Derald’s delights the hungry

Erica Magda

By Jim Vorel

For 28 years, Mathews Avenue, directly east of the Illini Union, has been dominated by the savory scent of grilling meat. Hamburgers cook slowly on the grill while bacon sizzles as it fries, destined for the sandwich of one of the students, workers, or faculty members that stand waiting for their turn to place an order. Each weekday, hundreds of people from all walks of life line up for an authentic, home-cooked meal at Derald’s.

Except the meal isn’t home-cooked or even building-cooked. Derald’s meals are all truck-cooked.

If you’ve ever walked down Mathews Avenue during the afternoon, you’ve probably seen one of Eric Seeds’ trucks. Seeds, an Urbana native, is the owner of Derald’s, and his catering trucks have served hundreds of meals a day, every weekday, to hungry campus residents since the business was started by Seeds’ uncle in 1979.

“My uncle was the original Derald,” said Seeds, closing up his truck after a long day of preparing meals. “I’ve been running the business for seven years since he retired.”

Rain or shine, Seeds can be seen taking orders from the window of his blue and silver truck next to the Illini Union. Both his truck and an identical truck located farther north at 100 N. Mathews Avenue are open every weekday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. He said that the job is no picnic.

“It’s definitely not as easy as a lot of people think, just pulling up a truck and selling food,” Seeds said. “We have to have our whole own building to stock the truck and freezers for food, and I’m there getting the trucks ready by 5 a.m. every morning.”

But the job is something he enjoys. Seeds said that he meets interesting people and enjoys the bustle of running a successful business. His top-selling sandwich is the bacon double cheeseburger, but he said that on Fridays, when he sells fish sandwiches, the crowds can sometimes get truly huge.

“It’s almost like a Fish Friday cult,” he said. “I’ve seen people bring their own bread and divvy up the contents of their sandwiches to share.”

The long-running food stop has inspired great loyalty from its regulars.

Mark Austin, a University worker in the Henry Administration Building, said he’s been coming to Derald’s at least once or twice a week for over 10 years, long enough to remember the original Derald.

“It’s a great place for the food I love: cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, sloppy Joes,” Austin said. “He cooks everything fresh, and it’s good, honest food. Also it’s outside, and it’s great to be able to get out from all of the buildings and get some fresh air.”

But for all the acclaim for Derald’s catering trucks, Eric Seeds is not content to rest on his laurels. In addition to the two catering trucks, Seeds is ready to open a brand new caf‚ located near 504 E. Pennsylvania Ave., across from the Law Building. It will feature a similar menu to the catering trucks, plus new dishes.

“We want this caf‚ to be a little more upscale, and we’re doing all kinds of exciting things with it,” Seeds said. “We’re putting in flat-panel TVs, wi-fi access and even hand-held pager systems that will let diners know when their food is ready.”

On a side note, with the dissolution of the University’s contract with Coca-Cola, when Derald’s Caf‚ opens on Monday, Oct. 22 it will be the first eatery to install Pepsi products within the University campus in more than 10 years.

Stephen Snider, junior in LAS, said he loves the Derald’s catering trucks and is looking forward to the caf‚. He first tried food from Derald’s a year ago at the insistence of a friend who was a Derald’s regular.

“The food is awesome and it’s really cheap,” Snider said. “I have an hour break between my classes every day, and now I probably come here around four times every week. The friend of mine who suggested the place probably eats here 10 times a week.”

Snider said his friend’s regular meal is a strictly off-menu mixture of chili, cheese and eggs that he called “a cross between an Egg McMuffin and a bowl of chili” and is something that Seeds often has prepared for him when he arrives.

“If you tell the employees of the truck what you want, chances are they can do it for you,” Snider said. “They do their best for their customers.”

Seeds said that the best part of the job is seeing people who enjoyed Derald’s food when they were students return with their children and show them where they used to eat.

“Parents are amazed they can still get the same meals they got when they were young,” Seeds said, laughing. “They call us an institution. I expect we’ll be here for a lot of years yet.”