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.
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.
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.
They were married in the summer of 2014, weeks before acquiring the truck that would become the Green Chile Paddy Wagon, distinctive for its brisket and chile combinations and a surface mostly covered in stickers.
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Besides its popular brisket melts and burritos, the Paddy Wagon menu featured quesadillas with eggs, bacon, chile and cheese, a cheese “Paddy” melt with bacon and green chile on rye and hand-cut french fries with Creole seasoning.
Payne occasionally participated in local dramatic productions, mostly with the Las Cruces Community Theatre where his wife has a leadership role, but Beatty-Payne said her husband settled most successfully into life as a gregarious food truck cook who enjoyed bantering with customers — and as chief caregiver to Spencer, her son from a previous marriage, a special needs child who today is 19 years old and attending high school.
Their business strategy focused on local festivals and events, with the downtown farmers market remaining their anchor and Payne’s favorite location, she said.
Green Chile Paddy Wagon owner wanted to paint more, explore writing
After retiring the truck, Payne had planned to devote more time to painting in his garage studio and to explore writing. Their Las Cruces home sports his vibrantly colorful paintings throughout, some on canvas and others on old vinyl records.
Visitors to their home frequently left with small gifts of his art, his wife said.
The truck was parked to the side of the house, still covered in stickers that reflected the couple’s favorite rock bands and movies, as well as Muppets and other characters Spencer loved.
Over the years, customers had added their own stickers to the truck, nearly wrapping its surface. Beatty-Payne said they allowed the additions as they fit in with the truck’s slogan: “Everything you love.”
Payne was known for showing different sides to people through various endeavors and challenges in his life; but Beatty-Payne said her defining impression of Paddy was his commitment to being stepdad to a child requiring extensive daily attention and care.
It was proof, she said, that Patrick “was a good man where even a lot of good men fail.”