Rolling Thunder BBQ

Rolling Thunder BBQ to compete in weekend Food Truck Challenge at the Mill Casino.

NORTH BEND — “When you see me this weekend, you’re seeing me on game day,” said Rod Wilson, co-owner of Rolling Thunder BBQ.

He is one of 20 competitors in the Mill Casino’s second annual Food Truck Challenge, which starts on Friday, August 3 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., then continues on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. and finishes on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is $5 to attend the event, which is held in the parking lot north of the casino. Other competitors include Elkhorn BBQ, Lost Liner Seafood & Concessions, Afghani German Sausage, Seouly Fusion, and Island Girl’s Lunchbox.

As for Wilson, he is bringing with him an arsenal of tri-tip, pulled pork and pulled chicken. Most importantly, he is serving his popular dish: BBQ nachos.

“We also have a pork loin special,” he said, which goes along with sides of baked beans, potato salad or coleslaw. All of that is also combined in the Thunder Sandwich, which throws together pulled pork with coleslaw, tri-tip, and sautéed onions.

Rolling Thunder BBQ's famous BBQ nachos to be available this weekend at the Mill Casino.

“For sauces, we have sweet, hot, or mild and a mustard-flavored one called ‘Gold,’” he said. “People don’t realize how much work goes into this. You practice all week because this is a lifestyle.”

Though this is the first time he and his wife, Michelle, have entered the Mill’s competition, this isn’t the first show they’ve participated in.

“We go all over,” he said of his business, which began in 2005. “We do the show in Roseburg, last week we did the Washougal Motocross, and we do lots of weddings and private events. . . It do something at least every month. It doesn’t shut down.”

Wilson first got started with smoking meat in the 1980s when he was the smokehouse manager for the only in-store smokehouse in Douglas County, called Dee’s Market. After it shut down, he moved on to work at Umpqua Dairy but never stopped playing around with smoking meat. He would take on side jobs, eventually getting busier and busier.

By 2006 he went into Umpqua Dairy to quit and make Rolling Thunder BBQ his fulltime job.

“My boss looked at me and asked, ‘Do you really think a BBQ business will work?’ I said, ‘I will make it work,’” he remembered.

He went on to get his permit from the health department, bought and worked on a food truck and now 14 years later is looking to expand.

“We have another truck we’re building,” Wilson said.

Rolling Thunder BBQ offering pulled pork sandwiches this weekend at the Mill Casino.

Currently it is still he and his wife working the business, though his brother-in-law is joining to run the new truck.

One of the aspects of the job that he has worked hard on is customer trust. Whoever goes on the books first keeps the spot, even if a bigger job is offered later.

“I’m not going to be that person who calls a job for 30 people to say I got a better deal for a job with 300 people,” he said. “If you’re on the book, you’re on the book.”

As he put it, by the end of the day he is just happy to know he fed people.

“I’ve fed as many as 800 people and you can’t be defeated,” he said. “Losing is not an option. You learn fast and early that you can’t run out of stuff. I give you the best product I know how to make, give a generous portion at a reasonable price, and that’s why we’ve done as well as we have.”

Rolling Thunder BBQ is competing in the Mill’s BBQ competition, which is on Saturday, August 4 at 11 a.m.

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.