Sep. 15—When Damon Poole learned the Country Foodie Festival was also hosting a food vendor challenge, his look of bewilderment lasted only a brief moment before his eyebrows settled and a wide, playful grin emerged. The crew of the KIKIS food truck know all too well how to handle themselves in a food contest.
"We might have to try to take another one," Damon said with a laugh.
In 2022, KIKIS was less than a month old before it took home the first place prize of the Hy-Vee Race Weekend's food truck challenge, earning the crew a $25,000 check, which is proudly displayed on the truck's canopy. Although they were new, customers enjoyed their fusion of American, Korean and Mexican cuisine.
Between Damon and his wife Alice Poole, who founded the food truck, and media specialist Doni Kim, the three infused their own cultural backgrounds into their simple, homemade food. There is a lot of love that goes into the menu, Damon said. And it was clearly a hit for the Iowa Speedway visitors.
"It helped us tremendously," Damon said. "...At that point we were still a small operation. We were cooking with small pans and everything was shallow."
Doni added, "Oh my god! We were using shallow pans! I remember! But surprisingly nothing crazy went wrong. The only thing that was crazy with us was the amount of people we were serving, and we were so dehydrated. After we finished, after the storm was done, we were like, 'We made it.'"
"We learned a lot. It was crazy! It was baptism by fire."
They hope the folks over at Country Foodie Festival will also take a liking to their unique food fusions. Kim said the KIKIS crew always wants to participate in cool events in their local communities. And it gives them a chance to experiment and have fun. They, too, are looking forward to trying their competitors' foods.
Ten food vendors are participating in the inaugural Country Foodie Festival on Sept. 16 in Quarry Springs Park in Colfax. Dan Nieland, president of the Wild Cat Country Fest Foundation, said the food challenge will be judged by headliner and TikTok star Hannah Dasher, who combines food and music in her viral content.
"Each food vendor is going to take whatever they consider to be their signature item and take it up to be judged by Hannah," Nieland said. "She'll take a look at it, she'll taste it, do her thing. And the top two will actually receive a frying pan with a little plaque in the middle to commemorate their wins."
Food trucks participating in the festival include: The Eggroll Ladies, El Meson Taco Shack, Jana's Snack Shack, Karam's Grill, KIKIS, Liza's Sushi & More, Lou-Lou B's, Over the Top, Stickyfingers and Wild Bill's BBQ. Nieland noted that each food truck offers different kinds of food options, and many are local.
"The whole goal of what we're trying to do is draw attention to Jasper County, so it just made sense to have 70 to 80 percent of the food trucks be from around this area," Nieland said. "I was amazed by how many there are from here. It's nuts the volume of good food trucks we have in this area."
Nieland is looking forward to trying a little bit of everything.
"None of them duplicate themselves and they're all unique in their own way," he said. "Most of them their signature items are completely different from the next."
Damon is excited for KIKIS to have another fun experience the likes of Bowlful of Blues and IndyCar races. So is Doni, who is already seeing gold.
"I hope they try our food. I hope we meet some new people, new experiences," he said. "And I hope we get first place!"
Country Food Festival's gates open at noon and the festival begins at 2 p.m. with music at 3 p.m. at Quarry Springs Park, 200 North Park Road in Colfax. Performing the festival are Outlaw Country Express, Richard Arndt, The Kraft Brothers, Jordan Beem and Hannah Dasher. Tickets are $10.