Born and raised in South Orange, NJ - in the shadow of NYC - Merilee Kuchon’s early life was very suburban and urban.
Merilee was about five or six when she had her first desert experience. Aunt Franny and Uncle Pete, who lived in Encinitas, put Merilee in the VW Bus and drove down to Anza Borrego. Merilee says, “It blew my mind.”
In 2004 Merilee was working at High Times Magazine in NYC. Though the job had some perks, Merilee was tired of sitting behind a desk. Having experienced 9/11 up close and personal, she realized that experience had not only changed NYC, but also changed her.
Merilee convinced her then boyfriend to quit his job and go with her on a year long road trip of the Southwest and Mexico. Before heading out on that trip, a former punk-rock friend from Jersey wrote Merilee, inviting her to come visit him in Joshua Tree while she was traveling.
Merilee stayed in JT for about a month – back and forth to Mexico, playing music, eating and playing poker.
She made her way back to NJ, continuing to make trips back out to Joshua Tree in the four years that followed. While back in NJ she met her love, Doug. They lived in Texas for five years, playing in a band and operating a co-op deli before making the move to Joshua Tree. Life in Austin was not fulfilling.
In making the decision to move to Joshua Tree the first time, Merilee knew she needed to work and decided it would be cooking. Years earlier, while still working at High Times, Merilee went to French Culinary Institute on the weekends just for fun and to learn. After getting settled in Joshua Tree, Merilee put a 'private chef' resume up on craigslist and immediately got a response from a drug and alcohol rehab facility down the hill in Indian Wells. While in Texas, she had a job as a deli manager for a food co-op, adding management skills to her culinary training. This all worked together to help Merilee – and her business partner Rosa Ficara (Ep 128) - to open Roadrunner Grab + Go deli in Joshua Tree.
In this episode Merilee shares the experience of applying for the deli space- adjacent to the Joshua Tree National Park Visitors Center - preparing to open, the menu, the staff and the good feeling of being able to employ local folks.
Follow Roadrunner Grab + Go on Instagram: @roadrunner.grabandgo