New Orleans food truck champs cruising Fort Lauderdale. Here’s where to find them.

South Florida Sun Sentinel

Oct 28, 2021 11:29 AM

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Aunna and Darrell Johnson parked their food truck NOLA creations in the garage at Ft. Lauderdale City Hall on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. They are from New Orleans and won the great food truck race Season 10 on the food truck, but they've been struggling because of recent Hurricanes and other issues.

Aunna and Darrell Johnson parked their food truck NOLA creations in the garage at Ft. Lauderdale City Hall on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. They are from New Orleans and won the great food truck race Season 10 on the food truck, but they’ve been struggling because of recent Hurricanes and other issues. (Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

What does a champion food truck do when times are tough? It hits the road.

NOLA Creations, which won the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” in 2019, is in Fort Lauderdale through Nov. 2.

“We’re here to bring a taste of the Quarter in every order and boost business,” said Aunna Johnson, who along with her husband, chef Darrell Johnson, dish authentic New Orleans cuisine out of their Louisiana-based truck.

Crawfish Monica (a creamy, Cajun-spiced pasta dish with Louisiana crawfish), Cajun poutine (a spin on the Canadian classic), crawfish etoufèe (a spiced red sauce over rice), Cajun style catfish, jambalaya egg rolls and beignets are all on the menu.

Darrell Johnson prepares beignets in his food truck, NOLA creations, which is visiting Fort Lauderdale City this week.

Darrell Johnson prepares beignets in his food truck, NOLA creations, which is visiting Fort Lauderdale City this week. (Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

“Once you taste my food, you’ll be immediately transferred to your favorite French Quarter bistro right here in Fort Lauderdale,” said Darrell Johnson, a trained chef who worked in corporate hospitality for decades and owned two Shreveport restaurants.

They also visited Fort Lauderdale police and fire stations to feed 400 first responders.

The NOLA Creations food truck was parked in the garage at Fort Lauderdale City Hall on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.

The NOLA Creations food truck was parked in the garage at Fort Lauderdale City Hall on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. (Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The family-owned business gained national attention in 2019 after winning season 10 of “The Great Food Truck Race,” which featured a stop in Fort Lauderdale. They later scored a spot on the all-star spinoff.

But their success was soon met with setbacks.

“The city of New Orleans, they are being safe about avoiding a lot of the good festivals we were scheduled to be in. Essence fest, we were slated to be there. They are not holding them due to COVID restrictions,” said Aunna, who wears the marketing hat for the business.

With major events canceled this year, including Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Johnson’s business has seen better days. “Food trucks have lost because of COVID. It’s not just us, it’s a lot,” said Aunna.

And then came Hurricane Ida, one of the most powerful storms to hit the United States. The damaging Category 4 storm ripped through southeast Louisiana this summer. The couple was forced to stop selling food in New Orleans.

“The city shut down,” the chef said. “We basically stopped operations. It hurt. We evacuated other people. We had to make Shreveport permanent.”

Despite their struggle, the couple served thousands of meals after the storm. “We didn’t leave and go somewhere else and forget about where we are from. We helped people free of charge,” Darrell said.

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They came to Fort Lauderdale this week hoping to rev up some business and keep rolling. “It’s overwhelming, but we always bounce back. We do believe in a higher calling. We believe when you give, you get, but always give with gratitude,” said Aunna, who has been coordinating their various stops with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Food and Wine Festival team.

Darrell Johnson prepares beignets in his food truck, NOLA Creations in the garage at Fort Lauderdale City Hall on Tuesday, October 26, 2021.

Darrell Johnson prepares beignets in his food truck, NOLA Creations in the garage at Fort Lauderdale City Hall on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. (Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Festival co-founder Phil Marro is glad the Johnsons are here. “All those event activations have given the truck space at no charge, which is what we are very grateful for. If anyone has to sell food at an Inter Miami game or anywhere, it’s expensive. They aren’t getting paid to come here. They will make money when people buy their food,” said Marro, who has already invited NOLA Creations back for Hollywood’s Mardi Gras event next year.

The Johnsons invited fellow food truck friends to help them in Fort Lauderdale. They all met as competitors on the Food Network show and stayed in touch. Drew Ballard says his Rolling Indulgence food truck business is also losing fuel in Ohio.

“All of our big events, all of the things where we know we are going to serve hundreds and hundreds of people, it’s all canceled,” said Ballard. “And the prices for everything have increased so much so we’ve had to raise menu prices, but at the same time we are on a food truck so you can’t raise them too high. You’re in a let’s get through this kind of time. Not make too much money, but let’s get the brand out there, keep people fed … and hopefully when it’s over we get back at it.”

A bite of New Orleans in Fort Lauderdale will go a long way.

“Even though we have our battles, we bounce back,” Aunna Johnson says. “Even though we have one trial, we come back with a bigger victory.”

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