TC’s Fully Loaded builds a following for its Kansas City food truck with spud, sweat and tears
Drawing on his Alabama roots, Thomas “TC” Clark started selling loaded baked potatoes out of his apartment four years ago. His popular food truck is one of 30 businesses taking part in Kansas City's Black Restaurant Week — and after the birth of his first child, Clark is dreaming even bigger.
Inside the steamy kitchen of TC’s Fully Loaded, sheet pans hold rows of russet potatoes nearly the size of footballs, already baked and waiting to be stuffed. Savory toppings sizzle loudly on the griddle and pots of creamy, golden Cajun-spiced sauce simmer on the gas stovetop.
Owner Thomas “TC” Clark shakes seasonings onto a salmon filet, destined for the top of a baked potato.
Clark and his team – Dee Olinger at the grill and Niyah Newton at the register – work efficiently, passing pans and bags of ingredients hand to hand along the narrow space.
Parked on Southwest Boulevard in the Crossroads Arts District, Clark is betting that the publicity from Black Restaurant Week will lengthen the lines at his loaded baked potato food truck.
Black Restaurant Week, a nonprofit with yearly events in cities across the country, is nearing the end of its run in Kansas City, which spanned from Sept.10-24. Nearly 30 local restaurants joined this year’s event.
Clark is just winding up, though. He returned to his food truck on Wednesday after temporarily closing down shop for another tater tot: the birth of his first child. This is Clark’s third time participating in Black Restaurant Week, which began in Kansas City in 2020.
Warren Luckett, who founded Black Restaurant Week seven years ago in Houston, says that the increased exposure can mean a lot to independent restaurants, and in some cases help them expand operations.
“Our biggest thing for them is to provide opportunities where they traditionally may not have them,” Luckett says, “because there’s a lot of these businesses that are doing some amazing things, but it really does take the right opportunity for their voices to be amplified.”
That’s certainly been true for TC’s Fully Loaded.
“It’s an influx every year, they do a good job of promotion and marketing and getting Black restaurants out there to the public,” Clark says. “You get a lot of followers, you get a lot of engagement, and with that comes new customers.”
Clark says the attention doesn’t go away afterwards.
“A lot of those customers that are participating in Black Restaurant Week, they are, I’d say, part of the foodie community and they like to support local and support Black restaurants, so the retention is definitely there,” Clark says.
Some of Clark’s loyal regulars might come by twice a week. TC’s Fully Loaded usually opens late in the afternoon or early in the evening, in time for the dinner rush, and might operate until 9 p.m. In addition to his usual spot outside the Made Mobb store, Clark will pop up at places like Sandhills Brewing in Mission or whatever festival is taking place that weekend..
On Saturday, Clark will be at Food Truck Frenzy at the Lenexa Public Market, where he expects business to be booming.
‘Good barbecue but no potatoes’
Clark doesn't call his truck Fully Loaded for no reason.
Clark’s Cajun-spiced offerings are his most popular: the “Mr. Krabz,” topped with crab and shrimp, and the “NOLA,” with Andouille sausage. The “Nurse Special,” co-created by a regular who works at a local hospital, is topped with shrimp, sausage, salmon and crawfish.
For baked potato traditionalists, he offers a classic bacon and cheddar, while the “KC Potato” comes with Kansas City burnt ends, of course.
Clark polls his customers on social media to feel out menu changes, especially during special events like Black Restaurant Week or a winning streak for the Chiefs. Lately he’s been considering bringing lobster and lamb chops into the mix as toppings.
Working the line is Olinger, who moved here from Houston a little over a year ago. He’s worked in the truck for about a month, flipping and chopping at the grill, hibachi-style, with two long spatulas.
Since moving to Kansas City, Olinger says, “all I keep hearing about is burnt ends. We don’t got burnt ends where I come from, so I tried burnt ends for the first time in this truck… Fire.”
Clark is also a transplant — he came to Kansas City four years ago for a job in IT consulting at the health care data company Cerner.
“I worked in corporate America for like a year and a half,” Clark says. “I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur for three years.”
Clark started selling potatoes out of the apartment that he shared with his now-fiancé. During the COVID pandemic, people ordered his food online and picked it up outside his front door.
“Back home in Alabama, we have barbecue potatoes with smoked chicken and brisket – every barbecue joint has a potato,” Clark says. “Out here there’s good barbecue but no potatoes... [and] there’s a lack of Cajun here too, so I put them both together and plugged the hole in the market.”
The food truck came along a year ago. Clark didn’t have any professional culinary experience before, but credits his parents, both excellent cooks, with teaching him the skills he’s now putting to use.
Clark’s fiancé is involved with the truck, too, including making the lemonade they serve.
After the birth of their daughter, Berkleigh, Clark says his goal is to build up his business so that she “can reap the benefits.”
“I really want to be able to build something for the next generation and have some assets to pass down,” he says.
That’s not the only thing Clark is planning for. He also hopes to apply for a grant from the Black Restaurant Week-affiliated nonprofit Feed the Soul Foundation, which offers funding and resources to Black and Latino-owned restaurants.
“I would love to go brick-and-mortar,” Clark says. “I’m kind of just waiting on, not the perfect spot, but a good spot that makes sense. Commercial real estate, it’s not the easiest process, but brick-and-mortar is definitely in the future.”