Stephen Cook is a revivalist of sorts. He has revived his sought after menu at an unsuspecting location in Olive Branch.
At 4949 Bethel Road, visit the Valero gas station and walk past the first counter of food offerings to Stephen’s corner counter for his to-go eatery in the Super America convenience store.
RAWK’n Grub Side Stage, as Cook has coined the name, focused on raw, fresh ingredients with versions of his sandwiches and burgers once served from his award-winning food truck.
The food truck was permanently parked earlier in 2020 after five years on the road.
Cook, a native of Memphis, served in the U.S. Army Reserves and dreamed of being a lawyer. Poor life choices subjected Cook to drug addiction and an in-depth perspective on the legal system. He eventually changed his life’s outlook and pursued work in the culinary field.
“I was waiting tables while I was going to Memphis State,” Cook explained, “I’ve worked at Mic’s and Willie Moffatt's. Seeing the action on the line, it looked fun.”
Cook, who prefers the moniker “Steph,” applied himself to learning how a kitchen operates while at Willie Moffatt’s in Memphis. His first task was peeling a large amount of shrimp, which he said did not scare him away from the field of cooking.
“I started as a prep (cook), slowly worked my way up, gathering more knowledge,” Cook said. “I’m a voracious reader. So I started to read more, learn the hierarchy, learn the brigade system of a kitchen.”
Cook’s journey led him to culinary school in Memphis, then to a restaurant in South Beach, Florida, followed by a stint in the slammer.
“I went out on a three-day party binge with all my buddies, blacked out at the wheel, and hit two officers in West Palm,” Cook said. “I did not kill them, thank God.”
Sentenced to sixteen years in prison in 2000, Cook begged for a chance at rehab, with no mercy.
Cook researched the legal system, learning how to argue his case, write motions and more thoroughly plead his case. The state of Florida commuted Cook’s sentence after five years, reducing his time to eight years, which Cook served.
“The problem with addiction was still not addressed when I got out,” said Cook. “Same year, another arrest.”
Cook pleaded that his sentence should include drug addiction treatment, which he did receive. His love for cooking never faded during his struggles. A food truck became a new outlet for Cook to express his culinary love.
“I love to eat good, everyday food, not just crap,” said Cook. “I call it slutty, pub grub. All the principles that I learned as a high-end, snobby chef, building a flavor profile, was what I did with this menu.”
RAWK’n Grub Side Stage features distinctly named entrees with those flavor profiles Cook champions in his dishes.
Blue Suede Shoestring Fries, Ain’t Nutta Butta Cheesecake, Phillydelphia Freedom, Patty LaMellte, Stevie Chix, I’m Just a Po’ Boy, are a few of Cook's themed recipes that are available at his counter.
The Rawk’n Grub name itself comes from a play on how ingredients are sourced.
“I had a friend that used to always tell me ‘You rawk!’ Southerners love to say ‘dawg.’ It just hit me at a red light one day, on Poplar Avenue (in Memphis), with the word rawk.” said Cook. “I like to take raw, local ingredients. I don’t do anything prepackaged.”
Cook’s smash patties are another favorite menu item. Ground beef patties are smashed thin on a grill top to allow for faster cooking. Cook also prepares his own caramelized onions with bourbon, smokes his own gouda and blue cheeses, and stores bottles of his famous SOULicious sauce, which tastes like an upscale smokey, parmesan, Caesar dressing.
RAWK’n Grub Side Stage, open since May 20, currently has to-go orders only, but that doesn’t stop out-of-towners from making a trek to Olive Branch.
Mike and Gina Driver from Southaven found their way to Cook’s counter for lunch recently.
“We saw where he had moved down here from Memphis, RAWK’n Grub, from the (Memphis Sandwich) Clique on Facebook,” said Mike. “We love all his menu! It’s like picking between our kids.”
The name Side Stage is a play on words for Cook’s Olive Branch location being downsized from his previous food truck.
“Every music venue, like Beale Street Music Fest, has a mainstage and side stage,” Cook added. “The mainstage, I want it to be a brick and mortar one day. All these little pop ups, in the gas stations, can be a side stage for grab and go.”
Recently, RAWK’n Grub Side Stage partnered with Eats Deliveries, based in Olive Branch, to offer its famous fare for delivery.
“We chose these guys first because they’re local and y’all know we support local!” said Cook. “Starting July 19 you’ll be able to get RAWK’n Grub delivered up to 20 miles! Yes, 20 miles!”
Cook can be reached at RAWK’n Grub Side Stage at (662) 895-2527.