For four years, Chelsie Mays pursued her nursing degree. She got accepted into South College’s sought-after nursing program to finish her bachelor’s. She appeared to be on her way to a career in the health care industry.
But, not unlike a lot of people who are trudging along the winding pathway through higher education, Mays had second thoughts. And, unlike a lot of people who have those second thoughts, she decided to do something about it. So she left college behind and pursued her dream: cooking. She opened a food truck — Amaysing Grub — in October, and hasn’t looked back.
“I love it,” said the 24-year-old Mays. “I want to open a restaurant one day. That’s my goal.”
Mays has always wanted a food truck — at least as far back as when she was a high school student at Oneida. She grew up watching her mom, April Mays, cook around the house. And she took notes — if only mentally.
“She taught me everything,” Mays said of her mother. “I’ve always wanted to cook, and I’ve always wanted a food truck. I just never brought myself to do it.”
As a high school graduate working her way through college, Mays got a job at Tennier Industries in Huntsville. That’s where she began to notice a need for something more.
“On lunch breaks, I noticed there aren’t many options to go somewhere and eat,” she said. “I figured this would be a good thing for the community — something different.”
There are a couple of restaurants in Huntsville — a Subway sandwich shop, a Chinese restaurant, and Pizza Plus. But the lack of a true fast-food franchise — in a town with a huge daytime population of workers that includes Tennier, Great Dane Trailers and Scott Appalachian Industries, in addition to the county’s consolidated high school from August through May — has long frustrated local officials, who have tried, to little avail so far, to lure a franchise.
“This is my opportunity to give to the community,” Mays said.
And, so, in the easily-recognizable, bright-orange truck, Mays sets up several days each week. A dry erase board outside the truck sometimes displays her health score from state health inspectors: a 100. Inside, she’s busy preparing food to go. The menu varies by day, but it’s always her mom’s recipes.
“I have a daily menu and I have daily specials,” she said. “Some days I’ll have chicken-n-dumplings, sometimes it’s meatloaf and pinto beans. It’s all my mom’s recipes.”
Lately, Mays has been offering cheeseburger specials and BBQ a lot of days.
“That’s been going really good, I guess because it’s summertime,” she said.
And while it was her work experience in Huntsville that helped inspire her to start a food truck, Mays doesn’t only set up in the county seat. In fact, she’s in Oneida most days — often at Tractor Supply Co. on the Four Lane. This week, though, she’ll be in the mall area in Huntsville, as she gets back to being in both locations at some point each week, similar to her gameplan before the coronavirus pandemic temporarily placed everything on pause.
Nor does Mays only offer meals to go from her truck. She also does catering. Anyone who is interested in catering can contact her at 423-701-1224. People who are interested in a quick lunch should follow the Amaysing Grub Facebook page, @aMAYSing.Food, for setup locations and dates, as well as menu items. She takes special orders, too.
“I try to post weekly where I’m going to set up so everyone will know,” she said. “They can message me or call me, and when I post the menu the day before, if you know what you want, message or text me and I’ll write it down and have it ready at the time you specify.”
Already, Mays has attracted loyal customers who keep coming back — especially for chicken salad, a staple at Amaysing Grub.
“There are some people who will get out of their vehicle and I’ll already have their food ready because I know exactly what they want. I’m thankful for that,” she said.
Ultimately, the goal is to open a restaurant. Mays doesn’t know how long that will take, but she wants to work her way up to that goal — and, hopefully, within three to five years she’ll be ready to open at a permanent, brick-and-morter location. In the meantime, she doesn’t consider the other food trucks in Scott County — a number of them seem to have sprung up at once, in addition to established ventures that have been around for a while — to be competition.
“I don’t see it as competition. I see it as if everybody in Scott County came to the food truck, I couldn’t feed them all. So the more options, the more variety we’ll have,” she said.
Mays does not regret leaving the nursing program to become her own boss. If anything, she just wishes she had started sooner.
“Some of my family and friends are surprised I started a food truck so young,” she said. “But I love it. I told my mom that this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and my family has really supported me. If I could go back in time, I would’ve started this food truck as soon as I got out of high school.”