These are difficult days, but the spirit and goodness of generous Delawareans remain strong, with countless stories of kindness coming our way from every part of the state.
One particularly inspiring example is John Berl, whose Uncle John’s Barbecue food truck continues to roll during this global health crisis, serving free meals for all children affected by the school closures.
Berl’s Custom Concessions has made a successful national business out of building and customizing the popular mobile food buggies, but the Claymont native has never forgotten his roots and the community that supported him along the way.
So Berl has made it a practice to offer free meals to those in need since he launched his business in 2013. With schools closed indefinitely, Berl says he’s stepping up his efforts to ensure hungry children don’t miss a meal. He’s offering free breakfast or lunch for any public school student in the Brandywine and Red Clay School Districts.
The hot breakfast burritos and tasty lunchtime sandwiches are available from Uncle John’s Barbecue truck, which is parked in front of the restaurant he hopes to open this summer at 2509 Philadelphia Pike.
The truck is offering free meals for children in need every weekday, Monday through Friday, 9 am – 11 am for breakfast, and 11 am to 2 pm for lunch. The truck is also open for business from 4:30 to 7:30 pm on Fridays, and Berl, a man who simply cannot say no, says “I know that’s not breakfast or lunch, but we would never turn someone down that needed food.”
“I’m not from the nicest neighborhood in the world,” said Berl. “The community supports me every day out here, so it’s the least I can do. I’m going to try and help other people as well.”
Uncle John’s breakfast offerings include eggs of any kind, breakfast sandwiches and hash browns, but Berl says he will “basically give people (needy kids) anything they want.”
As a caterer to the Red Clay and Brandywine Districts, Berl said he feels an obligation to give back to his customers, knowing that some of their students will be missing meals despite school efforts to continue to provide them.
On our visit to Berl’s truck, two young boys pedaled up on their bikes to claim their tasty meals. Berl said he could tell they needed it.
Berl launched his food truck customization business a few months after Uncle John’s hit the road. He says Custom Concessions is now one of the largest builders in the East Coast and among the top 25 in the nation.
His own local food truck business had a busy fleet of two servicing regular locations (including the Silverside Office Park) and events.
But the coronavirus has impacted his sales just like every other restaurant – including thousands in lost revenue because of canceled events – so now he is down to just the one truck. Meanwhile, he was set to open his first brick-and-mortar establishment this spring, but those plans are in the air, until the public health crisis passes.
Yet, Berl is unbowed by the daunting challenges facing his own business and continues to charge forward, insisting he will serve the hungry no matter the odds.
“The children who get these meals [from the schools] really rely on it. And it just made us think like, well, hell, people rely on it in our area too. There are plenty of people in these areas that that are relying one hundred percent on free or reduced lunch, who are already barely making it. I was born and raised in this community and it is just my time to scratch someone else’s back, to help them up when they’re down.”