JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville native credits his time in the U.S. Army for helping him launch the only veteran-owned food truck in the River City.
It's bright yellow with a giant pig on the side -- bearing a pretty unique name.
Miles O'Kelly graduated from Robert E. Lee High School and later spent time at FSCJ. But he wanted something different, so he joined the U.S. Army. It's a branch of the military that gave him the tools to come back to his hometown and start his dream business with his brother -- The Butt Hutt Smokehouse.
Miles and his brother Jacob Bander had an idea. Jacob had been mixing his own special sauces for quite some time, so the pair put their ideas together and figured out a way to come up with a unique menu and bring their creations to the streets of Jacksonville.
"Everything is made from scratch to try and bring that new fresh flavor in barbecue to Jacksonville," Miles said.
It's a family affair, really. Jacob's wife Betsy often runs the window, while he and Jacob man the grills and fryers.
But before this truck opened its window for the first time to customers about a year and a half ago, O'Kelly did something to give him the ability to realize this dream.
"The military gave me the opportunity to get away and grow," he said.
Miles joined the Army just before turning 22 years old. He had played football for Lee High School and loved action and was ready an adrenaline rush.
"I told them I really just wanted to do the high-speed cool stuff," Miles said. "So they showed me this video of artillery, so I ended up being a field artillery man. I was a 13-Delta. So basically I trained in Oklahoma, then I went to the 82nd Airborne so I jumped out of airplanes and I shot artillery."
The sergeant was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he got the thrill he wanted. He also finished his business degree while in the military. So, when Miles left the Army, he made a little history here in Jacksonville.
"We're the only food truck registered as a veteran-owned business," he said. "The military did great things for me, taught me a lot of things. Helped me hone a lot of skills especially with this.
News4Jax spent the afternoon with Miles, Jacob and Betsy as they served customer after customer from their Butt Hutt Smokehouse food truck parked at the foot of the Ameris Tower on the Southbank. In all, nearly 100 customers were served in three hours. And during that time, customers were served not only food, but a lot of whistling, laughter and even a little dancing by Miles.
Sherika Perry works in the tower and is a repeat customer of The Butt Hutt Smokehouse.
"So I tried it like last month and was like, 'Oh my God, the food is good,'" she said.
What Sherika didn't know was that a military veteran is behind it.
"That makes me feel really good, really good," she said. "I didn't know they were veteran owned but they are very friendly people and the food is great."
It's definitely the barbecue that draws customers like Wanda Smiling over, but she's an Army veteran herself -- along with her husband -- and learning about Miles' service just made the experience that much better.
"It makes me feel great, wonderful to support the veterans," Wanda said.
"People love it and people like to support that," Miles said. "I like to think we're genuinely nice people too, so it's not just veterans, we're nice people."
And Miles hasn't forgotten where he came from. He gives back one way he can.
"We fed the new recruits in the New Soldier Program. When you're in the Army, you wait to go to basic training. We fed all them on NAS in one of their training exercises. There was probably 100 people there. We fed them all in an hour," Miles said.
He also hasn't forgotten the bonds he built back in high school.
"I'm really proud of him, he's doing his thing," said former football teammate Israel Allen.
He said it means a lot to him to know someone he went to high school with and played football with, went off to service his country and then returned to open a business here in town.
"It means what it is, the American dream. It means you work hard and you get what you work hard for," said Israel.
"It means a lot, you know, when you did something you didn't go for nothing," Miles explained. "The time that you spent, a lot of time away from home that you spend in the military, it means something."
Learn more about The Butt Hutt Smokehouse in Jacksonville and where to find their food truck:
If you are interested in finding a veteran-owned business near you, the nationwide company VeteransList.us compiles an easy-to-use database of veteran-owned businesses. Anyone can search for free by product, place or ZIP code. Also, veteran-owned businesses wanting to be in the company's database can request to be for free, as well.