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Photo by Tim Fuchs

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Finding a New Path

Pursuit of a Culinary Dream Results in a Second Career for the Founders of Wandering Donkey Taqueria & Tequila Bar and Epic Catering Concepts

The birth of the Wandering Donkey seems not so long ago to high school sweethearts Lance and Beth Smith. There have been many twists and turns for them since the days of proms to that very special day in early September of 1977 when they said “I do” to one another.

The one thing that has always been important to these two, and some of the best memories they have, is breaking bread with old and new friends. They’ll tell you joy is easily found when bellies are full and stories are told. Beth will tell you there’s no shortage of stories when it comes to Lance.

“He’s a talker!” she says, although you’re likely to hear her complain in fun, “Not that one, again!”

No matter, if you wind up in their path, you’ll find a heartfelt welcome and newfound friends with good food and drink very close by.

Many have met Lance at the Arizona Cardinals home games, near Gate 2 on the flight deck of State Farm Stadium. He’s the guy verbally tempting you to taste the food they’ve been serving up at the Wandering Donkey since the last Super Bowl held in Arizona back in 2015. The odds are you’ll be able to find them back at the same venue in 2023!

To this day you can still find the original Donkey traveling the city streets here in the Valley of the Sun and beyond. Just a little over a year ago it wandered into North Scottsdale. Without too much searching, you will find the home of the Wandering Donkey Taqueria & Tequila Bar on the western slopes of the McDowell Mountains at the crossroads of East Bell Road and Thompson Peak Parkway.   

The meat of this story begins here.

After decades of success in the corporate world, just over 10 years ago, Lance embarked upon a new and exciting career path, which he calls in humor his midlife crisis. He was finally ready to discover if his passion for the culinary arts could be the space that would make his family and work life even more rewarding. Keeping himself closer to the gourmet kitchen that he loves to cook in at home for family and friends was a part of his inspiration to take the ultimate leap of faith, never dreaming he would become as diverse within the robust food scenes that are here in Arizona!

With a small fleet of four gourmet food trucks, a successful restaurant, and a thriving catering company, thousands of hungry Arizonans, and many tourists and business travelers to our state, are grateful for the professional move that culminated from the Wandering Donkey Taqueria & Tequila Bar, with their food truck still wandering the streets of our city, serving up tasty burritos, bowls, and taco plates. Finally, there is also Epic Catering Concepts, which is responsible for serving the special guests of the largest and most prestigious public and private events taking place each year here in Arizona.

The epiphany came in late 2011 while watching the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race.

“I shouted to Beth in the next room, ‘I think I want to switch my primary mode of transportation from being a passenger in a jet to driving and cooking from my own gourmet food truck!’” Lance says, referring to his wife of 45 years and his business partner over the past 10 years.

Beth’s reaction to the declaration made by her husband? 

“Do it … you would be perfect for the job!” Beth says of her immediate response. “He had already proven himself to be a great chef over the years. I never had any doubt he was made for this. As expected, Lance took it to heart.”

Three months later, he transformed a City of Glendale Fire Department retired hazmat truck that Lance bought at auction, turning it into the Smiths’ first gourmet food truck, Grilled Addiction, and hit the streets, never to look back.

“On that first day out, we found a little back road near one of the Deer Valley Industrial parks. I remember within an hour we had sold about 25 plates. The daily plate counts quickly escalated from there to an average of more than 50 per service. We felt if we could continue to maintain that average, our success would only become greater and greater,” Lance says.

At one point, the small fleet of trucks numbered four, each representing a different cuisine. The second brand being the Wandering Donkey, was grilled Mexican fare. Today, they feed hundreds, sometimes thousands, in a single day, Lance says.

The business’ success propelled the venture beyond the Smiths’ wildest expectations, which inspired Beth to quit her office job to commit to the family business full-time.

Over the past decade, the Smiths’ path has led them not only down the many streets here in Arizona, but as well, to the opening of two restaurants, the latest a year ago in North Scottsdale.

“Just when we thought we had done it all, Lance expanded us with another arm to our business; a full-service catering company called Epic Catering Concepts,” Beth says.

In fact, they will be exclusively serving up elevated food offering to thousands of VIP guests of the Phoenix Thunderbirds charity at the WM PGA Phoenix Open, specifically at the four-day Bird’s Nest concert series event taking place Feb. 8-11 again next year.

  • Lance and Beth Smith
  • Lance and Beth Smith
  • Lance Smith. Photo by Tim Fuchs
  • Photo by Tim Fuchs
  • Photo by Tim Fuchs
  • Photo by Tim Fuchs
  • Photo by Tim Fuchs

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