it. The owners came and fixed it. Still, they didn’t replace all of the soil, which Sanderlin described as rotting. A few months later, he collapses again in another location, this time under Sanderlin.
“I was not injured in any way,” he said, “but I had to shut down the business for 28 days.”
In turn, he lost inbound income, but even more thousands and thousands of dollars in ruined products. While shutting down, a walk-in freezer went into automatic defrost mode and wasted more than $ 50,000 in food, according to the chef.
“It has been three months and we are still waiting for the insurance,” he said.
By the time it brought M&K back to service, Sanderlin said it was down to half its staff and 80 percent of its customers were exhausted. He said the restaurant was experiencing a 92% drop in sales from the start of the year.
“A lot of my clientele visited me once or twice a day,” Sanderlin described of his first months in business. “If that’s what sustains your business and 80% of them don’t realize you’re open again after you close, that’s a fight. “
The significant rise in food prices added to the momentum. Sanderlin focuses on warm Southern cuisine, like oxtails that braise for 16 hours a day or a roast that cooks for 13 hours. It also featured seafood, with crab cakes being a popular item.
“The crab used to cost me $ 8 a pound, now it’s $ 31,” he said. “Plus, people don’t factor in the time it takes to prepare all this food from scratch, which also has to enter the menu prices.”
With a pile of bills piling up, Sanderlin said the operation was open seven weeks after the top floor collapsed before he had to make the decision to close. M & K’s announced their last supper a week ago on September 3rd.
From profit to non-profit
At the end of the day on Friday, September 10, Sanderlin said he would hand over paperwork to launch his new concept, The Sexy Food Truck. It will be a non-profit organization, Sanderlin said – to get him back to work for the community and rediscover why he enjoys cooking for others.
When Sanderlin operated the food truck before the brick and mortar, he said he had more flexibility as a community partner. He worked with World Central Kitchen, Cajun Navy and Support the Port during Hurricane Florence. It has also served meals in the parks for the homeless community, and has partnered with other nonprofits to help food insecure populations.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to go into food for profit, which sounds really bad as a business model,” Sanderlin said with a laugh.
He remembers traveling to Columbus County as a child, helping feed people for a week after a tornado. Sanderlin said the gratification of serving others stayed with him, even more so by offering food in a time of difficulty. He said it was a feeling he could understand.
“I grew up in an area where a lot of people struggled to feed themselves, so I want to help get good quality food, nutritious food, to people who are in the same boat that I am in. grew up, ”Sanderlin said. “In the past eight to nine months of running this business, I haven’t been able to do the things I love to do the most. And that’s feeding people. I started cooking because I liked to see people eat, not because I like taking money from them. And I had to figure out how to keep doing what I love to do because that’s what I’ve sacrificed the most in trying to keep a business going.
The Sexy Food Truck, which he hopes to launch in the next 30 days, will institute a donation model. Sanderlin has said that his menu prices will essentially be donations that will go towards providing people with the bare essentials (the name of his LLC): water, food shelter.
It has cut operating expenses, with just four employees and a menu that will include five or six courses – a burger, a chicken sandwich, a BLT and nachos, to name a few – to cut costs. food costs. The items will be priced at $ 12 and up, but customers can basically charge for their meals to help cover a meal for someone else. A dinner will receive what Sanderlin called “a golden ticket” – essentially a meal voucher – to distribute within the community.
“Or you can use it for your next meal,” Sanderlin explained. “It’s a way to pay it forward. So if you come see me and order a $ 12 meal of sandwich, fries, and drink you have the option of spending $ 22 and giving me an extra $ 10 I’m going to give you a golden ticket.
Instructions will be printed on the ticket so the user will know how to redeem it for a meal at Sexy Food Truck. “And if someone doesn’t have the cash, we accept cans for the meal vouchers – three number 10 boxes,” Sanderlin said.
These goods will be used to create free community meals at large gatherings, which Sanderlin hopes to host twice a month. These will be take-out meals focused on areas that are home to food insecure populations.
“We used to feed people a lot in Greenfield Lake,” he said. “I partnered with Support the Port to help feed different areas on the north side. I want to team up with Walking Tall.
Once The Sexy Food Truck opens, it will operate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Wilmington and Leland. Sanderlin said it can be booked for corporate events as well – just look for the “Sexy Food” neon light to shine.
“This light will be like our own Krispy Kreme Hot ‘N’ Fresh sign,” Sanderlin said. “So when it’s on, we do good.”
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