Step right up

Wander takes its place in Chico’s food-truck world

Dane Walston enlisted some artist friends to decorate his circus-themed truck, Wander, whose slogan is, appropriately, “Step right up!”

Dane Walston enlisted some artist friends to decorate his circus-themed truck, Wander, whose slogan is, appropriately, “Step right up!”

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Dane Walston loves his job. For one, he spends his days cooking, which has been a lifelong passion. Two, his culinary concoctions make people happy—in fact, just seeing his food truck, Wander, puts a smile on most faces. Even when he’s not wearing his top hat.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done—and I knew it would be hard—but I go to bed with a smile most nights,” said the 36-year-old Walston over coffee at Café Coda, which serves as his commissary kitchen, or home base. “It’s very rewarding.”

Walston, who grew up in Texas and moved to Paradise as a child, has worked in kitchens most of his adult life, including over a decade at Sierra Nevada Taproom & Restaurant. Two years ago, as the food truck industry really took hold in Chico, he saw an opportunity to strike out on his own. “The enormity of trying to picture yourself trying to own a restaurant, or even a cafe, is a huge logistical nightmare,” he said. “When food trucks started becoming a thing, that was one of the first times in my life where I was like, ‘I could do that.’”

And so Wander, Chico’s circus-themed food truck, was born. Having a limited kitchen area, Walston decided to keep his menu simple. His inspiration, he said, was in his childhood comfort foods: Frito pie turned into the Paluca Nacho Pie, with from-scratch corn tortilla chips and cheese sauce, red pepper jam and choice of meat; sloppy Joes became his Slowpoke Sammy, with slow-roasted pork, barbecue “slather” and pickled cabbage.

When it came to creating a theme, Walston said, “I wanted to constantly be reminding myself of my happiest moments. I’ve always loved vaudeville, the circus, the snake-oil salesman-y time period. And at the time, I’d recently gotten married, and we did the whole top hats thing. It started meshing.”

Two years into his endeavor, Walston says he’s learned a lot about running a food-truck business, including scheduling around Chico’s “events season,” how to keep food costs—especially when he uses high-price items like heavy cream and bacon—under control, and how to manage social media and communicating with customers. “It’s not the easiest thing to go home after a long day and throw out some tweets or Facebook posts. It’s a constant inner struggle.”

But hard days are balanced out by reward. The food-truck community in Chico has been very nurturing, Walston said. And besides frequent gigs on the Argus patio or at events like Fork in the Road, he and his wife, Charlotte, regularly park Wander at weddings and other private events.

“The view from inside the truck never really changes—it’s always a window full of eager faces—but we get to hear the music, step out for a minute and be part of it,” Walston said.