Walking across campus at The University of Alabama, one can not go far without running into a food truck. Trucks are a convenient way to pick up a quick meal on the way to class, and they have become a welcomed sight by the UA community. This year, students, faculty, community members and visitors alike are frequenting food trucks now that classes are back on campus, but what happened when the pandemic sent everyone home?
Cheese Louise and Joyful Java were two popular food trucks on UA’s campus impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cheese Louise opened approximately three years ago when owner Lee Decker realized a market for a grilled cheese food truck on campus. Around the same time, Joyful Java came to campus in January 2018, and both trucks have been here ever since.
When COVID-19 began to shut everything down and send students home, Cheese Louise said the effects hit them like a truck (pun intended). The business had to scramble to find customers and people to work for them since most of its clientele and employees were college students.
Joyful Java lost the majority, if not all, of its business opportunities. Its business plan was scheduled around the university’s calendar, so the pandemic left a significant gap in business. In addition, many of the holiday events that the company had expected to attend were canceled due to COVID-19.
During the shutdown, Cheese Louise set up in various neighborhoods around the Tuscaloosa community, relying on local diners to keep them in business. Joyful Java continued to operate at the farmers market on Saturdays and found a few additional places to set up. However, the coffee provider’s main project for the summer became building a newer, larger food truck to replace the trailer it had been using.
As students have come back to campus, food truck activity has started to revert to normal. For Cheese Louise, business has increased exponentially, and sales are doing better than they were pre-pandemic. For Joyful Java this semester, the new truck has seen an increase in foot traffic. Its numbers are not level with pre-COVID sales, but they are gradually increasing.
This year, Cheese Louise even opened a location at the student center after Bama Dining reached out and asked if it would be interested in opening a brick-and-mortar location in a vacant restaurant space. The food truck already had a good working relationship with the university. So, all it had to do was get the paperwork in order, and Bama Dining handled the rest. The representative from Cheese Louise said, “We couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity!”
When asked what the business learned from its pandemic experience, the representative for Cheese Louise said not to give up and to try one’s best not to be in debt. On the other hand, Joyful Java’s representative said it learned to be flexible and have a backup plan.
In its advice for other small businesses, Cheese Louise’s representative shared it’s ok to ask for help by reaching out to the community and similar companies. They said, “Cheesy as it sounds, we are all in this together!” The representative for Joyful Java said, “If possible, be patient and do your best to let the community know that you are open for business.”