A handful of Madison food carts are turning their mobile kitchens into classrooms for the summer through a nonprofit organization that aims to train the next generation of food entrepreneurs.
Through Carts for Community, teenagers involved with Briarpatch Youth Services have the opportunity to intern with small business owners in a food cart setting and learn about various aspects of the food industry through off-site training and field trips.
Carts for Community was born out of the Let’s Eat Out program, a coalition of independently-owned food carts that wanted to serve food outside of the traditional downtown locations. After partnering with the city to provide meal subsidy coupons for residents, Carts for Community began serving meals in South Park Street, Allied Drive and Meadowood neighborhoods.
But Christine Ameigh, Slide food cart owner and Let’s Eat Out board president, said those involved with the program wanted to invest more in these neighborhoods by providing internships to local youth.
“One of the things it provides is a community gathering place,” Ameigh said. “But the other thing is how can we make more of a connection for the communities we were going into?”
Four interns participated in the program last year, and Ameigh said they hope to have ten interns this year. The internship is paid $9 per hour, lasts eight weeks and is 20 hours per week.
In addition to working in the carts, interns also participate in off-site training and visits like checking out a local farm, touring a meat processing facility and creating and presenting their own mock business plan.
All city food carts have the opportunity to get involved with an intern, but adapting to working with and teaching an intern is more challenging for some food carts than others, especially in circumstances where the owner is the only employee and hiring an additional person is a financial challenge.
Interns may also have little to no job experience, since the program targets 16- to 18-year-olds. Ameigh said she and her partner Jessica Wartenweiler, the Curd Girl food cart owner, are adapting the program to include more training on basic, yet essential, parts of the restaurant business like counting back change and doing dishes in an industrial kitchen.
Interns come away with critical job skills that can help them in the future, Ameigh said. She hired her intern Wesley Underhill from last year to keep working part-time.
“We formed a bond,” Ameigh said. “I really care about him a lot.”
Underhill, 16, said working with Ameigh in the food cart is "family-oriented" and really comfortable. As his first "real job," Underhill said he has learned valuable skills and that this is a "growing point" in his life.
"Working on the food cart really showed me my worth and work ethic as an employee," Underhill said.
Ameigh said she hopes the program will continue to grow and eventually result in a larger teaching facility.
“Our future plan or idea in the next three to four years would be to either open a community-owned food cart that would be a workforce development food cart,” or even a teaching restaurant, Ameigh said.