By Troy Donato | The Etownian
The clock strikes 12 a.m. You have been studying long and hard for your exam the next day. You hear a constant growl in your stomach. You need food but everything is closed; the only place you can go to is The Bird Feeder.
The Bird Feeder opened in September 2011, but the design for The Bird Feeder was well in the works the year before. Joseph Riddles, production supervisor of Dining Services, stated, “I came up with the idea for the truck myself, but I really did not have the time. I helped a friend set up a business at Millersville University, where I worked before.” It was not until Director of Dining Services Eric Turzai suggested the idea of later hours in the Marketplace or the Jay’s Nest, that the idea of the food truck would come to Elizabethtown College.
Once the truck was built, the next step for Riddles and his team was to establish a staff for the truck. That is when Riddles found Michael Beckage, the current food truck chef, who had 10 years of experience before coming to Etown. The next task was to acquire student help. Students did not need previous experience in the food industry to qualify for the job. Riddles said that “students are here to be educated, and we are here to educate about the food industry.”
Though the truck had been built and the staff hired, there was still a problem—the truck did not have a name. “Michael Beckage in his interview had already come up with a name for the truck, which was “The Bird Feeder,” Riddles said. Riddles continued, “We gave the name to the marketing department, and they did a Survey Monkey Survey, with names such as the Jay Truck and The Late Night Truck, but The Bird Feeder won out conclusively.”
Beckage said, “Before I came to my interview, I drove by the campus and saw the bird by the soccer field that said ‘Home of the Elizabethtown Blue Jays,’ and that’s how I came up with the name for The Bird Feeder.”
Finally, the time came to pick the food for the truck. “We had a composition here in the dining hall with all the full-time staff. Everyone was allowed to come up with three selections—a grill item, fryer item and a healthy choice,” Riddle said. “We had about 70 entries, and we presented them to Student Senate, which each had three votes. Then we took top choices out of those, and that’s how that Phat Jay began on the menu, as well as other items.” Choices are still being accepted through other sources such as Facebook. A burger was suggested, so they added the new Mac & Cheese Burger to the menu. Although the truck might seem like a window that you can just pull up to and order your food, there is much more that goes into it.
Every night, Beckage has a checklist that he must follow before the truck even leaves its parking spot behind the BSC. Things on Beckage’s checklist include both interior and exterior checks. As far as interior goes, everything must be restocked, and the windows must be cleaned. These are only just a few of the many checks that must go into making the inner workings of the truck as good as they are.
Beckage said, “I come in about 6:30 p.m. or so, I check the tires, and I open the engine of the truck to check to make sure the fluids are good in the engine, and I check the generator, and once that is all done I start up the engine and unplug the generator to get on the site where we would start to prepare our food.” This all happens before the staff working in the truck even arrive.
I was fortunate enough to work a night in the truck. Let’s just say, the start of the night did not go as planned. Originally the truck was supposed to be at Myer Residence Hall, but the generator was down so the truck had to stay behind the BSC.
This just showed how competent the staff on the truck was. They took numerous steps to achieve proper communication between seller and consumer, such as updating their Facebook page to tell consumers that there was a location change for the truck. At one point, Beckage had to leave, and he left the two first-year student workers in charge, Courtney Singleton and Chris Pauzer, who showed they could run the truck without any managerial staff on board the truck. In fact, Beckage said, “I would trust these two to run my own restaurant.”
As the crowds started to arrive, I really got to feel the rush of what goes on inside The Bird Feeder. Burgers were dropping fast, Phat Jays were being made; all within a two to three-minute span. Beckage made the comment, “Our number-one goal is fast and hot food.” Which was clearly demonstrated at rush hour periods.
The constant crowd did have me a little shaken up, but Singleton and Pauzer were not fazed at all. As it was time to close, things still needed to be done—inventory needed to be accounted for, lights and other electrical appliances needed to be turned off, and the interior needed to be cleaned.
So, as one can see, there is much more to the food truck than simply handing food out of a window. Everything is fresh, and the staff works very efficiently to make the best product possible. Every step in making the truck required an enormous amount of effort, which is clearly shown when viewing the truck at its best, firsthand.