BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – 2020 has been a tough year for most people during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie isn’t letting the challenging times stop him from living out another dream of his outside of football.
“I always thought about food but I never really knew how to cook it. In my head I always wanted a food truck but I didn’t know what I wanted to put inside the food truck, what food I wanted to sell,” McKenzie said on a zoom call with News 4 Sports.
McKenzie started a restaurant called LaTraila Barbecue in Miami with his friend, Mel Rodriguez.
Normally spring workouts would fill McKenzie’s time the past few months but because of the pandemic, the Bills had to do a virtual offseason along with the rest of the league. So McKenzie was able to use his extra free time to start the business, and the plans came together pretty quickly.
“It wasn’t let’s wait a year, let’s wait two years no let’s do it right away because he’s been working on this for four years, this idea and he’s been cooking for 20. I’ve been thinking about this idea for like two and a half years but I never really knew where to start. So I felt like if we could put our minds together we could start somewhere so that’s why when May came around and we had that conversation i jumped on it and he was on board,” McKenzie explained.
Rodriquez is a pit master from Austin, Texas and met McKenzie through a mutual friend. The wheels starting turning just a few months ago in May.
“One day we were talking about the Texans game and we started talking about food and things like that and then he told me about barbecuing and I said “you know I’ve been thinking about a food truck and you know how to make barbecue so let’s talk about that more than the loss we had against Houston because it was getting to my heart,” McKenzie laughed.
That’s when a Texans fan and Bills wide receiver decided to start a barbecue restaurant.
“He has ideas, I have the money and we can just put it together. I always wanted this to happen for me and I’m helping him live out his dream as well as a barbecue pit master, so we might as well put it together,” McKenzie explained.
Next, they started doing research and consulted with people in the food industry on what needed to happen first to get their business off the ground. That included getting permits and seeking out a location for the restaurant.
They eventually found a building in Wynwood, Miami but are in the process of renovating it. But that didn’t stop the two from starting to serve food and get the word out there. They didn’t want to wait until the building was done so in the meantime they open every Saturday in Tomorrowland (in Miami), a popular outdoor hangout with bars and restaurants.
They’re able to do this because they can move the BBQ pit which will come in handy if they want to cater or create a food truck in the future.
But right now, it’s all about getting the word, and smell out there.
“At late night just like you would go to Waffle House on a late night, we’ll be open that like so you would like BBQ. You’ve been drinking and things like that so who wouldn’t want some barbecue with a beer you know?,” McKenzie laughed.
So what’s the meaning behind the name “LaTraila”?
“It means the trail, however you say it it can mean the trail, the truck, the path, something like that. So basically we kind of did it off the barbecue pit because it has wheels and leaves a trail and it leaves a smoke trail,” McKenzie explained.
This business, while it’s a dream for McKenzie, it also means a lot to one special member of his family.
“My Grandma she raised me, I don’t know my parents but my Grandma took me and my little brother in and it’s been us ever since. She always wants to come support us and I always want to make her smile so me doing this is pretty exciting for her more than me,” McKenzie said.
“Just for her to get out of the house and come have some barbecue, have fun, she brings her friends, she has a boyfriend so she brings him so it’s pretty fun to see the smile on her face.”
So how does an NFL player balance getting ready for the upcoming season and running a business? McKenzie says it’s actually not that hard because of the people he leans on.
‘I workout every day either at 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock depending on what I have. Running the business, the thing is I don’t look at it as being hard. There’s not really much I have to do on my end when it comes to the restaurant. I have the chef, I have people working for me. We have people I trust that are going to do the best they can to help the business run. Go workout and not think about that. When I’m away from it I still don’t worry about it because I know I’ve got people working for me that’s gonna do the job right and how I want it to be done,” McKenzie explained.
When he’s there with the business, he wants to blend in and serve the food just like the rest of his employees. McKenzie also hopes to share his food with his teammates in the near future.
“Playing the Dolphins week two if I can cater it would be awesome so that’s the next big goal of mine you know one day maybe I can cater to our team. Or we can drive the pit all the way up to Buffalo and get to cooking, either way I want to get it done,” McKenzie laughed.
No matter who comes to eat their food, they want to spread a message of inclusion.
“We’re a minority owned business, from different places he’s from Austin, I’m from Miami, different people and we accept all people,” McKenzie said.
No matter who you are, where you came from, what you look like, McKenzie says you’re guaranteed to like something about their new business.
“If you come you’re gonna enjoy it, if you don’t you’re gonna smell it. Either way you’re gonna enjoy the smell or you’re gonna enjoy the taste.