- Road Trip Class
Sisters Sell Sandwiches with a Side of Prayer
Updated: May 23, 2019
By Morgan Brantley
MTSU/Seigenthaler News Service
For nearly two years, Tina Rhea and her sister, Rhonda Jones, have served Blount and Knox County communities with their food truck known as the REO (Rhea’s Eating Outdoors) Cheesewagon.
“In the beginning it was, ‘we may do two or three days a week, maybe four, you know, on a really busy week.’ But we usually work six days a week,” Jones said.
Rhea and her husband spent some time living in San Diego, where they were exposed to a lot of food truck-style eateries. “We had spent a lot of time in Southern California and loved the food truck atmosphere and just the casual dining. You could get an eclectic mix. So, I said, ‘You know what, I think I could do a food truck here’,” Rhea said.
Once Rhea settled back in her hometown of Maryville, she knew she wanted her sister to join her on this new journey. “There’s not really anybody I’d want to do this with other than Rhonda,” Rhea said, laughing. Although Tina’s older by four years than Rhonda, the sisters could almost pass as twins. Both share the same light brown hair color, high cheekbones and the same wide smiles. Tina explained how she “wrangled, recruited, encouraged” her younger sister into this business with her.
Their food odyssey began by buying a truck. In this case a black Ford F 250, diesel, and a trailer outfitted for food service from a guy in Crossville. After adding their REO Cheesewagon logo, they were ready for business setting up in parking lots at bars and community festivals. Somewhere along the way, some of their regular customers who were in the Blount and Knox County school systems asked her to consider bringing their food truck to schools.
Schools such as Mary Blount Elementary in Maryville reached out to the sisters with a proposal: help teachers, who have a limited time for lunch, to get a savory meal that’s ready when they walk up.
“We try so hard to be right on time with that, because what they’re doing is not something that most people can do,” Rhea explained with appreciation for the teachers in the community.
The Blount and Knox County School administrations have been supportive of what the REO Cheesewagon is doing because it hasn’t hindered the lunch program for students.
REO Cheesewagon is a faith-based food truck and one of the items on their menu that they promote is prayer. “A lot of times we’ll get their name, their order and at the bottom, it’ll say: ‘prayer.’ So just knowing that we can pray for those teachers and the support staff at the school has been really incredible,” Rhea said with a smile on her face. Many people will ask them to pray right there on the spot,
“That’s something that we offer right here at the back door. We’ve had all ages, men and women come with real life problems. We’ve celebrated with people, we’ve grieved with them, we’ve prayed with them and supported them through diseases, marriages and kids and all kinds of stuff, and I think God has opened the door here for us to be in the community in a completely different way that we can not only feed people, but we can help feed their soul,” Rhea said.
The sisters said the bond between them has grown exponentially since the business started. Between making grilled cheese, praying for locals and spending so much time together, they have discovered their favorite thing about this experience.
“I love grillin’ cheeses and praisin’ Jesus,” Rhea said.
Morgan Brantley is a Middle Tennessee State University journalism student. She is in Blount County as part of a feature writing class call the Road Trip Class.