Fullerton: Student Entrepreneur Launching Food Truck Business

Fullerton Stop IconBy Monica Kucera, TJ Horansky and Sean McDonough
The Red Line Project
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chloe Shepherd has a lengthy grocery list of things to do before she finally puts the key in the ignition of her food truck, TastiChi, which will hopefully hit the streets of Chicago this August.

No student would initially expect that the tedious work put into a stressful end-of-the-year class project would ultimately spark an idea for a business. At least this was the scenario for Chloe Shepherd, a 19-year-old Columbia College Chicago student, who used her final project for “shopper marketing” as inspiration for a food truck that could be rolling down the streets very soon.

“I thought this could really work so I stuck with it and kept going,” Shepherd said. It was a project in which students had to create a business plan and present it to the class.

The name, TastiChi, was sparked based off Chicagoans’ passion and patriotism for their city. “I’m a native to Chicago,” Shepherd said, “And when I got here I noticed how much the people living here love their city. I wanted to play off that theme.”

In addition to providing Chicagoans a truck with a name they can be proud of, Shepherd also hopes to cater her customer’s needs by adding variety to the food she is serving. She said different meals will be sold daily.

“It’s more feasible to serve something different everyday,” Shepherd said, “Variety will bring people back.” The food will be “American-style based with a twist,” Shepherd said. “Think pulled pork sandwiches with a piece of grilled pineapple.

Shepherd said she places a lot of trust in her chef, Jim Kilberg. He has worked all over the place including New York and Los Angeles. “He knows what he’s doing,” she added.

Shepherd explains that it is not all as easy as it may appear, though. Since she is starting her own business at a young age, there are risks involved in the process.

“I’m a 19-year-old with a 70,000 dollar loan from Accion, a microfinancing company,” Shepherd said, “I live in anxiety everyday, but I just got to go for it.”

Despite the stress, she explained that her friends and parents have been a great support. Her parents helped with the loan and have stood by her side since the beginning. In addition, other successful food truck owners have provided some assistance.

“Matt Maroni, Gaztro-Wagon owner has been a great help,” Shepherd said, “I’ve worked with owners of a lot of the Chicago trucks.”

She explained that the other truck owners have been supportive, but that does not mean they are not still competitors.

“Restaurant owners and other trucks have been here 20 plus years and know the industry,” Shepherd added, “But our biggest edge is the fact that we’re able to cut down on waste by only having one meal each day.”

Food trucks aren’t anything new, but they have made a surge in Chicago in recent years.


Kogi BBQ, first food truck in country. (Photo from Creative Commons)

The innovative creator and owner of the first ever food truck, Mark Manguera, started Kogi BBQ, a “Korean style taco-truck” in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2009. Little did he know, this ingenious idea would take off on a whirlwind of prosperity.

The fad reached Chicago in April 2010 when owner Tiffany Kurtz launched The Flirty Cupcakes truck. Selling something as simple as a dessert, this idea received an instantaneous recognition.

Kurtz explained the sincere interest of her customers to David Tamarkin in a TimeOut Chicago interview.

“The craziest thing,” Kurtz said, “and this happens a lot, is if we’re driving down the interstate, people literally stopping traffic and trying to pull us over to get cupcakes. It’s insane!”

Following Flirty Cupcakes were the Gaztro-Wagon, Simple Sandwich and Southern Mac trucks. The trucks hit a plateau when the mobile food law restricted them from cooking on-site. The law ensures the safety of the workers and public health of customers. An ordinance is in the works that satisfies everybody. Despite the mobile food law setback, the food truck success continues.

Chloe Shepherd. (Photo by TJ Horansky)

Chloe Shepherd. (Photo by TJ Horansky)

Early on, Shepherd identified DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus as an ideal target for her TastiChi food truck.

According to Shepherd, DePaul’s young, diverse population along with various on-campus sporting events and neighborhood recreational activities at nearby Oz and Jonquil parks provide a plentiful array of outdoor clientele. She plans to launch her truck this August. Follow @TastiChi on Twitter to track its progress and location.

Shepherd has identified DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus and surrounding neighborhood as one part of Chicago where she plans on serving up her TastiChi food truck brand.

Interactive map: Click pins for location information; click shaded region for further description of Lincoln Park location.

View TastiChi Food Truck Route in a larger map

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