Green Truck Pub:
The Busiest Little Restaurant in Savannah
If you’ve ever been to Savannah, you have seen her tenacious, Spanish moss-draped beauty, polka-dotted with hot pink azaleas. You have also seen her largest import: tourists. They come by the motorcoach-load to eat at Historic District institutions like Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons and Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, whose slogan says it all: “Just look for the line of people on West Jones Street.” A few blocks below Jones Street, where the ratio of locals to tourists abruptly reverses and the trolleys turn around, a sit down neighborhood restaurant scene simply didn’t exist until two years ago.
Then Josh Yates rolled into town with his jadeite Chevy.
Josh didn’t hire a dishwasher. He didn’t plan to make money for at least a year. With the wary expectations of a newborn restaurateur in a frail economy, he assured the bank his wife would keep her day job and signed a lease on a defunct seafood restaurant. About the first thing he did was throw away a piece of rotten meat left behind in the walk-in cooler and began building Green Truck Pub, his grass-fed burger joint seven years in the making, named after the jadeite Chevy that still sits out front. He didn’t know that from the moment the open sign went up, a little over a year ago, Green Truck would become a midtown Valhalla for Savannah’s tourist-weary souls, hungry (literally and figuratively) for a place to call their own. From day one, Green Truck’s motto has been “it’s a good problem to have.” The jukebox—filled with Otis Redding, Prince, and Johnny Cash among others—dulls the constant ring of the phone.
The jukebox is filled with solid gold.
The fanatical eaters who arrive at Green Truck almost as soon as the door is open shows Savannah is far from khaki shorts and cheese grits beige. There are the art students from Savannah College of Art and Design smoking by the drive-thru menu (leftover from the building’s past life as a Crispy Chix) in cut-offs, black wayfarers, Dustbowl-chic maxi-skirts, and sparkly Jeffery Campbell platforms. Around the corner there’s a coiffed and polished family sitting on a bench, the children wearing their prep school uniforms, the mother in the latest Lily Pulitzer frock. Inside at the bar, beneath Mason jar lampshades, there are sundried men in non-ironic trucker hats next to businessmen with loosened bow ties. There’s a group of guys from Nigeria and Russia who play soccer together in one booth and a Miami transplant with her date in another.
Mason-jar lighting hangs over the poured-concrete bar.
Bigger than a canoe but still smaller than most Taco Bells, Green Truck now has nineteen employees. The dishwasher pulls double-duty by making burger patties and hand-cutting potatoes in the morning for the crowds sipping Terrapins and Dogfish Heads. These customers, by the way, will wait upwards of thirty minutes in the parking lot to snag a seat inside. The hostess buses tables in between taking names. To see a server at rest would be like catching a hummingbird taking a nap on a branch of the Mimosa tree blooming by the kitchen door.
Green Truck’s burgers (and salads and sandwiches) are in Technicolor, with combinations of avocados, carrot slaw, goat cheese, radishes, Romaine lettuce, corn and black bean salsa, roasted red peppers, basil, fried eggs, pimento cheese, tomatoes, red onions, pickles, banana peppers, and bacon. Their names are also colorful: El Jefe, Trailer Park, The Whole Farm, and Rustico.
From right to left: The El Jefe, Hot Rod, and Rustico
The menu is two pages long—or short—but it speaks volumes about Savannah’s prospering food community. The laundry list of produce comes almost entirely from local growers, many from the farmers’ market at Forsyth Park where Josh and his vegetarian wife and co-owner Whitney (civil engineer by day, bartender by night and impetus behind their veggie patty) go every Saturday morning—sometimes with their sweet sixteen-year-old mutt, Jack. The Ranch dressing, pickles, pimento cheese and ketchup are all house-made. The coffee comes from Phillip Brown who runs Perc, a wholesale roastery a few blocks over in the Starland District, and the grass-fed beef hails from Del Ferguson at Hunter Cattle Company, a family-owned, free-range farm about forty miles west of Savannah in Brooklet.
One night’s selection of six rotating drafts.
“[Hunter Cattle Company] is a really important relationship for me,” Josh says. “Especially when we were first opening and growing and we weren’t able to estimate our demand. They would come in the middle of the night on a Saturday to bring us some more beef so we wouldn’t run out. You just can’t get that anywhere else.”
Server Jeffery Tosh, who goes by “The Jeffery,” looks at the latest orders with owner Josh Yates. “Our food is drugged with goodness, happiness, and sunshine drops,” Jeffery says.
Josh and Whitney had lived in Atlanta, where neighborhood eat-spots were commonplace, and they wanted Green Truck to fill that hole in Savannah. But they underestimated how deep the vacancy was. Before Green Truck opened, passersby would honk their horns and wave while Josh painted walls or Whitney sewed burlap curtains. The hype was growing, but Josh was still reserved, cautious that the truck could break down without warning.
“I thought lunch business would be so slow I wouldn’t need a second server,” he says. “Kudos to those people who showed up when we first opened, because it was a little rough, customer-service wise.”
Server Aimee McKeen has been part of the Green Truck crew since the beginning.
The grinding hum of the ticket machine in the kitchen has finally become routine. So have the friendly suggestions from regulars to expand. Several have offered to design an outdoor patio. The requests have been duly noted, but Josh and Whitney are concerned with consistency more than modifications or marketing—at least for now. Standing over the line, Josh attentively checks for pickle spears on each plate, confirms a regular known as “Extra American Girl” got her second slice of cheese, and makes sure no one ends up with blackened stubs for fries.
“If we had more seats, I’m not sure the kitchen could handle it. There’s only so many cooks I can fit behind the line,” he says. “Everything’s good right now.”
Co-owners Josh and Whitney yates grab two El Camino salads at the bar as closing time nears.
But Savannahians have never been famous for keeping secrets from one another, food secrets or other kinds. What was once a hideaway across the railroad tracks on Habersham Street is now boldface type in travel magazines and receiving shout outs from Jamie Deen, son of Paula.
Just a couple weeks ago at the bar, a couple from Up North—Brooklyn to be exact—said everyone they asked for dinner recommendations made such a fuss about Green Truck that they had to stop by. The customer in the next seat, an assistant manager from another restaurant, assured the couple they wouldn’t be disappointed.