Creating Food Truck Magic

by John Stapleton, Contributing Editor

It all started with a smoker rolling up to a location and letting the smell of barbecue pull people in.

In 2020, Dexter Johnson had moved from Atlanta with the idea of bringing Southern soul food to Arizona. Lonnie’s BBQ & More was named after his grandfather, and it only took one time of introducing his food to Maricopa for everything to take off. 

“The first day of opening there was an outpouring of support, and as each week passed by more and more people came,” Johnson says. “After 5 months, I outgrew the smoker.”

Johnson is affectionately called “Chef Dex.” He says by 15 he had developed a love for cooking.

“I actually taught myself how to cook,” he says. “Cooking for my brother and sister growing up gave me the skills I’ve come to acquire. I just go in the kitchen and tweak even my own recipes to come up with new and exciting flavors.”

Typically, Johnson parks his trailer next to The Maricopa Real Estate Co. office on John Wayne Parkway in Maricopa. Though he had his regulars to keep him busy, not long after the trailer was setup, a popular YouTube vlogger by the name of Big Super made a visit to Lonnie’s BBQ & More.

“He made a video on ‘The best BBQ in Maricopa’,” Johnson says. “The video brought so much attention that there were lines nonstop. So there was no real time to get the food truck operational, it was jump in the deep-end feet first and just start running.”

While the truck sells a variety of soul food, including seafood on Sundays, Johnson says his ribs are the best item on the menu.

“I’ve learned to make them tender,” he says. “My grandmother Louella would be able to eat them without having to chew too much — that is how tender I make my ribs. If you came to the truck and requested for me to make you any plate it would be the ribs, macaroni and cheese, and the green beans, and of course, you can’t forget Lonnie’s cornbread muffin!”

The summertime can get rough for food trucks in Arizona. Johnson has adjusted so he can be open for dinner, catching many Maricopa residents on their way home. With two AC units on the truck, Johnson and his wife Tia Renee start serving at 5 p.m. most days.

The goal is to also open a restaurant in the near future so people can come together and have an experience with Johnson’s food.

“I think one of the best memories I’ve had is working on the Lonnie’s truck and a couple came up from Casa Grande,” Johnson says. “They ordered their food and the husband lowered the hatch on his truck and pulled out two chairs and he and his wife had a date night right there in the parking lot. They came to me after to tell me how great the food was. It’s little simple gestures like that that make me so proud of what I do.”

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