Mom and Pop

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by Kristina Domitrovich
photos by Lindsay Pace

Hannah and Hunter Bell were in Washington D.C. the weekend before COVID-19 shut everything down. They were there to pick up their custom food truck, so they could start their new business, Mom & Pop. When they returned to Starkville, they’d put too much skin in the game to back down.

“We started doing casserole deliveries, ice cream stops in neighborhoods, really just anything because we had just made huge investments,” Hannah said. “And that honestly was really successful.”

When things got a little more lax, they were able to use their food truck in a more traditional sense. Mom & Pop’s Monte Cristo sandwich, Jerk chicken wrap and chicken bacon ranch wrap are the truck’s heavy hitters. And since ordinances required them to have a kitchen to prepare things for the food truck, they decided to open that up, too. At the storefront, they serve preserves, pickles, boiled peanuts, along with all the casseroles and treats one might expect.

“This space is still able to serve our community,” Hannah said. “Just in a different realm.”

It’s a good thing they have the store, too, because the truck keeps getting catering orders. Mom & Pop can drive up to a birthday or a wedding rehearsal or reception and serve guests from their window. For those events, Mom & Pop can make just about whatever the hosts desire.

Hannah said the truck’s name is just vague enough that they aren’t locked in to any one cuisine. This way, customers for catering jobs can specify what they want. For Hunter, who does all the cooking, this is a big bonus.

“I like not making the same thing every day,” he said. “I enjoy the truck when we’re doing tons of people and it’s huge crowds and we’re just rolling out food, but I also like things like a day where I’m just doing small things here and there. It’s a different day every day. So I enjoy that a lot, instead of the repetition.”

The couple both graduated from the Mississippi University for Women, where Hunter graduated from culinary school in December in 2019. But they didn’t really meet at The W; they both worked at Restaurant Tyler in Starkville throughout school.

“He was back of house and I was front of house –– meaning he was cooking and I was a host. We actually never spoke, except like, ‘Bye, have a good day,’ that kind of thing, but we never really were dating while we were there,” she said, starting to laugh. “Once I left, then he started to show interest in me.”

Hannah is an exercise specialist at the OCH Regional Medical Center, where she works part time. When she’s not at OCHRMC, she’s usually at Mom & Pop. She joked that she never realized how involved she would be if Mom was in the company’s title.

“It started out as his business venture, and I never knew that picking the ‘Mom & Pop’ name would involve me so much,” she said laughing. “When we started talking about food, we were like, ‘Well what about a name?’ And we just wanted something that was local and friendly, and just small-business. So I thought, ‘We want it to feel like Mom & Pop,’ just homey and where college kids could come in and elderly could come in, and I feel like we have. Our name has really provided that.”

She handles more of the business side, like all the social media, marketing and catering estimates; but helps with plating and making things look nice.

“We balance each other out,” she said.

The Bells have a 2-year-old son, and they laugh that with a name like Mom & Pop, patrons are usually surprised to see such a young couple in their mid-20s. Though they’re young and the business is fairly young, too, Mom & Pop has gotten to know and serve their community. Part of that has come through partnering with other businesses, whether setting up the food truck to attract more people to an event or a local store’s sale, serving coffee from a nonprofit coffee roastery out of Clarksdale that helps low-income highschoolers and dropouts earn GEDs and college degrees.

“We like partnering with local businesses, whether it be a nonprofit or just another mom-and-pop down the road,” Hunter said. “We’ve partnered with a lot of the businesses in Starkville, and just in Mississippi as a whole, too.”

“And I think that’s been probably one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is making new relationships,” Hannah said. “I feel like that has really emphasized our mom-and-pop feel, at least from my standpoint. I feel like it definitely makes Starkville feel more homey, even for us just to be in our mid-20s, I think that really helped us branch out with any other businesses trying to do the same thing.”

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