Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen food truck opens in Charlotte

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Willie Walters is the friendly face behind Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen food truck.

If COVID-19 left you seeking an endless supply of comfort food, chef Willie Walters is serving exactly what you need.

Walters, a father of four who’s worked in the restaurant industry his whole life, finally branched off to start his own business: Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen, a food truck slinging delicious Southern cooking. It’s the latest business to open amid the pandemic.

“At the beginning of this thing, nobody knew anything about what we were going to do and where we were going to go with it,” Walters said. “But I sat back and looked at it: Even though we’re going through a pandemic, people still have to eat. Food trucks are booming, especially with the restaurants being down.”

While the restaurant industry as a whole has taken a hit, food trucks have pivoted to continue to serve customers amid the uncertainty.

Walters originally planned to host the grand opening of Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen on Sept. 12, but decided to move it to Sept. 26 to take additional COVID-19 safety precautions.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” Walters said.

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Walters has perfected his fried chicken recipe, which he originally learned from his mother, Sandra Lee Walters. Courtesy of Willie Walters

Walters’ initial dream was to open a restaurant, but once he did some digging — and COVID-19 continued to hurt the service industry in Charlotte and beyond — he realized the overhead was more than he wanted to spend starting out.

“So the idea came to me for a food truck,” he said. “I did research and found out the overhead was low. It really depends on your product and your work ethic on whether you can make it with a food truck.”

Originally, Walters planned to name the truck Willie D’s Country Cooking, the namesake of his catering company. Instead, he decided to name it after his late mother, Sandra Lee Walters. Now, you can enjoy homemade recipes at Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen food truck on Freedom Drive in a space with picnic benches and oak trees, which offer shade from the hot Carolina sun.

“It’s going to give you the country feel,” Walters said. “We have some big logs cut up where you can sit while you wait on your meal. We also have a big oak stump that we’re going to glaze and make into a game board so you can play checkers.”

Inspired by mom’s recipes

Walters’ love of cooking grew out of necessity. Born in a small town outside of North Myrtle Beach called Loris, SC, he was the oldest of 11 children, so he took on most of the household cooking and chores to support the family.

“I was forced to learn quickly,” Walters said. “We were poor, and the main source of income was working on the farm, gathering tobacco, sweet potatoes and soybeans. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life, but it made me strong. We had to pull together to make it happen.”

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Willie Walters’ son, Brandon Walters, is also part of the food truck team. Courtesy of Willie Walters

Walters’ mother first taught him how to cook.

“She had me cooking in the kitchen on a five-gallon bucket when I was about 9 years old,” Walters said. “I started early. But she’d go out there in the field and do her thing to take care of us. I took care of my brothers and sisters by cooking. I wanted to have the meals ready and the house cleaned by the time mother got off of work.”

The first meal Walters cooked was fried chicken, sweet peas and rice.

“I remember my chicken was not quite done. Mother told me what I did wrong, and I learned. The older I got, the better I got with it, and it kinda stuck with me,” Walters said.

Walters’ first job was at Shorty’s Grill in Loris, which he described as a space reminiscent of “Happy Days,” complete with a pool hall. From there, he worked as a cook in hotels across Myrtle Beach before moving to Charlotte in 2011, where he worked as a cook at a luxury hotel. In 2017, he decided it was time to become his own boss and began his own catering company, Willie D’s Country Cooking.

“Everything else just kind of started falling into place after that,” Walters said.

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Expect Southern favorites smothered in barbecue sauce at Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen. Courtesy of Willie Walters

He learned that friends from his hometown had given up on their food truck, and he decided to take a chance on yet another dream.

Now, you can order homestyle favorites from the window of Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen, where Walters and his family will serve you with a smile.

“Our specialty is going to be good country cookin’,” Walters said.

For signature items, you can expect Sandra Lee’s homemade biscuits and homemade chicken bog recipe, which happens to be the dish famous in Walters’ hometown. The team will also have pork chops, chitlins, ribs, shrimp and grits, barbecue mac and cheese (seriously, the best you will ever have), collard greens and fried chicken.

“We’re going to make a statement on that fried chicken,” Walters said.


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Southern cooking and social distancing

Amid restaurant closures and limited seating, food trucks have thrived, bringing comfort food to hungry patrons around the city.

To ensure the safety of all customers, Walters and the team will require all patrons to wear a mask. If you don’t have one, one will be provided, and you won’t be able to obtain service without it. Walters also asks that you engage in social distancing and use hand sanitizer, which will be available at the food truck site.

Sandra Lee’s Country Kitchen

3416 Freedom Drive

Hours: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Instagram: @sandraleescountrykitchen

Jessica is a writer fueled by coffee, cookies and long walks in the Magic Kingdom. She’s often found exploring the culinary scene (mostly pasta) and traveling. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jessicaswannie.

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