If you don’t know Mike Minor, where he comes from and what he’s gone through, this might seem a little crazy. After almost 10 years in the kitchen at Border Grill, Minor is striking out on his own. Around the first of the year, he’ll leave his post as executive chef at what many consider the best Mexican restaurant in the city, and in February, he plans to launch his very own food truck: Truck U Barbecue.
“I’ve definitely had people tell me that [it’s crazy],” the 40-year-old chef says. “But if you know me, you know I don’t do anything easy.”
To say this new project is a labor of love would be an understatement. “This has been building up through the years, and sooner or later I was going to get to the point where I’m ready to do my own thing,” Minor says. “I really want people to see how hard I’m working to make great food for them, because that’s what it’s all about for me. The love I have for food outweighs any obstacles that may be in my way.”
Truck U represents a fusion of Minor’s favorites, classic American barbecue and the Latin flavors he’s perfected while working with Border Grill owners and celebrity chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. “I’ve been developing this for a long time,” Minor says. “I’m talking about slow-smoked ribs with a molasses-based sauce, sticky and crunchy, then taking those proteins and making Mexican food with them.”
Menu spoiler alert: Get ready for a pulled pork quesadilla with jalapeño-molasses barbecue sauce, smoked gouda and Oaxacan string cheeses, and smoked chili aioli. Or perhaps, a Primanti Brothers-inspired burrito stuffed with Tecate-beer battered fried fish, coleslaw and French fries.
Two factors influenced Minor’s decision to leave the comfort of his Mandalay Bay kitchen for the uncertain streets of the local landscape. First, he grew up in Las Vegas, working his way from jobs in casinos and kitchens to cooking for Wolfgang Puck, the Hard Rock Cafe, Z’Tejas and eventually Border Grill. Now, watching the local food scene blossoming from the Strip, Minor feels he’s missing out.
“I want to be with my community. This is my town,” he says. “Most people I meet have been here five, six, seven, maybe 10 years. I’ve been here 33 years, and food in Las Vegas is getting better every day. I’m so excited because I have the chance now to be on the ground level and earn my stripes in a different way.”
Second, about 10 years ago, Minor was diagnosed with cancer. One night, stooped over in the kitchen at Hard Rock Cafe with back pain, he finally decided to get checked out. A softball-size tumor was discovered. He began chemotherapy immediately and had surgery eight months later. Today he’s completely healthy, but that scare left an impact that he considers every day. “At the end of it all, I want to look back and know I tried this, tried that, fell on my face and picked myself up,” Minor says. “I don’t want to regret anything.”
Now, with the blessing of Milliken and Feniger, Minor is ready to hit the road. He wants to turn Truck U Barbecue into a mobile party, complete with a little rockabilly style, an exciting look—his friend Luca Paganico from HGTV’s Design Star is handling truck design—and fun new food.
“I’m putting it all on the line,” Minor says. “Success or failure, I guess we’ll see. But when you walk up to my truck you’re going to see my heart on the menu, the things I’m super passionate about and love to cook.”