By Molly Clauhs | The Rapidian
Two years ago – nearly to the day – I moved to Grand Rapids with my boyfriend Joel, cat, personal possessions and newly purchased food truck. A year prior, I graduated from college and moved away from my friends, family, Joel, beloved alma mater and routine to a tiny town in upstate New York called Pine Plains where I worked as an innkeeper. The post college stint just didn’t resonate with me and when Joel relocated to Michigan, I decided to tag along. I also decided to chop off 14 inches of hair and buy a food truck. I was looking for a new chapter, a challenging entrepreneurial experience and a risk that made life feel exciting.
I didn’t change my life’s course to fulfill a dream of owning a food truck; I did it for adventure. And now, two years later, as I reflect on the Silver Spork experience, I am content to announce that I’ve decided to move on. Businesses open and close all the time. This story is not remarkable. But before I close this chapter and explore new paths, I want to share what I learned with you because this food truck gig truly was a community effort.
I learned that entrepreneurship adds meaning to life but is difficult and, at times, scary. Like when you’re merging onto the highway for the first time, driving solo in a commercial truck, praying your blind spots are clear.
I realized school is a really comfortable, inspiring place to be, but I learned significantly more in the back of my food truck than during my undergrad years at Cornell University. The business was my professor and every day I was working in a classroom, in my case a kitchen on wheels. A business has life and personality and the open-minded entrepreneur is in a position to experience profound personal and professional growth.
I learned that if you want to get to know a city and its residents, you should operate a small business… in particular, a mobile one. Through the food truck, I met dozens of amazing people. Together they sustained, guided and supported The Silver Spork and myself. From folks who followed the truck around town, to farmers who grew the vegetables, to professionals who graciously gave me advice, it was wonderful to get to know my new home and those who form the community better and better each day.
I grew up in a family of cooks, so I was more than comfortable in the kitchen, but cooking for a small restaurant is an entirely different animal. I really learned to cook thanks to a constantly changing menu and a diverse set of clientele.
I learned no one will ever care about my business as much as me because the employee does not have skin in the game like the owner. However, watching the business operate sans moi was beyond fulfilling. I learned that a sell-out 16-hour day is tiring, but sore feet are nothing compared to the feeling of accomplishment and contentment from a day filled with serving food we were proud of and energizing teamwork.
I moved to Grand Rapids because I’d heard good things from my uncle who lives in Rockford. I liked the cobblestone streets and the breakfast at Gaia during a weekend visit. Joel and I agreed we’d like the rivers, beer and low cost of living. I’d heard about ArtPrize, too, which sounded like a pretty cool event. It seemed like a city that had room for growth and entrepreneurship; in other words, everything wasn’t figured out. Now, two years later, our intuition was correct. We love the canoeing, hanging out at breweries and could even afford to purchase a home. What I didn’t intuit was how gracious and accepting the city would be to a small little food business like mine. Whether you’re senior at a large corporate organization or running a food truck business out of your driveway, we’re all on the same team here and it’s never more evident than when I’m feeding a line of hungry, happy folks.
Something else I learned, perhaps the most important lesson, is that it’s okay to not have it all figured out. My life’s work is so important to me – even though I don’t yet know where I’ll end up. I’m thrilled I had the experience to own and operate a food truck. Walking away from something wonderful isn’t easy, but I’m ready to take the next step in pursuit of finding my raison d’etre.
I’m currently working for the Downtown Market coordinating the leasing effort and connecting food entrepreneurs with spaces in which to start or grow their business. I’m also in the initial stages of launching a guided travel business as well as teaching cooking classes.
Perhaps The Silver Spork will find a new owner and pop up again around Grand Rapids, but for now, it’s farewell. I am ever grateful for the incredible experience received through The Silver Spork and the Grand Rapids community.