By Margo Greenman
In a world where consumers expect culinary excellence, affordability and expedience all in one convenient package, food trucks reign supreme. Offering top quality cuisine on a dime, these mobile restaurants give new meaning to the word accessibility. However, while cities like Portland and Seattle have led the way as hubs for street-side fare for years, Tacoma has taken a bit longer to hop aboard the bite-sized bandwagon.
With strict municipal laws and one of the toughest health departments in the state, it wasn’t always easy for forward-thinking chefs and entrepreneurs to go mobile in the City of Destiny. That is, until a couple years ago when the Tacoma City Council passed laws making it easier to own and operate food trucks within the city limits.
With a wave of people eager to fill Tacoma’s roads with mouth-watering street food, culinary professors at Bates Technical College rolled up their sleeves to create one of the only food truck training programs in the country.
It was about a year ago when Bates Technical College President, Ron Langrell, shared his idea for a food truck program with culinary instructors Roger Knapp and J.J. Meland. Both chefs agreed it would be a great way to expand the culinary program, and the instructors hit the ground running.
Chef Knapp recruited Richard Houle, one of his former students and go-to substitute instructor, to develop and teach the curriculum. Richard was excited to take on this unique endeavor and by November of 2014, the program was ready to launch. Since its inception less than one year ago, Bates’ Mobile Food Cook program — and its food truck, Curbside Urban Cuisine — has become a success among students, staff and the community.
The program, which consists of 40 credits, covers everything from sanitation and food safety basics to cost control, menu development and creating a business plan, just to name a few. With this comprehensive curriculum, students with a knack and love for cooking are able to take their talents to the next level and conceptualize a business plan and vision for the future.
These reasons are precisely why Bates Technical College student DeVitta Briscoe decided to enroll in the program.
Good food has always been an important part of DeVitta’s life. Growing up, she can remember making homemade sausage with her family for their Thanksgiving gumbo feed and handing out samples of her dad’s renowned sausage to hungry passersby outside his booth at the Pike Place Market. DeVitta grew up in the sausage biz, specifically Old Style Louisiana Hot, the name her father gave to his authentic-style sausage company.
Old Style Louisiana Hot started in Pasadena, California under the direction of DeVitta’s father and continued as a small-time sausage company in Seattle where he sold his hand-crafted sausages at the Pike Place Market for six years until retiring.
With a desire to continue her father’s legacy, DeVitta decided she wanted to take his secret recipes to the street with a mobile food truck. DeVitta searched high and low for a program that could help her realize her vision, and that’s when she found the Mobile Food Cook program at Bates Technical College. “I looked everywhere for a program like this,” she says.
When DeVitta found Bates’ Mobile Food Truck program, she immediately contacted Chef Houle. But DeVitta had more than just a dream of opening a mobile food truck. “She came to me with a business plan,” says Richard.
DeVitta’s dream of picking up where her dad left off is something that’s always interested her, but it wasn’t until her 17-year-old son fell victim to gang violence that she finally found the push she needed to pursue her dream. “Donald was struck by a stray bullet five years ago,” says DeVitta. “I made a promise to him that I would start this business, and although it has taken some time to get started, he is my guiding light and strength.”
With her father’s recipes, her late son’s inspiration and the guidance and support of the culinary experts at Bates Technical College, DeVitta is close to realizing her dream. And she’s not going it alone either. DeVitta’s cousin Takeyta West has joined DeVitta in her venture.
DeVitta hopes to someday transform Bayou Hut (the name of DeVitta’s and Takeyta’s soon-to-be food truck) into a social enterprise designed to help combat youth violence by providing high-risk youth and former gang members with job training. DeVitta is excited for what the future holds and is thankful for the footing that Bates Technical College has provided along the way. “This will be a food truck with a purpose to turn up the heat against gang violence,” she says.
Bates Mobile Food Cook program is currently accepting students for fall quarter. If you have an interest in taking your love for cooking to the streets, DeVitta encourages you to apply. “I encourage anyone thinking about launching a mobile food service business to see what the program has to offer,” she says.
Want to see what Bates Technical College’s food truck, Curbside Urban Cuisine, is cooking up next? The food truck makes regular appearances at events across Pierce County. Next on the truck’s summer schedule is this year’s Mobile Food Fest happening on Saturday, August 22 from noon to 7:00 p.m. at Sprinker Recreation Center. For more information about the festival, visit Pierce County Washington’s website here.
To learn more about Bates Technical College’s Culinary Arts program and Mobile Food Cook program, visit Bates Technical College’s website or call the college at 253-680-7000. Want to find out where Curbside Urban Cuisine will be next? Follow the mobile food truck on Facebook.