By Becky Streeter
If you’ve been to an outdoor event in the Chippewa Valley this summer, chances are you’ve seen that bright yellow food truck: the Locavore. This locally-farmed mobile kitchen has been putting on the miles in its debut season, and owner/chef Amy Huo says it’s everything she dreamed and more. “It’s going so much better than expected,” says Huo. “I’m constantly surprised and frankly, so grateful, by the support we have received from Eau Claire and the surrounding communities.”
Feedback from customers has been largely positive, and it’s easy to taste that Huo puts a lot of love into each item on the menu. It takes an average of three hours to properly prep a batch of burger patties. The serving sizes are purposefully small, lending to a choose-your-own-burger-adventure by using a range of condiments: house-made dill pickles, pickled vegetables, hot sauce, greens, or milkweed capers. Some also like the option to ‘mix-n-match’ different burgers as a replacement to the traditional side of chips offered by many other mobile kitchens. “Local family farmers are also supported,” Huo states. “And that’s the entire mission of this operation.”
Huo loves being her own boss. “Unlimited freedom is something every chef dreams of,” she says, “but not many are given the opportunity. Managing a small operation gives me everything I want and need to carry out what I believe in: farm-to-fork goodness unbridled.” She has always known this was her destiny and is ecstatic to be living it.
Owning a business does come with some challenges, however. It was all too easy for Huo to become over-committed this summer. When making everything from scratch with locally-farmed products — every batch of sauce, ketchup, dip, gravy, etc. — she has been forced to pick and choose events. She sometimes says no to venues she would like to participate in simply because she has ‘too much on her plate.’ She still wants to maintain quality over quantity, and that is not sustainable while trying to do everything. When would she have time to wash the dishes?!
The food truck comes with its own unique set of challenges. Huo shares various horror stories from this summer: “The water pipes burst in the trailer in the middle of the hottest day on record during brunch service at SHIFT (Cyclery & Coffee Bar). I regularly forget to cover the fryer so the oil explodes all over the floor. At one event, we couldn’t figure out how to flip the circuit breaker and the entire trailer didn’t have power until almost nearly the end of the event—it was the easiest fix ever, but sometimes the most obvious answer isn’t the one you think of. We haven’t had anything we couldn’t handle so far, and with a 20-year old food trailer, so that’s pretty lucky.”
Despite the few outliers, the Locavore has seen many good days. Huo’s favorite so far was opening day at the Phoenix Park farmers market. She says, “It was nerve-wracking, exhausting, overwhelming, but ultimately I have never forgotten how good it felt that first day to be serving food that I am so incredibly proud to stamp the Locavore name on. Surrounded by all the farmers and all the support, it was nearly magical.”
Business owners rarely work alone, and Huo is no exception to the rule. Her dream would not be possible without the help of friends Michael, Chris, Jen, Sam, and of course, her amazing husband, Ming. “We set all of this up so fast in the spring, it was like a whirlwind,” says Huo. “Without the help of some skilled hands, I could not keep up with any of it. I am eternally grateful for my night-owl husband’s 4 a.m., Saturday morning sacrifice on a weekly basis, and for the other fours’ faith in me and the operation. I couldn’t do it without them.”