The craft of chicken sandwiches from a new Reno food truck

With housemade chips and cheddar jalapeño scones on the side

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Hey Hey's Fried Chicken food truck, owned by two young Reno chefs, poses for its beauty shot against the Nevada sky.

Ryan Slattery and Johnluke Varner aren’t breast men; they’re thigh guys.

Because it’s flavorful thigh meat, not bland breast meat, that anchors the sandwiches from their Hey Hey’s Fried Chicken food truck, which launched this November in Reno.

“Thighs are juicier, more fat,” Slattery said. “It’s a chef’s cut.”

The two met a few years back while cooking at Grassa, a group of artisan pasta restaurants in Portland, Ore. Varner, a Reno native, convinced his former kitchen mate to move south and go into business together.

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Ryan Slattery, lead chef and co-owner of Hey Hey’s Fried Chicken food truck, takes a moment at 10 Torr Distilling & Brewing in Reno.

“For a long time, we were cooking other people’s menus. We wanted to cook our own,” Varner said.

A clam shack and stuffed bagels were given a brief look-see, but independence turned out to be crisp, tender, golden, hand-held — and mobile.

“We wanted to do one thing and do it perfectly. We decided to do fried chicken sandwiches on a food truck,” Slattery said, “classic fried chicken in a chef’s hands. I love fried chicken. It’s a vehicle for anything.”

Sandwiches and sides

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Johnluke Varner, front of house and co-owner of Hey Hey’s Fried Chicken food truck, ponders how so much chicken thigh can fit between potato buns.

Slattery, 31, runs the food side of Hey Hey’s: lead chef, kitchen operations, recipe development. Varner, 25, cooks with Slattery while also handling front of house (truck), marketing and managing. Thighs are sourced from Blue Ribbon Meat, a third-generation family butcher in Sparks.

Hey Hey’s menu runs to four sandwiches featuring creatively accoutered fried chicken inspired by (and mingling ingredients from) different culinary traditions.

On the Southern tip, there’s a Classic sandwich with zucchini pickles, swipes of Duke’s mayo (still made in South Carolina) and jabs of jalapeño honey. The Christmas sandwich unites salsa roja and crema verde (hence the name) with Oaxaca cheese and shredded lettuce (“shredduce”), in a nod to Mexican cooking.

PROVIDED TO RN&R: A Goldfever sandwich from Hey Hey’s Fried Chicken food truck features fried chicken thigh, hot sauce, honey mustard, ranch and shredded lettuce.

The Goldfever? It’s Hey Hey’s take on buffalo wings: hot sauce, honey mustard, ranch, shredduce. A Pimento sandwich returns to the South, by way of Italy, with a creamy cheese spread made using spicy-smoky Calabrian chilis instead of traditional sweet pimento peppers.

In each sandwich, its brawny portion of fried chicken overhangs a pillowy potato bun. The bread is made by Martin’s, a family outfit in Pennsylvania.

“Martin’s buns are highly regarded on the East Coast. It’s one little thing I could bring — my East Coast love,” said Slattery, who hails from Maine.

Housemade potato chips with pimento cheese dip and cheddar jalapeño scones with jalapeño honey butter ride sidecar on the menu.

Where to find the truck

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Hey Hey’s Fried Chicken food truck launched in November 2021.

The food truck’s distinctive name doesn’t pay home to Heihei, the dingbat chicken in the film “Moana,” as many customers have asked. Instead, the name is a shout-out to Slattery and Varner’s time on the line in Portland.

“We’d put dishes up in the window at Grassa, and to get the wait staff’s attention, we’d say, ‘Hey! Hey!,’ “ Slattery said. And when customers approach the food truck, they often call out its name as a greeting. “Everyone has their own version of how big they go with it.”

In its first month, Hey Hey’s has fired up the fryer across from Chapel Tavern and Rum Sugar Lime in Midtown Reno. The truck has a residency at 10 Torr Distilling & Brewing on Sundays through the end of the year.

Hey Hey’s also has booked private events like a holiday Harry Potter party (Gryffindor meets a Goldfever sandwich), and the truck will be at Ferino Distillery for New Year’s Eve. Next year, Hey Hey’s plans to set up shop at food truck mainstays like Feed the Camel and Food Truck Friday.

Plans for poultry pop-ups

PROVIDED TO RN&R: Besides four fried chicken sandwiches, Hey Hey’s Fried Chicken food truck offers cheddar jalapeño scones, above, and housemade potato chips with pimento dip for dredging.

Also in the works: showcasing fried chicken recipes from local chefs and other food and drink professionals for a month. The pros can make a guest appearance on the truck or have Hey Hey’s prepare the dish.

“Something that’s important to us is establishing community. This is one way we can do that with our humble food truck,” Varner said.

Eventually, the business partners said, they’d like to rotate in a fifth chicken sandwich (Asian-inspired, perhaps), do fried chicken pop-ups and offer Sunday dinners with fried chicken on the bone.

“There are so many opportunities to explore,” Slattery said.

So many ways to keep giving Reno the bird. Fried.

Johnathan L. Wright is the food and drink editor for Reno News & Review. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsJLW or on Facebook personally or at @FoodNevada. Sign up here for the Reno News & Review free weekly newsletter highlighting our most recent stories.

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