RESTAURANTS

Cedar Rapids' Willie Ray's Q Shack takes barbecue to Texas to lend a helping hand

Like he did after derecho, owner heads to help storm rescue

Willie Fairley prepares a smoker for towing Friday morning before leaving from Willie Ray's Q Shack in Cedar Rapids. Q S
Willie Fairley prepares a smoker for towing Friday morning before leaving from Willie Ray’s Q Shack in Cedar Rapids. Q Shack owner Willie Fairley gave out thousands of free meals in Cedar Rapids following the August derecho and plans to travel to Texas to do the same as the state recovers from a record-breaking winter storm. (Nick Rohlman/Freelance for The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Armed with a white Ford F-150 XLT pickup truck, a Keurig coffee maker, an assortment of creams and sugars and an enthusiastic attitude, Trevor Nicholson had already driven about an hour Friday morning to northeast Cedar Rapids.

He was about to travel another 16 or 17 hours to spend a week — if not longer — serving meals to people in Texas affected by the winter storm that left millions without power or running water.

“Why not?” asked the 53-year-old Wellman resident, who had a smoker attached to his truck.

Willie Ray Fairley, the owner of Willie Ray’s Q Shack at 288 Blairs Ferry Road NE, is leading the trip to Texas with hopes of providing 750 to 1,000 meals per day — heading south to reprise his role in providing thousands of free meals here after last year’s derecho.

“The plan is to get there and serve as many people as we can,” he said.

He didn’t have much time to construct a plan, though. Fairley said he decided to organize the trip after getting the suggestion from a community leader Wednesday night. It was already on his mind, but that conversation removed any doubt about what he was going to do.

He posted on Facebook Thursday looking for volunteers to help. As of Friday afternoon, the post had about 1,800 likes, 339 comments and more than 1,900 shares.

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing yet,” Fairley said Friday.

Some comments were from people simply thanking him. Others offered to use their connections to get hotels or to help set up once they arrive in Texas.

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As they packed a couple trucks Friday morning, they didn’t know where exactly they would set up in Texas, a state almost five times larger than Iowa.

“We didn’t get to plan much, but we’re just like, ‘OK, we’re going and try to iron it out now,’” Fairley said.

They didn’t have any hotel reservations ahead of the drive, which started Friday afternoons.

“Maybe sleep while the next driver is driving,” Fairley said. “It’s far away, but we’re going to get there.”

While Fairley’s post asked if any volunteer had an recreational vehicle, he had to settle for a couple of pickups and a sport utility vehicle.

The pickup trucks had a variety of items to prepare for the next week. They had 40 bags of charcoal — donated by the Marion Hy-Vee — and four tubs of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce.

“That may be enough or may not be enough (charcoal), but we’ll get more,” Fairley said.

Fairley is bringing some of the meat with him, checking the temperature along the way to make sure it stays cold enough. His cousin in San Antonio will bring some meat as well to “keep the ball rolling.”

This isn’t Fairley’s first time stepping up with plenty of meat, barbecue sauce and his smokers after a disaster.

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Following the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho in Eastern Iowa, he provided thousands of free meals in Cedar Rapids.

As they prepared to leave, Cedar Rapidians pulled up to the Willie Ray’s Q Shack, a 250-square foot kitchen in the parking lot of Blue Lagoon Car Wash, with cash donations and high praise in hand.

Kris Jones, 52 and from Waterloo, wanted to go with Fairley but couldn’t. Instead, he did everything he could to help from Iowa.

“I can’t go because I have a veteran’s event in Waterloo, so I got to give him some money,” Jones said. “I tried to raise some money for his efforts. That’s the least we can do.”

He also helped Fairley’s group load the trucks in the 21-degree cold as part of his effort to “serve this bigger purpose.”

Meanwhile, Nicholson, who works at Hawkeye Ready-Mix but is unemployed because of winter, will be in no rush to get back to Iowa.

“My wife said, ‘Yeah that’s not a problem — a week, 10 days, two weeks, however long it takes,’” Nicholson said.

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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