Phillip Powell loads ears of fresh corn into the propane-fueled roaster that’s parked behind his Aww Shucks food trailer.
“This right here is the magic part of the whole operation,” Powell says. “It’s like a man and a barbecue pit. The barbecue pit does all of the flavoring for the meat. This does all of the flavoring for my corn. It’s all in the roasting process.”
It’s 11 o’clock on a chilly, bright fall Friday morning at the Forestdale Food Truck Park, and customers have already started lining up outside one of the hottest food trucks in Birmingham.
Kyla Jones, who lives in nearby Adamsville, discovered the Aww Shucks truck about a year ago, and whenever it’s in Forestdale, she’s here.
“Every Friday I try to make my way out here,” Jones says. “I love Mexican street corn, and when I found someone that could make it as authentic as I’ve had before in California, it gave me a sense of, ‘OK, we now have it here in Alabama.’”
Born on the Fourth of July
Powell and his wife, Avrie, started Aww Shucks nearly a year and a half ago — in part because Avrie, who is vegan, couldn’t find a lot of options that fit her diet when they went out to eat.
“We were out somewhere, and I told him, ‘I am so tired of eating fries everywhere I go,’” she remembers. “So, we came up with the concept of corn because it can be roasted. We wanted to give people a good vegetarian option without the grease.
“And it was something that I think the community was kind of missing. . . . We wanted to provide something that really wasn’t out here and put a unique twist on it.”
They came up with a catchy name and had a playful, cartoon-like logo designed to go with it.
“We wanted something that kind of came natural to us,” Avrie says of the name. “We were like, ‘aw shucks.’ That’s something people just say without even thinking about it. We got a logo created — something fun, something that was going to represent us because we want it to be a fun place to come to get something good to eat.”
They launched Aww Shucks on July 4, 2020, in the parking lot outside Applebee’s in Birmingham’s Five Points West area.
“This is how determined we were,” Powell recalls. “We had just purchased a food truck two weeks before — no air conditioning, only a box fan and a couple of hundred ears of corn.
“Picture, if you will, two people inside of a 6-by-10 (foot) trailer with hot corn, 95 degrees in July, and a line out the wazoo of people begging for more corn. . . . We sold out in an hour.”
By the end of that first summer, Aww Shucks was such a hit the Powells had to rethink their plans.
“(At first) it was just like, ‘Hey, we’re going to go out and sell some corn and hope people buy it,’” Powell says. “This was never intended to be anything other than a weekend thing for my wife and I.”
When school started back, Avrie returned to Bessemer City High School, where she teaches 12th grade English, and Phillip hired his nephews Jarris Brooks and Brandale Oliver to help him on the truck.
As their business took off, the Powells later purchased a second, bigger food trailer and another, larger corn roaster.
“When people ask me about Aww Shucks, I relate it to a baby,” Powell says. “When it first started, it was a newborn child. You take care of it, put diapers on it. . . . Now, the baby’s walking. It’s 16 months old. It’s got teeth now.”
From four flavors to 15
In the beginning, Aww Shucks offered four varieties of roasted corn – plain, Mexican Street, Lemon-Pepper and Barbecue, Powell says.
Now, customers may choose from about 15 options, including Garlic-Herb Parmesan, Buffalo Ranch, Rosemary-Lemon, Creamy Cajun Parmesan, Veggie Garden Parmesan, Tony’s Teriyaki and Nacho.
“The customers created a lot of cobs that we have,” Powell says. “The Creamy Ranch, the Cajun Parmesan — the customers asked for those. We put it on the menu, and they loved it.”
Most of the corn sells for $5 an ear, although a few varieties are a dollar or two more. Aww Shucks also offers four-, five-, eight- and 10-packs.
“That gives customers the opportunity, if this is their first time, to try an assortment of flavors,” Powell says. “You can mix and match any four, five, eight or 10 that you want.”
In addition to the roasted corn, Aww Shucks recently added fire-roasted baked potatoes to the menu, including a vegetarian chili potato and a skillet-corn stuffed potato.
The Aww Shucks truck is typically out on the streets Wednesdays through Saturdays, and among the regular stops on the route are the East Lake Food Truck Park, the West End Food Truck Park, the Forestdale Food Truck Park, the TitleMax parking lot in Crestwood and Park Place Apartments in downtown Birmingham.
In the spring and summer months, the truck is parked at Regions Field for some Birmingham Barons baseball games.
Bigger things ahead in 2022
Before he and his wife started Aww Shucks, Powell worked as a car salesman for nine years. He also has another business, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy USA, which helps people handle their bankruptcy cases. But he’s had to put that on the back burner since cranking up the food truck.
“I tell people this all the time – our plans are not God’s plans,” he says. “I do believe if God would have shown me before I left the car business that I would be doing a food truck, I would have been like, ‘No way.’”
As promising as the first year and a half has been for Aww Shucks, Powell sees even bigger things ahead.
“I don’t know, man, 2022 is going to be something different for Aww Shucks, I’ll tell you that,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of stuff that we’re working on.
“I’ve got a lot of things in the hopper, but it’s only one me,” Powell adds. “I need two of ‘em.”
For more information about the Aww Shucks food truck, go here.
MORE ALABAMA FOOD STORIES: