Jodi and Ben Polson are familiar names and faces around Denver; between Jodi’s pastry chef education and Ben’s corporate catering background, serving up good food is not new to them. What is new, though, is the custom-built food truck from which they’ll serve Southern-style meals throughout the region.
For the past ten years, the Polsons have been embedded in the Denver food-service business, after each realized that teaching wasn’t quite their calling. After working at several bakeries around the city, Jodi found her way to Beast + Bottle and Coperta, where she helmed the pastry programs as executive pastry chef for both. Because Ben was searching for a food-related career that modeled a typical work week, he opted for a job in corporate dining, where he worked as a traveling chef with some sixty accounts — which ended up being a great network when the couple launched Mama Jo’s.
But as is the case for so many in the industry, the pandemic made its own demands on the Polsons' careers. “I was furloughed because of COVID-19 and laid off in June," Ben says. "It forced me to get back into the regular restaurant sector, and within four days I was hired at Steuben’s. I had a 'someday' plan of owning a food truck, and I figured, let’s just do it now.”
Before the couple's food truck was completed, they ran Mama Jo’s pop-ups at Tessa Delicatessen (at 5724 East Colfax Avenue), where the concept's popularity really grew — but it wasn’t until this March that the Polsons officially left restaurant work behind to focus entirely on their own business. “We were pouring all of our time into the food truck,” says Jodi. “We worked with Colorado Food Trucks to build it entirely from scratch. They made the process really easy.”
Colorado Food Trucks is an all-inclusive custom food truck builder; customers provide a list of what they need and the company takes care of the rest, including acquiring the truck, building it from the inside out, and helping with the licensing process, too.
As for the menu, you can expect the same goodness found at Mama Jo’s pop-up events, with a few added items. Of course, Jodi’s unique biscuit recipe — which she says has morphed over the years — will be part of nearly every dish. Without giving too much of the secret away, she describes incorporating “smoked Gouda for a salty, cheesy crunch. It’s one of those recipes [I] hand-wrote here and hand-wrote there.” While the official origin remains unknown, she says a good guess is that the recipe lies somewhere in a “smudged, greasy school notebook” from pastry school.
Ben is in charge of the barbecue-related menu items, noting it’s been his “favorite thing to cook for years.” He started out by experimenting with home barbecuing and running a large trailer smoker for about a year.
The couple attributes their shared love of Southern food to a visit to North Carolina’s Biscuitville. “We went there and ate all the food. Then we came back [to Colorado] and just learned to start cooking it,” says Jodi. “They had a whole pig roast, and when we returned home, we built a whole pig roast pit. It was an all-night event where everyone takes shifts to keep an eye on the fire and the pig. I almost like cooking the pig more than the party itself."
Along with the Mama Jo’s food truck, the Polsons also purchased a smoker custom-built by a local blacksmith to Ben’s exact needs. “We have a hitch on the truck and will tote it around as needed," he explains. "Especially for events that are eight or nine hours, I’ll have the smoker.”
Fan favorites like buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches will be making the move from the pop-ups to the truck, and a smoked pulled-pork sandwich will replace the original pork belly sandwich. There are also options for customers who don't want meat. Fried green tomato and smoked jackfruit biscuit sandwiches will be available, along with a fun pimento mac and cheese. “After working on the Steuben’s truck, we noticed there are a lot of vegans and vegetarians in the area, so we want to cater to them and offer some options,” Ben notes.
Other additions to the Mama Jo’s menu include desserts, which the Polsons haven't previously offered, despite Jodi's pastry background. “We’ll have a banana-pudding pie with sliced bananas, vanilla wafers, pudding and pie dough,” she says. Also expect apple fritters with warm butterscotch sauce.
The Polsons continue to schedule their truck for various events and locations, so you’ll be able to find them soon. “We love going to breweries and are big beer fans. We want to be in that scene and have booked with a few breweries around town,” Ben says, pointing out that Long Table, River North, Copper Kettle and Fiction have jumped on the Mama Jo’s train and will be hosting the truck in the coming months.
Despite 2020 setbacks for the Polsons, the future looks bright for Mama Jo’s Biscuits & BBQ. A schedule of upcoming appearances will soon be added to the food truck's website, where you can also find menus and contact info. Follow Mama Jo's on Instagram to keep track of the truck.