The city’s longest-running food truck welcomes regulars back for another season
It’s noon and the lunch crowd heads over. Tourists and construction workers, passersby, and old regulars go to Bud the Spud’s big white food truck in front of the old Spring Garden library. The sidewalk fills up: hungry customers waiting and content ones sitting on the low stone wall with their meals.
Owner Jody LeBlanc works the fryer, steel tongs in hand. Regulars belly up and chat with his assistant, but LeBlanc stays focused. There’s fish to batter and fry, hot dogs to cook, and when there’s a moment, more potatoes into the slicer.
On a warm summer day, the ambient temperature in the truck can hit 42 degrees, and that’s not next to the fryer. On the busiest days LeBlanc can work 17 hours. Running a food truck means nonstop work weekday and weekend until winter’s arrival.
LeBlanc jokes that buying Bud the Spud was his late midlife crisis. “I didn’t get a convertible, I got a food truck.”
For 42 years, Bud the Spud has fed Haligonians in this spot, right in front of the Winston Churchill statue on Spring Garden Road. In 1977, Bud and Nancy True took a risk. They quit respectable positions in Ottawa, moved east and bought a food truck.
“It hits the heart of what people want: an affordable, greasy, fresh french fry,” Lindsay Nelson says.
Nelson is a Halifax food blogger running Eat This Town. For her, Bud the Spud arrived at a pivotal moment in Halifax food culture: “It opened in 1977, which puts it in the ballpark of the donair and a lot of other foods that have become iconic.”
It’s the hand-cut fries Nelson remembers best. A Dartmouth native, she’d visit Bud the Spud on Halifax excursions. “I remember being a kid, having hand-cut fries was so special, and the only two places I could remember having them was Bud the Spud and New York Fries.”
For 32 years, Bud and Nancy True served up those hand-cut fries with fish. But in 2010, age caught up.
Nancy’s back couldn’t last the hours of standing. Bud had a new hip and needed a new knee and shoulder. They’d earned their retirement.
“Funny,” LeBlanc says, “I never thought I’d end up on the other end of the serving window.”
When the Trues arrived, LeBlanc was in high school. On weekends, as a treat, he’d go downtown and get himself an order of fish and chips.
In 2015, he took a chance. A private career-college instructor, his workplace was shaken up with the arrival of the college’s new owners. LeBlanc decided he needed to consider his options. At that time, he learned the second owners of Bud the Spud were looking to sell. In a matter of days, LeBlanc was in the food truck business.
He’d never run a business before. Never worked in the food industry.
Five seasons in, LeBlanc is experienced now. What he wasn’t prepared for was all the other extra work involved.
There’s maintenance to do. He’s got a 1989 Grumman step van to keep alive. Can’t afford to bring someone in every time an appliance fails. Lots and lots of cleaning. Suppliers to call. Then there’s the paperwork of running a business.
He had his moments of doubts in the start, but stubbornness kept him going.
A typical day starts at 6:30 a.m. There’s gravy to make, a truck to stock. There’s no electricity in the truck, so LeBlanc relies on bags upon bags of ice to keep supplies cool. By 9:30, he’s at the Spring Garden spot, in prep mode, time ticking down to lunch.
Location matters. His spot is on Spring Garden close to Barrington, within striking distance of Pizza Corner. Bud the Spud is known for being here. Mention Bud the Spud and it conjures images its iconic spot with Winston Churchill, benches, and pigeons. The association was earned in fierce competition.
Back in ’77, it was first come first served. Get there and keep the parking meter going. These days, bureaucracy governs the spots. It’s all about tenders now. There’s risk still. In 2006, after being outbid, Bud the Spud was exiled to the corner of Spring Garden and Tower Road (now Cathedral Lane).
On site, LeBlanc cooks until the afternoon dwindles. Back home: more work. LeBlanc has potatoes to peel. He keeps to tradition, spending hours cutting paper to make bags for fries.
LeBlanc is aware of his food truck’s legacy. He doesn’t mess with expectations.
When Bud the Spud first started, fish and chips were a bigger deal. They are an Atlantic Canada staple but few branded their livelihoods on them. Camille’s Fish and Chips. People’s Fish and Chips. Joe’s Fish and Chips. Joey’s too. All gone
There are third-generation customers coming to the truck now. Interacting with customers, especially the regulars, is LeBlanc’s favourite part of the job. It shows, again and again. Lowering down an order of fish and chips to a regular back from Toronto for a visit and their annual Bud the Spud meal, LeBlanc is beaming. Each chance he has to deliver food, his face lights up.
“When [my regulars] don’t show up for a while,” LeBlanc said, “I start to worry about them.”