Former Southern Hot Wings Fest champions open new food truck

The New Wing Order food truck will hit the Memphis streets in September, and entrepreneurs Cole Forrest and Jess McDonald hope their new venture could lead to opening a brick-and-mortar location in the next couple of years.

Forrest and McDonald, who met as students at Snowden Middle School, stayed connected through the years. With one friend in Memphis and the other in Nashville, they found an opportunity to come together by participating in local cook-offs. Eventually, their Memphis Buffalo hot wing recipe garnered them top marks at the Southern Hot Wing Festival, which is held every April in Memphis. They've won twice in the past four years. 

 “So we said, “’This has been fun. Let’s see where this could go from a business standpoint’.”
Cole Forrest (left) and Jesse McDonald inside their new fod truck.

McDonald had been working for Music City Brisket food truck in Nashville during that time but wanted to move back to Memphis with his family. He had quit his corporate job in 2011 to pursue his passion in the restaurant industry.

“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and having a food truck is a cheaper way to start out,” said McDonald, who will handle the day-to-day operations of the new truck.

The pair say the truck's route will target Downtown, Midtown, Crosstown, South Memphis, Collierville and Cordova.

“One of the benefits of having a food truck is you can really find where your target market is versus planting roots right in the beginning and hoping you found the right spot,” said Forrest, who will handle scheduling and serve as the new company’s director of marketing.

The menu, which was mostly developed by McDonald, will feature 16 different kinds of wings, along with BBQ nachos, hot wing nachos, and three types of tacos including a vegan-friendly avocado taco.

“We try to do a lot of hybrid flavors and things you probably don’t see at other restaurants or trucks,” said Forrest. “We do things like a Lynchburg fire sauce that’s infused with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire Whiskey. We do a Cajun honey hot, and then on the dry seasoning side we have garlic parmesan and lemon pepper. We try to have wide variety of not flavors but also heat levels.”

The entrepreneurs purchased their truck in early August and are in the process of getting ready for the road with new signage. McDonald estimates the startup cost for the truck at around $80,000.

New Wing Order’s grand opening will happen at four locations around town: September 7 at Meddlesome Brewing Company in Cordova, September 8 at Ghost River Brewing Co. downtown, September 14 at the Memphis Made Brewing Company in Midtown, and September 16 at Saddle Creek Beer Garden in Germantown.

After a few years of having the truck and being able to serve different parts of Memphis to find of where the product is resonating, the partners hope to find a place to do a brick-and-mortar operation while keeping the truck operational.

McDonald cites invaluable help and advice received from local mentors at Score Memphis, El Mero Taco, Memphis Food Truck Association and the Memphis Food Truck Alliance.

“After five years, I’d like to have a restaurant. That’s our ultimate goal,” said McDonald. “I’m never going to get rid of the truck. What I think it is best for is to have a restaurant and then using the truck for things like festivals and catering.”

The pair is quick to point out that even after the truck launches, they will still be competing at festivals and raising money for different local causes.

They plan to donate 1 percent of the food truck profits to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital every year. Two part-time staffers will be hired in August, and more hires could follow.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.