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Cheryl Harris-Walker: Up And Running Susta’s Food Truck

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Susta's Food Truck owner, Cheryl Harris-Walker, right, and cousin Deborah Greene offer Southern style street food. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times

If not for an injury while fixing her hair one morning, Cheryl Harris-Walker probably would not own a food truck. In the summer of 2020, money from an insurance settlement got her started.

“I was trying to do something to my hair, … and [severely] burned my back,” she said. 

The accident resulted in a disability insurance claim for which Harris-Walker received a settlement that was “enough to get a [food] truck.” The suggestion came from her sister, Constance Burnes.

“[My sister said], ‘Hey, go ahead and get your food truck since that’s what you want,’” recalled Harris-Walker, who has wanted a food truck for about 20 years, ever since she saw the Travis Chicago Style food truck—the first food truck in Birmingham, according to a 2016 post at http://whattoeatinbirmingham.com/ 

In fact, Travis Holmes, the local food truck trailblazer, has become a mentor for Harris-Walker: “Whatever I need, I can call him, and he can direct me on which way to go.”

After purchasing her food truck, Harris-Walker needed a name. “Mostly everybody calls me ‘Susta,’” she said. “So, [a friend] said, ‘Why don’t you just call it Susta’s? That’s what everybody calls you anyway?’”

Prior to getting Susta’s Food Truck up and running, Harris-Walker had been the go-to cook for friends, family, and co-workers for more than two decades. She got her start cooking at 3 years old by following her grandmother, Ella Jackson, in the kitchen.

“She would let me get up in the morning time and let me get up to the stove and scramble an egg. I started out scrambling eggs,” she said.

“Family of Cooks”

Harris-Walker comes from “a family of cooks.” Her grandmother not only cooked at home but also worked in the lunchroom for Standard Casket, a coffin manufacturing business that used to be on Finley Avenue. In addition, Harris-Walker’s father, Bracie Watson Sr., was a cook in the U.S. Army. 

So, it’s not surprising that Susta’s Food Truck is family-oriented. Harris-Walker’s sister, Burnes, works on the truck, as do Harris-Walker’s mother, Mary Watson, her husband, Alan Walker, and a cousin. Her uncle, Walter Jackson, who the family calls “Uncle Sonny,” also helps.

Currently, the “commercial spot” to find Harris-Walker’s food truck is in Collegeville, as well as on Arkadelphia Road, but she intends to move throughout the city. She also has plans to do special soul food Sundays in the future.

Some of the bestsellers at Susta’s Food Truck, which debuted on October 29, have been the fried bologna sandwich, hot dogs, and the Walking Taco—taco fixins in a bag of Fritos. And Walker has been pleased by the reviews.

“I like to hear people say, ‘Oh, this is good!’ I say, ‘Don’t’ tell me a story. Tell me the truth.’ I have never had anybody to come and say, ‘Oh, I don’t like this.’ Everybody says, ‘Oh, make me some more,’” said Harris-Walker, who enjoys preparing her unique collard green casserole.

“Everybody wants to know what I put in it,” she said. “Then they add, ‘Well, I’ve had this before, but it didn’t taste like this.’”

Harris-Walker grew up in the Smithfield community and attended Abraham Lincoln and Graymont elementary schools. She graduated from A.H. Parker High School and went on to earn a degree in criminal justice from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Like many in her family, Harris-Walker has worked with BCS for much of her life. Her mother, aunt, and uncle have all worked for the school district, and her sister serves as an instructional superintendent. 

Feeding Others

Among Harris-Walker’s passions are reading, mostly magazines or the Bible, and attending Smith Temple Church in Smithfield. Her other passion is helping people experiencing homelessness.

“I never had to worry about where I was going to get my next meal, and I never had to worry about where I was going to sleep,” said Harris-Walker, who is happy to provide for those in in need by giving them food into which she puts all of her “love.”

“When I fix my hot dogs, I go ahead and put them in a cooler to keep them warm. I put everything on them, too, like the mustard, ketchup,” she said.

One gentleman that Harris-Walker served lately told her, “Ma’am, you’re the only one who makes sure the food is still hot when we get it—and [your hot dogs have] everything on them.”

For more, visit Susta’s on Facebook Susta’s Food Truck LLC. – Home | Facebook or call 205-305-9133

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