This article was researched and written by Madison Duboise, a senior at Sparkman High School. Duboise is the upcoming editor-in-chief and design member for the school’s newsmagazine, The Crimson Crier. She is also the 2020 Alabama Representative for the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism conference.
As Madison continues to grow, there are more dining establishments that cater to vegans, though there are very few specific to the vegan lifestyle. The South is stereotypically accustomed to a deep-fried, meat-filled diet, but for those looking for a healthier alternative, this region may not be the first place that one considers.
One local food truck though is changing that narrative.
The Hippea Camper is the only fully plant-based vegan food truck in Madison County. The Hippea Camper brings vegan cuisine to the local area while continuing to bring customers the Southern comfort foods they desire.
The Hippea Camper, Vegan Food Truck
Owner Garrett Hardee knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur ever since high school but didn’t know what type of business he wanted to start until he learned the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. His mother introduced him to the concept of a vegan food camper and he began researching and traveling to other cities that feature vegan specific restaurants.
With his mother being a certified raw vegan chef, they both knew the South might be intimidated by raw vegan so they aimed to make their menu for those who were trying to make better decisions in their diet while still enjoying the old favorites they grew up on.
What is a vegan diet?
“Having a vegan diet basically eliminates any product that comes from an animal and focuses more on produce that comes from the Earth, and that is what I aimed to bring to the camper,” Hardee said.
“We wanted it to be a place that anyone, whether they’re a ‘three meat meals per day’ person to a strictly vegan person and everyone in between can all find something that they enjoy, even the kids. Many of our menu options are also gluten-free and we annotate that on our menu so that customers are aware.”
Hardee says that he grew up eating a terrible diet and also really struggled with his skin. He says that if he had not linked his acne to his poor diet then he would have continued to do damage internally. Luckily, in his 20’s he was able to understand that even though the doctors would always say that diet did not affect his skin and to take pills or creams instead, he believes it was actually his diet all along.
“Now that I know what directly contributes to the problem, I am able to maintain it. I know my future looks much brighter since I have seen the light,” Hardee said. “I decided to use that knowledge I obtained growing up and apply that to the camper and the public.”
It took a few years to get the vegan food truck concept, business plan, and funding lined up. They were able to purchase their vintage camper. They have enjoyed their first year, have seen growth, and are excited to continue moving forward.
“I was able to pitch my idea to a local shark, or angel investor, and they had faith in my idea enough to fund me to build my camper and get my business onto the streets,” Hardee said.
After Hardee worked in the corporate world right out of college for eight years, he eventually wore out and he wanted to challenge himself further. He began to realize that it wasn’t all about the paycheck and material possessions as much as it was about overall well being and happiness on a daily basis.
“Starting the camper has completely changed my life and my attitude towards life,” Hardee said.
“It took me some time to transition and I think I’m always going to be transitioning into a higher state of being as I age and learn better decisions to make. I also know that the food we eat directly affects our health. If we don’t want to be stuck on prescriptions as we age then we must maintain a healthy diet full of produce and healthy fats, I wanted the camper to portray that message.”
When Hardee and his mother started it, she became the full-time chef while he maintained operations, scheduling, inventory, finance, and more. They also relied heavily on family and friends to get everything started up.
The Hippea Camper now employs two to three part-time employees that help either doing prep work in the kitchen or on the truck setting up and working events.
Find The Hippea Camper
For Madison residents, one’s best shot at finding the camper ASAP is by visiting the Madison City Farmers Market on Saturdays.
The camper can also be found at many local events across the county including ASA Food Truck Corral, Greene Street Farmers Market, The Camp at MidCity, REI, Jazz in the Park, Tangled Strings Music Festival, Downtown Huntsville Food Truck Rallies, and more.
The camper generally stays in Madison County and travels all over throughout the week. Complete weekly schedules of where to find the camper are posted to their social media pages on Sundays.
Their best-selling dishes include the Hot Tamale with cheddar cheese grits, seasoned black beans, an avocado mash and hot salsa, and their Beats Meatball Sub with meatless meatballs in marinara sauce on a toasted potato sub bun with provolone and parmesan cheese.
“As for the menu, I wanted it to be a quick stop for you to grab anything from fresh juices, granola, salsa, meatless meatball subs, cheesy grits, pimento cheese, burgers, chickpea salad, and much more,” Hardee says.
This vegan food truck not only aims to bring that classic Southern-style food with a twist but uses much locally grown produce for as many products as possible.
“We have personally heard of many customers who have become fully plant-based because of our presence in this area,” Hardee said. “I think it is amazing we can have that kind of impact.”
The Hippea Camper Mission Statement
The Hippea Camper aims to provide the Rocket City with a healthy, plant-based option. We specialize in Southern comfort foods that are familiar to our history and our customers and we present them in a way that will delight and excite vegans and non-vegans alike! All of our products align with a health-conscious, Eco-friendly lifestyle, from our ingredients to our supplies. We believe in the health benefits of a plant-based diet and promote it within our community.