There may not be a whole lot of similarities between Craig and Krista McCarthy's past career in the bail bonds industry and their current role as food truck owners. But it was during a trip to court on a bond matter when Krista first told her husband she'd been thinking about an idea for a truck: serving gourmet baked potatoes with extensive topping options.
"I took a minute, thought about it…I thought it was a great idea," Craig McCarthy said. "Wow, what a niche."
Just a few weeks later, they purchased a trailer for their endeavor, and eventually upgraded to a full-sized truck, decorated with a grinning, muscle-flexing potato embracing a bikini-clad blonde French fry.
The North Haven-based Spud Stud is in its third season on the road, bringing "meals in a peel" to office buildings, breweries, festivals and private events and giving a whole new meaning to loaded baked potatoes.
The oven-baked potatoes are substantial; the McCarthys choose larger-sized tubers, which are approximately one pound apiece. The potatoes are sliced and then topped with customers' choice of meat, cheese, vegetables and sauces – and the reaction to the finished product is almost always the same, Krista McCarthy said. "[They say,] 'Oh my god, how am I going to finish that?'"
The menu features basic spuds with sour cream and chives, bacon and cheese or broccoli and cheese, but the more creative topping combinations have become signatures: buffalo chicken with blue cheese and celery sticks; the "La Patata" with ground beef, chili, cheese, salsa, jalapenos and Doritos; the Cowboy with baked beans, barbecue chicken, cheese and bacon.
Other favorites include the "breakfast" spud with bacon or sausage, egg and cheese; a Philly cheesesteak version with mushrooms, peppers and onions; and a pulled pork spud with barbecue pork, coleslaw and pickles. A potato "salad" is a healthier option, with salad greens and choice of dressing.
"I'm always trying to do something new," Krista McCarthy said.
And though potatoes are The Spud Stud's specialty, they've diversified their menu by offering an array of other items: burgers, cheesesteaks, grilled cheeses and wraps; French fries, hand-cut potato chips, onion rings, even fried Oreos.
Krista McCarthy said she thinks customers enjoy the Spud Stud's baked potatoes because it's something they are unlikely to make at home.
"A baked potato, is something that if you cook, takes you an hour in the oven. Then you buy the toppings, and it's just not a convenient food. They like it, and I think it's because something you really don't make yourself, and you don't make it a meal."
The McCarthys, who also formerly owned a pawn shop, learned quickly that starting a food truck is a major undertaking. "It was supposed to be a weekend thing, and then it just turned into…seven days a week," Craig McCarthy said. "It's hard work. You can have a passion for cooking, but there's a whole lot more that comes with it. ... But it's fun. I don't think I really want to do anything else."
>>The Spud Stud parks regularly at Two Roads Brewery in Stratford and Stony Creek Brewery in Branford, as well as at festivals and special events. 203-889-6053, facebook.com/thespudstud, @The_Spud_Stud.
Look for a profile of a new food truck each week through summer in Thursday's CTNow section, and follow the series, with photos and video, at ctnow.com/foodtrucks.