SEARCH IS ON: Eric Weiner with Patricia Meneguzzo, from Providence-based Rocket Fine Street Food. Weiner has created a search engine for food trucks.
COURTESY ERIC WEINER
Providence, with a well-earned reputation for culinary excellence, is home to the world’s largest culinary university, Johnson & Wales University. Graduates from its College of Culinary Arts are sought after by restaurants and hotels the world over. What is not as widely known is that many of those graduates have found and are finding positions and opportunity right here in Providence.
At the city’s renowned restaurants, sous chefs, chefs de cuisine, pastry chefs and other key positions are being filled by graduates and alumni. JWU alumna Melissa Denmark, pastry chef at Gracie’s, was among 50 chef finalists in Food and Wine magazine’s The People’s Best New Pastry Chef in 2012.
In addition, other graduates and at least one current student have created entrepreneurial opportunities in food service here in Providence.
Chef Gilmore & Co. is a self-described food-service staffing agency. But that does not begin to tell LaQuincy Gilmore’s story. Gilmore is dividing his time between his new business, completing studies for his diploma from JWU and serving in the Army Reserve. He was on active duty from 2003 to 2009, including a tour in Iraq. Six months ago, he and Fred Gilmore, a military veteran, founded their company in Providence. Their concept is to place private or personal chefs in event or long-term stints with individuals or corporations. For about the cost of a restaurant meal, Gilmore’s chefs will prepare and serve complete full-course-menu creations designed personally for the client.
Before the chef starts to cook, the client and chef go through a rigorous assessment process. Questionnaires on food choices, styles of cooking and food allergies are completed. Gilmore’s stable of chefs numbers about 15, specializing in just about every type of cuisine, from BBQ to Asian. The chefs, some of whom are JWU alumni themselves, have from four to 40 years of restaurant experience.
The fledgling company has found a niche servicing the corporate world. Companies such as Keller Williams Real Estate and Zipcar, the quirky car-rental company, have contracted with Gilmore to put on team-building cooking events, in-house dinner parties for new house buyers, and small-group cooking classes, which LaQuincy Gilmore describes as “a cooking show in your house.”
The concept of entrepreneurial work-study is not a new one. Back in 1990 while attending Johnson & Wales, Eric Weiner polished and detailed a large sedan and hired himself out as a limo driver to his fellow students. From that one car, Weiner’s business grew to one of the largest limo companies in New England, employing 50 drivers and support staff.
Weiner sold the limo company a few years ago and went in search of his next opportunity. He had a knowledge of logistics from 20 years of sending out limos. He also was a foodie and became interested in the food-truck scene. While eating at a Providence food truck one day and chatting with the owner about marketing, he discovered there was a disconnect between the trucks and new customers.
The operators’ marketing methods consisted of word of mouth or parking where multiple trucks gathered and foot traffic increased. This was fine in the early days of the food-truck phenomenon. However, as more trucks crowded the scene and competed for the dining dollar, it was clear that a higher level of awareness needed to be built.
Weiner noticed that there was no source of information about the trucks, their specialties or even where they were. Visitors to or from other cities who had a favorite style of food served from a truck – such as sophisticated natural fare from Rocket Fine Street Food, sausages and charcuterie from Hewtin’s Mobile or Korean BBQ from Mama Kim’s had no way to search for a comparable style or even to know where the food trucks gathered. While Twitter feeds are all the rage, as Weiner put it, “a lot of noise gets lost in those food-truck tweets.”
Weiner collaborated with IT professionals and put his logistical expertise to work and invented a search engine for food trucks called FoodTrucksIn. There are 3,600 food trucks in his database. The engine is simple and straightforward to use. The user fills in two fields, one specifying location, the other to search for trucks. On an early summer Thursday afternoon, there were 45 food trucks out and about in Providence. Eighty were on the streets of Boston at the same moment. The application is intuitive for the user, who is then able to see which trucks have “checked in” to the site, indicating they are open and serving.
Other search engines use automated methods, which list every food truck each day of the week but do not specify whether the trucks are open for business or even on the road. The truck operators subscribe to Weiner’s service to be listed as “checked in.” •
Bruce Newbury’s “Dining Out” food and wine talk radio show is heard Saturdays and Sundays on WPRV-AM 790, weekdays on WADK-AM 1540. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.