Shonda Wells lugged a barbecue pit around feeding anyone willing to pay for some old-fashioned Texas BBQ.
This was how she wanted to make her way once her twin daughters went off to college about a decade ago.
Wells used food stamps to buy meat that would spoil because she lacked proper refrigeration and shortage. Houston-area authorities hounded her for lacking proper food distribution permits. It all became too much, and the dream was put on hold.
“She had the spirit to do it,” her daughter Tamyra Mensah-Stock told USA TODAY Sports, “but the means to do it? It just wasn’t right.”
Meanwhile, Mensah-Stock chased her own dream. Mensah-Stock became the first Black woman (and second American woman) to win a wrestling gold medal, winning the 68 kg category at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
SPORTS NEWSLETTER:Sign up now for daily updates sent to your inbox
‘NOT AN EXPERIMENT’::Katie Ledecky is swimming faster with age after making this big change
It was the culmination of a five-year plan to buy Wells what she deserved — a food truck to call her own. Mensah-Stock was prepared to sink $30,000 of her prize money from the Olympics when Cameron Davies, the owner of San Antonio-based mobile food construction company called “Cruising Kitchens” that has built assets for DJ Khaled, Gordon Ramsay, college athletics departments and others, decided the truck would cost $250,000 and would gift it to Wells.
“It’s way better than I could have done on my own,” Mensah-Stock said.
Wells has known about the project since August when Davies watched Mensah-Stock make history. The pride she displayed in being American moved him to tears, he said.
“When I saw the story I knew this was something we could do for her mom, that it would change her life,” Davies told USA TODAY Sports.
But what Wells didn’t know until Saturday was that the truck was ready. She was under the assumption that, given her deliberations with Davies and his team to build the ideal truck, it was still a few months away. But Cruising Kitchens wrapped the build in about four months, Davies said.
“She is going to lose her mind,” Davies said earlier this week.
Saturday also marked the first time Davies met Mensah-Stock and Wells in person. During all of their phone and Zoom interactions, tears have been shed, and Saturday wasn’t any different.
Davies’ kindness will always stay with Mensah-Stock.
“Like who does that? Just because I won the Olympics? There should be more nice people like him,” she said.
Mensah-Stock also warned that she is a hugger.
“I’m going to squeeze him,” she said.
“P’lickles Famous BBQ” will be wheeling around the Houston area soon enough with “all the bells and whistles” – a far cry from the days of pulling a pit for Wells.
“Now she has a fully stocked food tank with generators, freshwater, drain water, TVs, speakers and custom grills,” Davies said.
Mensah-Stock has a hard time picking her favorite dish from her mother, but the baked mac and cheese (made from scratch) is tough to beat. Barbecue may be the plan for now, but the way the truck is set up, Davies said, allows her to be versatile.
“You can do barbecue, you can do tacos, you can do hamburgers,” he said. “It’s got almost a piece of commercial equipment on it, but it’s also got a high-end smoker on there.”
After Saturday’s big reveal in San Antonio, Davies will take it to Houston. He’s also paying for the vehicle’s registration and the first six months of insurance.
“The world needs positive stories,” Davies said, “might as well give everybody a good story they’re happy to hear.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.