We had the good fortune of connecting with Jennifer Calder and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jennifer, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I first entered the food industry in 2014. I had started a food truck with a friend, sort of a spare of the moment adventure, after being frustrated with my 9-5 job. I knew my way around the kitchen pretty well and thought, “I cook for my friends and myself all the time, how hard could it be cooking for others”, Well I was quickly awakened to the challenges of running a business, the food industry, and the food truck industry. The first obstacle occurred while purchasing the food truck, which was located in Texas. We attempted to tow it back to California. However, we did not have the proper equipment to tow an almost 10000 pound vehicle. After only 10 minutes on the road, the bungee cord holding the steering wheel on the food truck in place snapped. As I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw the food truck swaying back and forth which caused the truck we were in to do the same, almost flipping both on their sides. Probably should have been my first inclination that this business would be no easy feat but I was ready for the challenge. The next five years consisted of constant engine and equipment issues and a lot of late nights being broken down on the freeway waiting for a mechanic or tow truck. Despite all of the mechanical mishaps, the business itself became very successful and was named one of the top 10 food trucks in the Bay Area. During this time I decided to try to live a healthier lifestyle, as my diet mostly consisted of food from my peers food trucks. I decided to cut meat out cold turkey and become vegan. After parting ways with my business partner and selling the food truck, I decided I wanted to try an all vegan food venture. At the time I had mastered a few different cuisines and was able to incorporate vegan options into all of those. But I knew I would need to be specific and to create a strong brand. One night, I laid awake thinking of what I could possibly add to the vegan food scene in my area. There was already vegan soul food, vegan Chinese food, vegan sandwiches, etc. Then it hit me. What is a Californian’s favorite food? Tacos! I mean we have a whole day out of the week dedicated to tacos, Taco Tuesday. So vegan tacos it was and VACOS(seemed like the most fitting name) was born. This time around I wanted to start small and let the business and brand grow organically, so instead of a food truck, I chose to just do pop ups. It allows me to still be mobile and travel to many different cities but also cuts the overhead costs down. I launched in January 2020 and unfortunately had to shut down like the rest of the world due to Covid19. But as things are being to reopen and people are excited to be outside again, business is really beginning to pick up. More importantly, the response I’ve been receiving from customers and the community has made all the hard work and many head aches totally worth it,
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I am the chef and owner of VACOS, a mobile food pop up that specializes in vegan tacos. What sets VACOS apart from others is our commitment to vegan food without the use of soy, tofu, or fake meats. We like to let the fruits and vegetables shine and create dishes that are bothe healthy and delicious. The business has only been in operation for 1.5 years and unfortunately, most of that time was during the pandemic. I am excited that we were able to survive through all of the hardships caused by the pandemic. If anything, it has made me more determined to succeed. I’ve been in the food industry for 7 years and VACOS is my second mobile food business. I learned so many things the first time around from running day to day operations, how to network and book events, building a strong brand and following, and always paying your taxes! I think one of my biggest strengths is overcoming tough obstacles and never giving up. I know when the job needs to get done and how to plan and execute properly. In this industry, perseverance and being able to adapt to any given situation is key and the lessons I’ve learned of the last 7 years have prepared me for the adventure that’s ahead. Overall, I’m excited to reintroduce VACOS to northern and Southern California.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m a water person so the first stop we’re making is to the beach. Spend a whole day in Malibu soaking up the sun and diving in the ocean. Afterwards, checking out one of the sea food shacks on the PCH for some fresh seafood. Check out the 3rd St Promenade in Santa Monica and so some shopping. LA has some of the best restaurants and cuisines so we would definitely go downtown and let our noses lead the way. And check out the night life in West Hollywood and Hollywood where you always meet interesting locals and fun tourist.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to give a shout out to The Black Food Collective out of Oakland. A collection of young chefs and entrepreneurs, which I am apart of, all working together and collaborating in many forms to help each other succeed,
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