Rob Kratochwill, owner of the Pots-n-Tots food cart, was feeling "bitter and blue" last week after a crash on the Beltline destroyed the inside of his cart and led him to announce he'd be closing for good.
But he soon heard from customers and fans who begged him to rebuild. Two people even offered to buy the business.
Kratochwill, 39, said his mental health challenges got the best of him after the crash, which flipped the cart. However, after the powerful reaction from the community, he had a change of heart.
He's running Pots-n-Tots as a pop-up food stand, and, with help from his father, is vowing to rebuild the cart. He hopes to have it operational by mid-August.
"I'm going to redesign the interior and upgrade the menu and pull all aces out," Kratochwill said.
Pots-n-Tots specializes in tater tots, with Kratochwill rotating through more than 130 flavors in the past five years. Kratochwill also sells non-tot-related items, including various slow-cooked sandwiches, a bruschetta chicken sandwich, catfish and breaded Muenster cheese sticks.
He's been venturing into new territory with his pop-up food stand, one day doing ribs and chicken wings, and another day making lasagna, which he "crushed," by selling 62 orders and completely running out. He also does a "taco day" with pork carnitas that "blow people's minds," he said.
Kratochwill is planning a menu for the Taste of Madison, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, that he promises will be the "most unique, never seen anywhere else on the planet... I got to step forward and do this."
Pots-n-Tots has won five Taste of Madison ribbons in four years. One year at the Labor Day weekend event, he sold more than 850 pounds of tots.
Kratochwill started the cart in 2014 and painted its distinctive Napoleon Dynamite image himself. He also painted the iconic American Gothic couple on one side. He got help building the cart from his father, a retired art educator at Madison Area Technical College.
When he opened a short-lived location at West Towne Mall last year, he stopped vending on the Capitol Square with the cart. Instead, he used it to cater corporate lunches and other private events.
Kratochwill said he was entering the Beltline from Verona Road last Wednesday at 50 mph when a car cut him off. He swerved into another lane, which caused the cart he was towing to tip. The cart flipped on its side, wrecking it and all the food inside.
Two people, he's not exactly sure who, said they were starting a GoFundMe page for Pots-n-Tots, Kratochwill said. If they do, he'll give the money to the Madison Children's Museum or St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, he said.
"I'm not going to keep it. It gets to go to something better," Kratochwill said. "I'm not that good. I'm not worth this. So I'm going to do it on my own."
Regarding the offers to buy the business, Kratochwill said it's not for sale.
Kratochwill was touched by all the heartfelt messages, emails and phone calls he received in the days following the crash. "They were telling me, 'Do not quit at this. We love your cart.' I have so many adoring fans. They don't want it to die."
Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original form.