Las Cruces food truck owner dies just days after announcing retirement

LAS CRUCES – Patrick “Paddy” Payne, 49, seemed to be having a good day Saturday morning as he set up his food truck downtown for the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market. 

After nearly seven years, Payne and his wife, Janet Beatty-Payne, had announced earlier in the week, on Aug. 24, that they planned to sell the truck and retire from the business.

Long days at the grill inside the truck were taking a toll on his back; plus, reduced activity during the COVID-19 pandemic had given his family a taste of more time together, especially on weekends. They decided it was the right time for a shift. 

Four months to the day before his 50th birthday, Payne greeted other vendors on Saturday as he parked and began connecting to electric power along Main Street downtown. Then, out of nowhere, he suffered a massive heart attack.

Patrick Payne is shown at the grill inside his food truck, the Green Chile Paddy Wagon, in September 2014.

Market staff responded quickly and a registered nurse immediately began CPR, but “he was just gone,” Beatty-Payne said. 

While he had not suffered serious health problems, she said heart trouble ran in her late husband’s family. Besides his wife and stepson, Payne is survived by his father, brother and two stepsisters.

Green Chile Paddy Wagon represented a career shift

The “paddy wagon” represented a career shift for Payne, who had lived in Las Cruces since 1990 when he moved here to attend New Mexico State University. Later, the aspiring actor and teacher completed a master’s degree in theater at the University of New Orleans in 2010.

“He came back with a passion to cook like he hadn’t had before,” Beatty-Payne said.

Green Chile Paddy Wagon co-owner Patrick Payne poses with wife and co-owner Janet Beatty-Payne in 2015. Payne died of a heart attack while setting up the truck on Aug. 28, just four days after announcing plans to retire from the business.

That was the year she began her relationship with Patrick, and he returned to town passionate about combining New Orleans-style food with New Mexico chiles.

After trying without success to find a teaching post at NMSU, and having entered some salsa competitions, Payne ruled out applying for teaching positions elsewhere. (“He never wanted to live anywhere else,” she said.) Partly inspired by watching the film “Chef,” Beatty-Payne suggested he put on his cook’s apron and go into business. 

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