“We didn't want to assume everybody coming to us had culinary experience and, at the same time, we didn't want to put somebody who had 20 years of experience as a Navy Culinary Specialist on the starter track,” said Foley. “We assess each person in our program and see where they are professionally, see what their goals are. Do they want to open a food truck? Do they want to operate a brick-and-mortar restaurant? Do they want to go into consumer packaged goods?”
This personal approach is critical, as finding purpose can also be a particular challenge for Veterans. According to Pew Research Center, 44% of post-9/11 veterans say their readjustment to civilian life was difficult, which can often be attributed to a number of issues that are, unfortunately, common among Veterans, including job-hopping, isolation, and depression.
“Finding meaningful work, engaging with the community being part of their job, working with a menu that might call back to their own heritage, or even using a grandmother’s recipes, all of this gives a Veteran an opportunity to find their purpose,” said Foley.
A Network of Support
Behind Let’s Chow is an entire ecosystem of support for the military community, as their food trucks and catering programs serve food at churches, homeless shelters, American Legions, and other nonprofits that work with Veterans. This network-building approach is part of what inspired Let’s Chow in the first place.
“I started Let’s Chow as a response to the death of a friend of mine, who was a Navy Veteran,” explained Foley. “He was trying to start up a food delivery business and kept failing, and February 2019, he died by suicide. He was a Naval Academy grad, a football player, with a really extensive support system, so I thought, if there's no hope for him to start a business post-service, what's the hope for an enlisted sailor who doesn't have that kind of network?”
Each element of the Let’s Chow program is designed to help Veterans develop new skills while also creating a support system for them to explore the culinary industry with minimal risk.
“The failure stories are super important too; people can do this for a month and realize, ‘Wow, the culinary industry is hard, and I don't want to do this,’ and the good news is they didn't spend their life savings on a food truck. They made some money for a month or two, and now they can walk away, scot-free,” said Foley. “We absorb that, but at the same time, we’re here to help set up businesses to succeed.”
A Recipe for Success
Out of those failures also come a number of success stories. Let’s Chow currently operates 18 businesses, including four food trucks across the country, catering operations, and other food businesses. One of those businesses includes Joselle’s Filipino Cuisine, a food truck in San Diego.