28 September, 2022, 05:39

Wild Johnny’s Wagon: Tucson’s First Modern Food Truck

If you were in Tucson in 1995, you might remember the first modern food truck, Wild Johnny’s Wagon.

With elegant street lights mounted above an ornate metal awning, pressed tin siding from Missouri, and painted red with tin star accents, Janos Wilder’s farm-to-table food truck was years ahead of its time.

In the mid ’90s, when most of the current crop of food truck rock stars were still in high school, award winning chef and well known Tucson restaurateur Janos Wilder was visiting a friend in California. Wilder, who had been searching for a new concept listened to his friend rave about the amazing Mexican food he would get from a nearby roach coach.

“That’s when it hit me,” Janos recalled. “I said, That’s it!”

Wild Johnny's Wagon Menu

Wild Johnny’s Wagon Menu

Janos launched Wild Johnny’s Wagon in 1995 in the Museum of Art Plaza near the Corbett House. Although the truck was definitely mobile, it spent a lot of its time at the museum.

“We spent roughly $55,000 converting this thing into a restaurant on wheels. That was a lot of money back then.”

This wasn’t your typical, streamlined-for-simplicity food truck, either.

“It had a two-door stand-up refrigerator for sheet pans, a three compartment sink, a charbroiler, a flat top, a two bay fryer, a 6 burner stove, two full size ovens, and a deli unit.”

And, if you think that’s a lot of equipment for a truck, the menu was just as ambitious with over 20 items, including Smoked Brisket on a Blue Corn Bun, fish tacos, pizza by the slice, and much simpler items such as, you know… Grilled Foccacia with Chick Pea, Smoked Salmon, and Sun-Dried Tomato Balsamico for the whopping price of $2.00.

Not one to skimp on branding, Wild Johnny’s Wagon had business cards and custom embroidered jean jackets.

Wild Johnny's Wagon Embroidered Jean Jacket

Wild Johnny’s Wagon Embroidered Jean Jacket

Janos ran Wild Johnny’s Wagon until 1998 when he sold the truck to a local firefighter group.

How well do you think Janos food truck would have stacked up to the current crop of food trucks? Let us know in the comments.

For now, the closest you’ll get to tasting what Janos is serving is at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. Check out their new Around The Globe Summer Tour menu featuring Singaporean cuisine.

Adam Lehrman started Tucson Foodie in late 2008 as a way to track his search for the best food Tucson had to offer.