Ricky D's Rib Shack: 'Kansa-Lina' Good Barbecue

“Don't bite ya fingers” at Ricky D's Rib Shack (@rib_ds) in New Haven

Ricky Evans was born in Cleveland, spent nine years in Memphis, earned his college degree in Virginia and worked in New York before coming to Connecticut. So he's not wedded to just one regional style of barbecue.

Instead, his trademarked "Kansa-Lina" sauce reflects a blend of two styles: a sweet, thick tomato-based Kansas City version and the classic vinegar-based Carolina variety. The unique combination tops barbecue ribs, pulled pork, chopped smoked chicken, brisket and other specialties from Evans' New Haven-based food truck, Ricky D's Rib Shack.

The spare ribs, available in quarter, half and full slabs, are cooked for six to eight hours and then cut St. Louis style., emblazoned with a jovial cartoon pig warning customers, "Don't bite ya fingers," and wafting fragrant smoke outside the Yale Art Gallery. In his third year of business, Evans feeds hungry museumgoers, students and city employees and passers-by on weekdays and spends weekends catering special events and vending at food truck festivals.

Evans always enjoyed cooking on the grill and hosting backyard barbecues for family and friends, he says, and after earning a bachelor's in business management from Virginia State University in 2008 and entering corporate America, he soon knew the lifestyle wasn't for him.

"I always used to sit at the house watching 'BBQ Pitmasters,' and said, '…I'd love to participate in an event like that,' " Evans says. Inspired by the show and his passion for cooking, he did his homework, researching possible equipment for a mobile barbecue business. He found a former smoothie truck by chance, when it was up for sale at a car wash in East Haven, and outfitted it with a smoker.

Pulled pork sandwiches with barbecue sauce and coleslaw are best-sellers, with pork slow-smoked over hickory wood at 200 to 225 degrees for eight to 10 hours. The spare ribs, available in quarter, half and full slabs, are cooked for six to eight hours and then cut St. Louis style. Truckgoers also love sandwiches with rib tips, brisket and chopped chicken. Sides of baked beans, cole slaw and potato salad round out the menu, and Evans suggests his proper Southern-style sweet tea to wash it all down.

"Street vending is good because it allows me to get my product out there to the customers," Evans says. "When it gets more into summertime, I'm doing a lot more catering and I also participate in food truck festivals. It's quite a few different revenue streams, great for marketing."

In addition to the busy seasonal schedule, Evans is working toward further development, planning a brick-and-mortar space in the city.

"I'd just like to expand a little more. In the barbecue business, it's also good to have that good home base. There's a lot of times when I get phone calls from people who want barbecue, but I'm not out all the time. The storefront will be good because I'll be open for more hours of operation."

The new spot will have a bigger menu, with smoked turkey sandwiches, fried chicken, French fries and baked potatoes with assorted toppings, he says.

Though the nature of barbecue requires "round the clock cooking" and long days, the food truck business is a far cry from the corporate ladder Evans left behind.

"You're your own boss, really, the sky's the limit," he says. "You're building everything from the ground up; opportunity is through the roof. The pride that you actually get when people enjoy your food is the biggest thing. And then, the people that come to your truck … when you see they're constantly coming back, you know you're doing something right."

>>Ricky D's Rib Shack parks in front of the Yale Art Gallery on New Haven's Chapel Street on weekdays and is available for private catering. Information: rickydsribshack.com; @rib_ds.

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 courant.com/foodtrucks.

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