By Jonathan Lange, Cowboy State Daily
A familiar blue truck has been spotted across Wyoming. The “On the Hook Fish and Chips” truck randomly appears in parking lots across the state with a line of loyal customers ready at the window. Its menu is sparse: fish and chips—or, if you prefer, chips and fish. But the helpings are heaping, and the fish is first rate.
Landlocked Wyoming doesn’t have a navy. It’s over 700 miles to the nearest sea. So, how is it that blue trucks selling baskets of ocean cod can be seen from Kemmerer to Cody and Lusk to Lander? The story of On the Hook Fish and Chips is a fish tale worth hearing.
Meet Ocean Andrew, son of a deep-sea fisherman. This sophomore at the University of Wyoming had the ambition to live-out a dream, and he didn’t wait until graduation day. Buying an old FedEx truck, he had it rebuilt into a food truck and brought it to Laramie five years ago last Sunday.
For the next month he and his business partner, Hunter Andersen, obtained all the proper inspections and licenses while they tried out a bevy of recipes. The backbone of the business was Andrew’s ability to purchase all the fresh frozen Alaskan cod that he could handle.
His father’s business is not just any deep-sea fishing vessel. They catch cod with hooks, not nets—hence the name. Once the fish is hauled aboard, it is cleaned, cut and flash frozen more quickly than the freshest mountain trout. Not only do hooks avoid the waste of scooping up unwanted sea-creatures. They also make for a fresher and tastier haul.
When the school year ended, they opened for business on a Tuesday night in downtown Laramie. “It was a disaster,” Andrew said. “Thirty people were gathered around the truck and we were furiously trying to fill orders. We had no idea how difficult it would be to juggle five different menu items.” Soon they cut it down to only one.
Do one thing; and do it well. That motto quickly grew a business that funded schooling for numerous University students working nights and weekends. Within a year, they began building a second truck. Now, five years later, the fleet is 16 trucks strong. They serve hundreds of thousands in 11 states across the west.
Who knew that a simple idea could become so immediately popular? And who knew that it would require a full-time employee just to keep up with the hundreds of town business licenses, health permits, and fire inspections.
Then came COVID. Statewide public health orders that were continued fortnight after fortnight were especially stifling for the food industry. Restaurants were closed and then severely restricted. Buffets were indefinitely shuttered. Thousands of mom-and-pop diners saw their patrons funneled to the drive-through windows of multinational fast-food corporations.
Because curbside pickup was already part of On the Hook’s business model, they stayed afloat. But the injustice toward other small businesses did not go unnoticed. Within a month of the first shut-down orders, Andrew partnered with Susan Graham to organize a “Rally for the Choice to Work” in Cheyenne.
“One thing I really hate about government is the tendency to protect large corporations with regulation that hurts small businesses,” he said.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos added $13 billion to his net worth during a single day of the lock down. During 12 months of COVID crisis, he added 156 percent ($155.3 billion) to his wealth. That same time span saw nearly 30 percent of small businesses closed.
That Andrew would take time off from running his business to advocate for other businesses less fortunate than his speaks volumes about his character. Community leaders asked him to run for Laramie’s open house seat. A political career had not been on his radar, but he answered the call of duty and was handily elected to House District 46 last November.
Eight years ago, a young man came to the University of Wyoming to seek the Wyoming way of life. His vision and initiative created a uniquely Wyoming business that employs dozens, and has helped many of them fund an education at the University of Wyoming. Along the way he married a school teacher, and started a family in the shadow of the Snowy Range.
When you see a blue fish truck appear in your town, think about Ocean Andrew. He and his company epitomize the Wyoming way of life. Freedom is more than the ability to do whatever you want. It is about raising a family, serving people, and giving back to the community. It’s the sort of life that makes Wyoming’s future bright.