Monday, November 21, 2011

Jerkey Station

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Residents and workers in Redmond can get a taste of the Caribbean without leaving city limits.

The Jerk Sation, a mobile food truck serving up Caribbean cuisine, made its debut in Redmond on Monday and is helping owner and chef Michael Cunningham get his food out to hungry people.

The Renton resident and former Boeing employee opened for business about two weeks ago in Woodinville, where he is stationed in the parking lot of the Woodin Professional Building at 13901 NE 175th St. on Tuesdays and Fridays. Right now, Cunningham is in Redmond on Mondays and his truck is parked at 6855 176th Ave. N.E. The Jerk Station also parks in Renton on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the Center Cycle parking lot at 3950 Lind Ave. S.W.

"My preference is to stay on the Eastside," Cunningham said.

The Jerk Station offers food in two categories: Caribbean classics and Caribbean creations. The former features classic Caribbean dishes such as Jamaican patties, jerk meats, rice and peas and mofongo. With his creations, Cunningham said he has created original dishes that use Caribbean preparation techniques. Some of Cunningham's dishes include a Haitian lobster roll, Puerto Rican crab cake and Cubano cheesesteak.

Cunningham received his culinary training at the Kitchen Academy (now called Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts) in Tukwila and graduated in 2008. Although he grew up in the South, Cunningham went to school in south Florida, which introduced him to Caribbean food. This was one of the reasons he chose to focus on Caribbean cuisine.

"I always enjoyed the food," he said.

To promote his new business, Cunningham, who has a masters of business administration in marketing, said he did a lot of footwork by passing out flyers before he opened, but he has also utilized social media, promoting the Jerk Station on Twitter (his handle is @CaribreosoCater) and Facebook. Through Twitter, Cunningham said he is able to communicate directly with customers, giving them real-time information about what he's selling and even taking suggestions on what people want.

Cunningham added that since he began Jerk Station, his Twitter account — which he also uses to promote Caribreoso, his catering company — has tripled in the number of followers.

"It's been growing pretty quickly," he said, adding that posting pictures brings in more followers as well.

The idea to start a food truck came to Cunningham when he was laid off from Boeing in 2010. At that point, he had already put the wheels in motion to start a catering company, but he also wanted to offer a lunch service. Cunningham said he initially started with a delivery service, but that didn't work because orders weren't coming in with enough time for him to cook the food and get it to his customers.

Right around this time documentaries and shows about food trucks were airing and Cunningham saw that they were run by experienced, professional chefs.

"These are people who have extensive, well-established food backgrounds," he said.

A food truck seemed like the perfect idea for Cunningham. He said he didn't want to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant because the hours were too long and grueling. He said he wants to be able to spend time with his wife and a restaurant would have him working opposite hours as her.

Eventually, way down the line, Cunningham can see himself opening a bed and breakfast with a full-service restaurant, somewhere on the beach. But that's far into the future.

For now, Cunningham said he enjoys seeing people eat his food and interacting with his customers.

"I feed off of that," he said.

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[Via - Business Ideas Blog]

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