BERTHOLD - The echo of North Dakota's oil boom is being heard well beyond the state's borders.
Thousands of newcomers have been arriving in the state for many months, seeking to improve their lives and income in the oil patch or just take the opportunity to do something new.
Some of their stories are remarkable, even improbable. How about a professional pastry chef and a special education teacher serving homemade meals through the side window of a food truck in Berthold?
Mike Belmont is co-owner of food vending business Jax Hardy in Berthold. Belmont left the bustling Minneapolis-St. Paul area to go to work in the Bakken.
"If you would have told me five years ago that I'd be in Berthold, North Dakota, selling food out of a truck and doing pretty well, I'd have said you were crazy," said Mike Belmont.
Belmont graduated from Minot High School in 1992 and followed that up with a degree from Moorhead State University in Minnesota.
"I moved to the Twin Cities area and had a five-year career as a juvenile probation officer," said Belmont. "Then I went back to school and got my masters in special education. I was a special education teacher in the cities for the past eight years."
No longer. Nope. Belmont decided to do something that had always been on his mind - the food business. Together with his cousin, Tanna Wagenmann, they formulated a plan to operate Jax Hardy, a food vending truck located near the Cenex in Berthold. The unusual name was derived from the name of his father, Jack, which is also Belmont's middle name - hence, Jax. Hardy is a reference to "hardy" food.
Wagenmann is a Red Wing, Minn., native who came to Berthold via Philadelphia where she ran her own bakery and cafe.
"She's a Culinary Institute of American graduate. She's got the real food sense," said Belmont. "She knows taste profiles and those sorts of things. I'm kind of the labor. From everything we've read and researched, this was the land of opportunity. There's so much happening here to take a chance and go for it."
Belmont counts himself among the fortunate who have found housing in the region at his mother's home in Minot. He says he loves all aspects of the food vending business, including rising at 3:30 each morning so that he can begin preparing breakfast in time for the morning rush. Favorites include top sirloin, egg and cheese and handmade country sausage, egg and cheese served on toasted rolls.
"I can't tell you how many guys have come up to the truck and been so appreciative and thankful," said Belmont. "When I serve them a roast beef sandwich, or Italian sausage or breakfast sandwich, whatever it is, they just look you in the eye and say thank you for providing something to eat."
Some of the customers tell their stories of working in the Bakken and living in the cab of their semi-trailers for months at a time. Others are oil pipeline workers, railroad crew members or simply folks living in the vicinity who wish to add some variety to their meals whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The best selling meal, according to Belmont, is a generous top sirloin roast beef sandwich served with a huge pile of french fries, cole slaw, gravy and a soft drink. The meat is of the highest quality, processed locally at The Meat Shop in Berthold.
"We take a lot of pride in what we do. Our roast beef is top quality, top sirloin. We have a really nice partnership with The Meat Shop. I can't say enough about how helpful John Johnson, the master butcher, has been. He's unbelievably helpful."
Lately a third-pound hamburger was added to the Jax Hardy menu, made as the customer prefers. It has proven to be a popular seller and big enough to meet the hungry demands of hard workers toiling in the Bakken.
"The only complaint we've ever got about our food is that it's too much food. We'll take that," laughed Belmont. "I love being busy, busy on the food truck, serving food and have a blast. It's a lot of fun."
With the onset of winter, some of the food vendors in the Bakken close up shop and wait for warmer months. Belmont is familiar with North Dakota's climate and says Jax Hardy plans to remain in business throughout the upcoming winter.
"I'm not going anywhere. We're just going to do some modifications to the truck," said Belmont.
For people on the go and wishing to save a few minutes time, Jax Hardy accepts orders by phone or internet at 818-2102 or email@example.com.