Sweet Sugar High’s menu is loaded with love.
It is drizzled affectionately over the burgers. Juan and Catherine Fernandez embody it — he owns the business and she helps out. A lot.
“There’s love, there’s passion, there’s hard work,” Catherine said for the husband and wife team. “That’s how we make everything. With love.”
Sweet Sugar High won the mobile food truck category and Hookers Grill won the restaurant category in the Star-Telegram Readers’ Choice Best Burger contest. They bested 21 nominees after two rounds of voting — with thousands casting a ballot for their favorite bite.
Humble hard-knock history
Juan loves to cook — at home on the stovetop and in a small smoker in his backyard.
Asked if he has had formal culinary training? “He’s basically self-taught,” Catherine said.
But from her telling he has been around a hot griddle long before their marriage 10 years ago, the birth of four children and the food truck.
“He worked for Sonic, he was on the griddle there, and that’s where he picked up his skills for the burgers,” she said.
But Juan’s culinary aspirations run rather highbrow.
“He’s inspired by Gordon Ramsay,” Catherine said with a chuckle.
At home, she said, he practices his plating techniques and creatively carves out fruits for the children, “making little teddy bears out of oranges and strawberry flowers.”
Culinary school was a dream for Juan, but life got in the way. He had to work and make a living.
Then COVID came crashing into everyone’s lives.
Juan, who was working at Pinstripes in Fort Worth — the Italian cafe with bowling & bocce ball amenities — lost his job. Shortly after that their youngest girl was born.
They had to do something.
“Unemployment only paid off for so long,” she said. “They closed everything.”
They checked their bank account and it was down to $109.
They cleared out as much of their living room as they could, set up a couple of tables and started serving smoked meat in October 2020.
As soon as they could afford it, they bought a food booth tent — the kind with zippered windows.
When the couple decided to throw burgers in the mix of food they were selling, it was an instant hit.
“(Customers) would ask: ‘When’s he gonna do burgers again?’” That was January or February 2021 — “I remember it was cold,” Catherine said.
Eight months later they bought the trailer they are cooking in now.
Fancy this burger
Sweet Sugar High’s burger menu is simple and compact:
Smashburger is their signature burger and perhaps their most popular item.
Mac Daddy is served with a dollop of real mac and cheese.
Big Hog Mac, true to its name, is served with a heaping portion of pulled pork and comes with or without the mac and cheese.
Big Boy Mexicano comes with homemade salsa, grilled jalapenos and onions. It is served with a healthy sprinkling of Cotija cheese and a quick drizzle of Juan’s special sauce: “So it’s got that sweet spicy, savory all-in-one flavor,” Catherine said.
Judging by the reviews, the burgers here are righteous.
“So filling and cured my pregnancy craving for a burger,” a Facebook reviewer wrote. “I would’ve taken a photo but I already scarfed my food down.”
The burgers are made with either Wagyu or regular 80/20 beef patties. Layered on the patty is American cheese, then the freshest lettuce and seasoned tomatoes. They are served in a brioche bun — “They complement the flavor really well because they have a sweet buttery texture to them,” she said. — with Juan’s sweet and tangy sauce.
So, what’s in the sauce?
“It’s a secret,” Catherine coyly answered.
But, she said, “we’re real particular about … consistency.
“We’ve had a number of people drive a distance,” she said by way of explanation. “So, when I say we want to be consistent, we want them, whether they come three months from now, or you know, every week, we want them to bite into the same taste in the same textures each time.”
Where to catch that Sweet Sugar High
They try to serve at least 5 days a week, barring time constraints with catering jobs. You can follow the trail of the Sweet Sugar High food truck through their Instagram account, where they post their hours, location and menu. Just don’t ask for French fries. (“We don’t have the space in our trailer for the countertop fryer,” she said.)
The couple rolls roughly 150-200 patties a day — translating to about 75 burgers a day. “But we stay out there until we sell the last patty,” Catherine said.
A dream they share
The dream lives on one patty at a time.
Juan and Catherine hope to one day open a brick and mortar store to serve their culinary offerings. It is a dream they share.
These lovebirds met in Fairmont Park off of Henderson Street on the southside of Fort Worth. He was jogging. She was out with a friend, talking on a park table. He stopped. They chatted. The rest, as they say, is history.
If that’s not sweet enough, somewhere stashed in that cramped cooking space of their trailer are layers of desserts.
“He likes to do cakes, pies, peach cobblers, I do the banana pudding,” Catherine said. “We do all kinds of different pastries. Mainly he does pies though.”
Southern classics like pecan pies, buttermilk and sweet potato pies. Occasionally they would get an order for cake.
“He would make cakes wrapped in a chocolate lattice,” she said proudly.
In the end, Catherine said she is humbled by the honor.
“They don’t even know who we are,” she said quietly. “So that really makes me feel special.”