The champions of the mom-and-pop truck stop

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Hood’s Family Restaurant and Truck Stop, Bois D’Arc, Mo.Hood’s Family Restaurant and Truck Stop, Bois D’Arc, Mo.

Jeff Barker has a passion for food. Not just any food, mind you –Jeff seeks out food on the road at the quickly dwindling mom-and-pop truck stops.

“I don’t know when you grew up,” he says, “but when I was a kid in the ’70s and traveling with my family, the independent truck stops were the best places to eat.”

Born a diabetic, Jeff has to be careful about what he takes in. Fast food chains at the big stops offer few choices and fewer healthy options.

“Cooking in the truck is great, but you have to get out of it once in a while,” he says. “You can’t spend every minute in the cab. Getting out to have a meal allows you to walk away from the job for a few minutes.”

Support Better Independent Truck Stops is a Facebook group Jeff operates with Debra Miller and Todd Ramey. It provides a forum for drivers who find and frequent the small places to share their observations and locations of the businesses. A lot of the posts include pictures and detailed directions to places a little off the beaten path. It’s a great source of information for the driver who may be looking to have a different experience altogether when it comes to truck stops.

Supporting hardworking families in America is another reason Jeff feels it’s important to take the time to find and promote these small businesses: “You never know, the waitress may be the owner’s daughter and he or she may be back there on the grill cooking. These places provide jobs for their communities and a place for families to grow up.”

He also prefers the quality of drivers at the independent stops, and disagrees with the theory that the profusion of company drivers on the road today avoid independent stops largely because they’re told where they can fuel. He does agree the older, more experienced drivers tend to frequent places other than the big three.

“I’m dispatched and told where I can fuel, but they don’t tell me where I can spend my own money,” he says. “I’m with Crete Carriers and they’ve never given me any trouble about stopping where I want to eat.”

Barker is also dedicated to staying fit on the road. He brings his bicycle and running shoes along on the truck and takes every opportunity he can to get in running and riding time. He often uses this as a way to find out-of-the-way places to explore during his down time and breaks: “I’m thankful I can improvise and take care of myself out here. It’s important to do so as obesity and other health problems run rampant among drivers in the industry.”

Along with exercise and eating better, Jeff thinks outlook and attitude are two of the most important things a driver needs to be successful.

“You gotta make life fun, laugh a lot,” he says. “Yeah, this is a job, and it’s hard sometimes, but if you make it interesting, it’s great. We need to separate ourselves from our careers in order to preserve our sanity.”

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