| JM Rayburn
FOOD TRUCKS MAY be nothing new in the United States, but in Columbus they define the culinary landscape and provide a pulse on emerging trends. To be successful one must be much more than your textbook entrepreneur. One must wear many hats: Mechanic, electrician, accountant, manager and promoter in addition to a chef. There are payoffs of course. Food trucks have lower startup costs, which can help to focus more on how to promote yourself and earn a following. A food truck entrepreneur is her/his own boss in an environment where creativity is expected and rewarded. To survive, one must experiment because there’s always a new style, technique or culinary fusion.
The food truck industry is grueling and highly competitive by nature, but the scene in Columbus is united through a sense of community. If one food truck succeeds, everyone succeeds. The industry’s growth has created a gravitational pull for others to set up shop in Columbus. Catie Randazzo, owner and head chef of Challah Food Truck, moved back to Columbus because she saw an opportunity to mold and create the food scene. She has 15 years of experience in the business, from Columbus to Portland to New York City. She’s back in the Capital City and serving up a new recipe for success.
Catie has wanted to open a food truck since living in Portland. She’s kept a keen eye on Columbus, waiting for the right opportunity. Catie learned many new processes and skills related to sustainability while in Portland. The farm-to-fork movement five years ago really left an impression on her. In response, she adopted the “local scratch” culinary manifesto. “If I can’t make it from scratch, I get it locally. If I can’t get it locally, I make it from scratch,” Catie explained.
She grew by leaps and bounds in New York City, both personally and professionally. The pace is much more intense and there is no shortage of passion. Both are needed to find success but only if there is a willingness to learn and grow. Humility is a fundamental ingredient in the recipe for success. To make it in the food truck business Catie suggests that an aspiring entrepreneur work in a restaurant to understand the expectations, customer service and overall stress. “It’s important to start with basics, and keep it simple,” she advises. “That means to focus on ingredients and the quality of what you are doing.” Support from the Columbus community will follow suit. “If people like what you are doing and like your mission, then you’ll have a loyal following in relatively short time,” Catie asserted.
As members of the community we can do our part through support and patronage of local food trucks. There is still a problem with the public perception of the burgeoning industry: Some hesitate to consume food outside a brick-and-mortar restaurant even though there are many safety regulations in place.
Giving back to the community is a big deal for Catie. It should come as no surprise that she found a way to incorporate charitable events with the local food scene. Challah and other food trucks work in concert with NBC4 to collect donations for the annual Toys for Tots drive. She also helps to organize “knife fights,” which match two local chefs in a competition to create a minimum of two dishes within one hour using mystery ingredients. A percentage of the proceeds go to benefit the Mid-Ohio Food Bank and to further its mission to feed hungry people in our community.
Catie advocates for people in the LGBTQ community to stand up and serve as a role model for those who haven’t figured it out yet. “We have to have each other’s back,” she stressed. “Be proud of what you have done and what you have accomplished. Reach out to people who need support.”