Monday, 30 July 2012 15:13

Q&A: Molly Clauhs of Silver Spork

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Fancy Fast Food: Questions for Molly Clauhs, owner of The Silver Spork food truck.

You moved to Grand Rapids in May 2011. What brought you here?
My boyfriend was going to be relocated for his job — he does marketing for grocery stores — and Meijer was an option. We thought West Michigan would be cool.

You opened Silver Spork six weeks later. How did you get the idea to start a food truck?
At the end of March, my uncle said, 'What if you opened a food truck?' My dad was really mad. He was like, 'I didn't pay for my daughter to have a college education so that she could make her living in the back of a truck.' He took my uncle aside, but then my uncle explained there are gourmet food trucks that are just like small restaurants or catering companies. My dad ended up helping me finance it, so he did become probably my biggest supporter.

What's a fan favorite on your menu?
The lamb wrap has been popular this year. It's a pita with hummus, watercress, carrot slaw, and lamb that we season with a bunch of spices and a date sauce.

You have a degree in hotel administration from Cornell University. Is that connected to what you're doing now?
One hundred percent.

What's your experience in food?
I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, and my mom and grandmother have a cooking school there called the Cooking Cottage, so I grew up with that business and really had the food background from that. That combined with the hospitality and business degree, helped me start the business.

You also started the Grand Rapids Cooking School with Chris McKellar. Tell me about that.
It's located at Uptown Kitchen in Eastown. We do about a class a week. The purpose is to enhance the home cook, we're not offering a degree or anything like that.

Food trucks made news recently when an ordinance was passed to allow them on private property in Grand Rapids. What does that mean for you?
'Nothing' would be the one-word answer ... A piece of private property could apply with the planning commission to have food trucks on the property. It's like $1,000 for the process, and it's going to be pretty tricky. And then the property owner will likely charge rent, and there will only be one spot the food truck can be.

The way it's presented is that food trucks can come down and park pretty easily when in reality that's not the case?
That's what everybody thinks and people keep congratulating me. It's really sweet, but it's not going to be a fun process.

There have been a few restaurant owners who have fought back against food trucks, but I've noticed a couple have been more accepting recently.
I think they're seeing all the attention for the food trucks and realizing it's not that big of a deal. Also, it happens to be that the people who are complaining are the restaurants that don't have very good food. I think that says enough.

I don't look at it as taking business away from sit-down restaurants. I think it's taking business away from fast-food restaurants, since both are completely different dining experiences.
I agree with you and I think the restaurant owners are starting to see that. And maybe that's why they're not speaking out as much. There is still the worry of food trucks coming down and taking business, but I think they're adding to the area.

Why do you think there was pushback?
I think change can be scary, and I think the downtown of Grand Rapids is fragile, and if your business isn't super successful, I can see why you would get nervous about it. Especially if you're not feeling the energy to rethink your concept, make your food better or compete. A food truck has its own set of challenges. Yesterday, we were on our way to the market and our tire blew out ... I don't like when the restaurants think that what we do is so easy.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Lindsay Patton-Carson. Photo by Steph Harding.
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