Sugar Vermonte— the drag alter ego of David Gedert— wasn’t planning on going so big so soon with her new business, named “Maybe Cheese Born with It.” The Midwest’s first drag queen-owned mac and cheese food truck, the business began as a pop up concept in Toledo last summer for three months. Sugar and her team were just getting their feet wet and had barely started— then opportunity clicked into place.
“I am on all the food truck groups on Facebook, and somebody kept posting these links, ‘Apply for The Great Food Truck Race,’” she said. “And one evening, I clicked on the link and everything just started rolling like a snowball downhill from there.”
The snowball eventually led to Maybe Cheese Born with It being one of the nine trucks participating in the new season of The Great Food Truck Race, which begins to air on Sunday, June 5 at 9pm on Food Network. Hosted by chef Tyler Florence, the show sees teams work to succeed at challenges and stay in the race, with the last truck standing winning $50,000.
“I am learning right in front of those TV cameras,” Sugar said. “We were against teams with…decades of experience and awards, and we’re the little mac and cheese truck that could. We were really learning right in front of everybody, so everything was a surprise.”
Obsessed with cheese
Maybe Cheese Born with It is just the latest step for Vermonte, who has entertained Toledo audiences for almost 20 years as a drag performer. Before launching the food truck, she had worked at the Autism Model School in Toledo for seven years.
“When the ‘Rona hit, we had that long break. And when we went back, like a lot of Americans, I think, I kinda looked around and realized I really, really can’t do this job for this amount of money, as much as I love it. So it was time to branch out, and mac and cheese it is,” Sugar said.
The choice of a signature dish for her new venture was obvious to Sugar. “I have been obsessed with cheese my whole life to an unhealthy degree, as you can see from my thickness,” she said with a laugh. “To me, mac and cheese is love. It’s the ultimate comfort food. My mom, whenever we did family gatherings or anything, she always brought these giant things of her homemade mac and cheese, and people ranted and raved.”
To help in the new venture, Vermonte reached out to her friend Keith Logue, whose job title is described by Sugar as “somewhere between personal assistant and vice president.” Logue, who appears on The Great Food Truck Race alongside Sugar, is an indispensable right hand man for the operation.
“I’ve known Sugar for probably the better part of ten years, and I’ve worked with her through multiple gay bars in Toledo and bartending as she’s been doing her shows,” Keith said. “And we’re such good friends, basically, when she needed help, I’m like a Jack-of-all-trades, so she just came and asked me.”
“He has been my rock through all the insanity of filming and everything,” Sugar said. “This man, let me tell you, he was kind of my first choice because I have seen him sling some drinks on a dollar drink night, and I have never seen anyone move faster or work harder, so it was a natural fit.”
A gigantic opportunity
Filming for the show began in March in California. Even for an experienced performer like Vermonte, the pressure was on when the cameras were rolling— especially with a venture she still had relatively little experience in.
“Doing drag for so long here in Toledo definitely prepared me to be ‘on’ and be sparkling and ready for the cameras at all times, but beyond that, it was just an intense amount of focus. Because I knew that The Great Food Truck Race is such a gigantic opportunity, I wanted to make sure that I made the most of every single minute.
“It was a lot of pressure, but I’m really proud that we buckled down and remained super focused, and it was a great experience.”
“Honestly, I’ve never worked that hard in my entire life,” Keith said. “We were working crazy hours every single day, and just the drive and the will to push on and have that endurance every single day, and want to succeed— I think that was pretty amazing.”
“And let me tell you, honey, poverty is a great motivator,” Sugar added with a laugh. “We were too broke to fail!”
The sky’s the limit
The pair also said they gained a lot of wisdom from conversations, both on and off camera, with host Tyler Florence. “He is absolutely the industry expert when it comes to food trucks and restaurants and building businesses. And the advice that he gave us was really invaluable,” Sugar said.
“I learned so much, so quickly about everything— about cooking, and about running a food truck, and about running and owning a business, and marketing— we learned so much, so quickly during that show, and now we are just applying that here in Toledo.”
Now back home, Maybe Cheese Born with It has begun gearing up for its new year of service. The team will be one of the participating food trucks at the Old West End Festival June 3, 4 and 5— the same weekend The Great Food Truck Race’s season premiere will air. Naturally, Sugar is tight-lipped about how she and her team fared in the competition, but win or lose, she said that the sky’s the limit from here.
“Oh honey, all I want is everything! All I want is the entire world! One of my main goals going into this was to build a business and hopefully, fingers crossed, build an empire. I have this concept that Tyler Florence called ‘scaleable and very smart.’ And what Chipotle did for the burrito, I want to do for mac and cheese.”