It went down in the DM.
No, seriously: A few weeks before the Super Bowl earlier this year, California artist Mark Paul Deren received a direct message on Instagram from Cam Newton saying how “blown away” the Carolina Panthers quarterback was with Deren’s work.
Deren has a prolific presence on Instagram, showcasing his huge, colorful, spray-painted murals of sports icons such as Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali.
“When I saw the message I was like, ‘No, that can’t be Cam Newton Cam Newton.’ Sure enough, I went to his page and it was him. So that was pretty rad,” Deren said.
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Newton wanted Deren to do a mural for him, too. But not of himself, like other celebrities Deren painted. Instead, Newton commissioned an 8-by-6-foot canvas of King Midas, the Greek god who turns everything he touches into gold.
The two became fast friends, Facetiming and texting occasionally. They even hung out a few times in Los Angeles earlier this year when Newton was filming his Nickelodeon show.
Then last month, Newton had another task for Deren: To paint his food truck.
“I’m like, ‘What’s the name of it?’ ‘I dunno.’ I’m like, ‘What kind of food are you gonna serve?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ He just kind of came up with the idea, I guess on a whim, but wanted it to happen before the first game,” Deren said.
The food truck concept was very loose at first, but it came together quickly. Smokn’ Aces, a nod to Newton’s nickname “Ace Boogie,” got its operating permit from the county only this week. Newton describes it as a “side project” and a way to interact with the community more.
Cam Newton being Cam Newton, the art on his truck had to be different from others, too. One side shows Newton in his “Superman” pose, and the other shows him pointing to the stands. Instead of creating graphic art, printed wraparound, Newton wanted it painted by hand.
“It makes it more interesting. Every other food truck is wrapped. So by adding the extra element of it being actual art, he thinks people will get excited about that,” Deren said.
More interesting, perhaps, but also more labor intensive. Painting took about 4 1/2 days, longer than Deren had anticipated. So Newton flew Deren’s 12-year-old son to Charlotte to be with his dad – whatever it would take to make the project possible.
“It was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat to get it done,” Deren said.
But they got it done. And this week, Newton’s teammates were some of the truck’s first customers, sampling menu items like chicken wings and shrimp po-boys.
The truck debuts this weekend before the Panthers’ 1 p.m. home opener against the San Francisco 49ers, and it will operate after that on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays across from the Duke Energy Center, in the Goodyear Arts lot. It’s unclear exactly what the hours will be, though.
Deren, a self-proclaimed “bandwagon” Panthers fan, will be in Charlotte this weekend to support his friend. He hopes to make it back for a few more home games this season.