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Popular Charlotte food truck pairing celebrates fifth anniversary
What the Fries looks to expand footprint
Published Thursday, July 30, 2020 2:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

What the Fries co-owners Greg Williams and Jamie Barnes mark their fifth anniversary in business. Future plans include opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

What the Fries food truck is about to turn five.

Chef Jamie Barnes and Chef Gregory Williams launched the truck in August 2015, 13 months after founding What the Fries as a catering company. Both moved to Charlotte to attend Johnson & Wales University in 2004.

Over the next decade they went from classmates and roommates to best friends and business partners. They even auditioned for Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” in 2014. While they did not make the show, it fueled their desire to establish What the Fries in Charlotte. They turned a $3,000 FedEx truck into a space to serve hand-cut fries with a twist.

Their next goal is taking their culinary concept to a brick-and-mortar spot.

In addition to What the Fries, in 2017 they co-founded Soul Food Sessions with Chef Greg and Subrina Collier, Michael Bowling and Jamie Turner. The dinner series highlights and advocates for Black culinary creatives, particularly in the Charlotte area. It also provides scholarships to Black culinary students.

 “Being able to grow the What the Fries brand is one of the things I am most proud of in my career,” Williams said in a statement. “I love having the opportunity to be creative while also creating meals that make people happy.”

Said Barnes: “I spent a decade honing my craft in the kitchen, but I didn’t have my own style at first because I was simply mimicking what was popular and what other chefs were doing. Then I realized I needed to step out of my comfort zone and take more risks—and that’s exactly what we do at What the Fries.”

Barnes, who grew up in Newport News, Virginia, fell in love with cooking early. From watching his family cook to experimenting himself and feeling fascinated by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“From then on, when I prepared simple foods at home, I wanted to improve them, to elevate them,” Barnes said. “If I was having ramen, I would top it with chopped onions, dry spices we had in the cabinet and slices of hot dogs or lunch meat.”

Barnes spent a decade in the restaurant industry before What the Fries became a reality. He worked as a dishwasher in Uptown during school, returned to Virginia to take a position as a head chef at a contemporary American restaurant, then came back to work at Shads Landing retirement community and Ballantyne Country Club. He was done playing by the rules of others. It was time to dictate his own destiny.

 “After a decade in the restaurant industry, I stopped caring about the ‘traditional’ way of doing things,” Barnes said. “With What the Fries, I was able to put my spin on dishes while elevating them. I call it freestyle cooking. I love for people to read a dish on paper and think it’s not going to work but then be impressed after tasting it.”

Beyond the kitchen, Barnes is an autism advocate, the inaugural professional member of the Piedmont Culinary Guild, father and a husband. His wife Alicia is the What the Fries’ event and marketing manager.

“It’s important to me to be humble, responsible, respectful and to have integrity, and ultimately, to raise my children [Lily and Levi] with those values,” he said.

Williams is a Columbia, South Carolina native who attended high school in Connecticut. Like Barnes, he has worked at multiple levels in the culinary industry with time at restaurants in Charlotte, starting with Cans Bar and Grill where he began as a dishwasher before subsequently working his way up the ladder. He also spent time with Harper’s Restaurant and Levy Restaurants facilities as well as former spaces in the Uptown Marriott hotel. He returned to Columbia to open ANDeli’s in 2012, but came back to Charlotte to pursue What the Fries with Barnes in 2014. His sister Kaila Williams is What the Fries’ operations manager. Williams has a daughter, Gabrielle, and lives in Rock Hill.

“I enjoy creating dishes that pop with color,” Williams said. “I always felt like people eat with their eyes first, so I like for the food to first be visually appealing and then to taste amazing.”


No doubt that What The Fries is the best food truck in Charlotte as well as best loaded fries ??. Can't dispute it.
Posted on July 30, 2020

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