Above: Conrad Hampton and his wife and business partner Meiya with their food truck.
by Lindsay Allen
It’s tough to tell from Conrad Hampton’s carefully smoky chicken and tender ribs, but barbeque is a relatively new endeavor for him.
For the past several months Hampton and his wife Meiya, have been setting up the Northside’s first food truck, Hampton International BBQ, throughout the neighborhood and making a name for themselves with their comfort food-filled menu.
Hampton lost his job six months ago and was inspired to pursue barbeque as a full-time business, using the trailer he had purchased two years ago as the base of operations.
“When one door closes, another opens,” said Hampton.
Though the cause for his drastic career was external, Hampton’s knowledge of barbeque started at home, when his wife was pregnant with their first son.
“Meiya starting craving a certain style of ribs during our first pregnancy five years ago,” said Hampton. “There was nothing she craved on the Northside, so, lovingly I had to create a sauce and ‘fall-off-the-bone’ hickory smoked barbecue ribs to make her happy. After that, I fell in love with barbecue.”
Conrad’s menu includes a variety of items all under $10, from pulled pork and collard greens to chicken and mac’n’cheese, but his most popular item is the ribs.
“There’s something about the ribs—it’s the tender loving care that goes into it,” said Hampton.
Hampton admires the fact that barbeque is the world’s oldest cooking method and also the psychology of the food and how it brings all people together.
“People associate food with comfort. When people gravitate around a barbeque pit, there are always smiles—there’s no hostility. People of all ages crowd around the barbeque pit,” said Hampton.
Hampton and Meiya—who is currently studying business and attended culinary school—were daunted at first by the challenges of starting a food truck and the cost of maintaining the business.
“We wanted a business that we both enjoyed operating that would not interfere with our education or our commitment to our children. As our family grew to three young boys, oldest 5½ years, we established that education and community involvement were to be an important aspect of our business,” said Hampton, who is also working on his doctorate in psychology.
Hampton, a Brighton Heights resident, enjoys being able to bring his children to the food truck to see the business grow and be a part of it.
The food truck was a staple at the Brighton Road Farm Stand this summer, and the success of it led to the creation of “Barbeque on Brighton Road,” where Hampton can be found grilling up his beloved barbeque every Wednesday.
“Conrad and Meiya brought a lot to the Farm Stand, they were a real plus,” said Ed Brandt, organizer of the Brighton Road Farm Stand. “This was the first time Brighton Heights has had a food truck on a regular basis, week after week.”
In addition to Brighton Road, Hampton’s barbeque can be found at the Young Brothers’ Bar every Saturday and at community events throughout the Northside, including catering for any type of public or private event.
His food truck served the California Markets in Brighton Heights, Brightwood’s Pumpkinfest at the Horace-Mann School building and many other events across the city.
Compelled by his commitment to nonprofit organizations, Hampton donates the remaining food from each business day to charities and families in need across the Northside, through home deliveries and drop-offs at organizations such as Light of Life Ministries on North Avenue.
“I like the idea that profitable companies can donate to nonprofits. To me, it’s most beneficial to feed those in need while those who can afford it can feed themselves,” said Hampton. “Even people in the Northside need help—the homeless, the people down and out, the veterans—they know to come find me or I’ll come find them.”
Encouraged by the success of this summer, Conrad is considering moving to a permanent location, but for now will continue to travel around the Northside serving his BBQ.
“The farmer’s market was the pinnacle of it all, because we had everyone from five-year-olds running around to seventy-year-olds sitting around, talking about life. The only other place you’re going to get that is a barber shop.”