Eight-year-old Cecilia is poised to become (we’re pretty sure) the youngest food truck operator in RI with the grand opening of Cecilia’s Snacks at the 2023 Motif Food Truck Awards. Assisted by her parents Jay Palmari and Karen Maguire, she offers pre-packaged snacks and cold drinks from a cart she and her father selected on a shopping trip to Harbor Freight Tools.
Motif’s free annual event will be held in the parking lot of R1 Indoor Karting at 100 Higginson Ave, Lincoln, on Monday, August 14, beginning at 5:30pm. Cecilia has been invited by Motif to present one of the awards.
Asked how she decided to go into the food truck business, Cecilia answered, “I had an eye for business. I started my own lemonade thing when I was, I want to say, five when I just moved into the neighborhood. And me and my friends would actually try to make businesses at my after-school camp. Basically, I was technically the manager even though nobody said that I was.… And, ever since, I just had a knack for business.” The lemonade effort raised about $300 for Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Jay said he and Karen had been talking “about doing some sort of business, something for our family, because we have a lot of great ideas and we like spending time together. So after dragging my feet for a while and being exhausted and all this, I registered a federal tax ID number and I put together an LLC [limited liability company].” He said he explained to Cecilia what these were and that they were the first steps in starting a business. “Cecilia asked if she can be included in the business, and I said ‘absolutely.’ And then she asked me, ‘What will the business be?’ And I said, ‘I have no idea, I suppose it could be anything.’ So she smiled, then she ran into her room. She was in her room for hours. She came out with menus, logos… She was test marketing and showed me all these things. She had a kids menu and adult menu, and from there, that’s how things took off.”
Originally, Cecilia was thinking of a hot dog stand, but everyone quickly realized the challenges that would present. Jay said, “We thought about it for a night and then we revisited everything in the morning, and kind of moved into pre-packaged just because of the logistics.” Cecilia said, “I wanted to do a food truck or hot dog stand, but my parents suggested that we do a candy business because it’s easier and I won’t cut or burn myself.”
The name was chosen simultaneously by Jay and Cecilia. “So Cece and I both said ‘Cecilia’s Snacks’ at the same time, which was kind of awesome. And we were jumping around and giggling and hugging each other in the kitchen. So what ended up happening is we did exactly that.… I told Karen, ‘Hey, I’m going to take her to Harbor Freight.’ And we let Cece pick it out. She was looking at different size carts and we picked out this little red cart, and then we came home and the next day we put it together, myself and Cece. Then we went to Walmart and we found a little pop-up tent that was the same color,” Jay said, emphasizing that Cecilia has been involved at every step.
“Cece has been doing things even to the point of telling me what’s popular with kids her age. Apparently Funyuns are an old-person snack. The kids don’t like Funyuns,” Jay said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been eight, so hearing her feedback in terms of what kids will like and what kids won’t like, tapping into that, her talking to her fellow summer campers about what she’s doing, and them getting excited and giving their feedback. Going into the store with myself or Karen or together as a family and looking through things to get ideas and kind of figuring everything out.”
Notwithstanding Cecilia’s disparagement of their Funyuns, Frito-Lay offered some displays. Jay said Mark Agostinelli from Coca-Cola helped out with signage and banners.
Cecilia wanted to shout-out to Cadence Academy in Cranston, her before- and after-school program as well as Summer Camp, specifically to teachers Ms. Poole, Ms. Teresa, and Ms. Kelsey for providing advice and a positive environment, and to fellow campers Laya and Holly for helping develop ideas about inventory to sell.
Danielle Zarrella of Wonderful Whirl Graphics donated the logo and branding, Jay said. “I met her when I was working at the [now defunct] Fatt Squirrel. She’s in a band called the Mad Clatter, phenomenal person, just one of those people who’s always smiling.… But the palettes and the fonts and the colors and the things that she’s using are phenomenal. So she reached out. She helped us greatly.”
Cecilia’s Grandma Laurie, Karen’s mother, “was nice enough to do our tumblers and our coffee mugs, and our shirts and our aprons,” Jay said. “Cecelia has a shirt that says ‘CEO and owner’ on it.”
The photo of Cecilia on the company logo was taken by Karen. “I love it!” Cecilia said.
Cecilia’s Snacks has a social media presence, but “obviously Cecilia is eight so we have to put some guardrails on it and boundaries on it, but Cecilia reads the majority of the pages and the majority of the comments and she tells us what to say or what to answer back. So she’s definitely very active in how everything’s happening,” Jay said. “Community-wise we’ve had a ton of people that wrote nice comments, or just a lot of well-wishing which actually helped.”
A major priority for Cecilia is to make sure there is a choice of gluten-free, nut-free, low-sugar, and no-sugar items because she sees these dietary needs among her friends. Jay emphasized that “I’ve been that dad at the park” who has seen kids disappointed.
The price point is between $1 and $4 to stay affordable. “We want to be inclusive. We don’t want to shut anyone out. We also don’t want to gouge people. We don’t want people to be upset. This is definitely family-based and community-based,” Jay said.
Accepting debit and credit cards is also important to prevent potential buyers from being excluded because they have no cash; the business signed up with Square for card processing. Cecilia put it colorfully: “Basically, like, okay, so you don’t take cards, right? That means you get less customers. Because do you ever know anybody who just walks around with a buttload of cash?”
Food has not been Cecilia’s only commercial endeavor. “I actually do art,” she said. At music events at Dusk and the Scurvy Dog, both favorites of her parents, “I drew caricatures for random people, then gave it to them and they would tip me.” She said she made $45 at one such event. Jay said, “She always brings her art with her. Everywhere she goes, she always brings a [drawing] kit. She can do this. And the art changes from minute-to-minute, second-to-second. You never know what it is going to be that particular day. She’s just observing people and drawing them and running up to them and handing them the drawing. Some of the people sat posed and some of the people were just like… running around.” Jay thanked Rick Sunderland and Danielle Tellier at Dusk and James Wolloff and Terry Linehan at the Scurvy Dog for allowing Cecilia to participate in their outdoor events.
The day before the grand opening, on August 13, 1:00 – 4:00pm, there will be a soft launch at Jackie’s on Broadway at 324 North Broadway in Rumford, operated by Jaclyn Trudel. “It’s a hand-curated consignment shop by somebody that I went to elementary school and high school with,” Jay said. “Jackie is an amazing person!” Cecilia added.
Jay said Starling Hammond of Taino Treats, a locally-owned events caterer of Puerto Rican cuisine, has been actively promoting and sharing posts to boost Cecilia’s Snacks visibility as well as encouraging Cecilia.
Neither city nor state regulators seem to have expected this, as it turned out. After registering the federal tax ID number and the LLC and obtaining a retail sales tax permit, things started to get complicated. “I filled out some paperwork and the associate director of the Department of Business Regulation [Donald DeFedele] called me because he wasn’t sure exactly what we were doing. When I uploaded some photos and proposed menus, he called back and he said that he helped write the legislation, and they had never considered a business on this smaller level. So what ended up happening is they helped us with the Health Department, they helped us with the Fire Department. They were very kind to us and they granted us the state food truck license,” Jay said. The state license smoothed the process for city and town licenses: with the state license in hand, Cranston issued a municipal license with nothing more than filing a form and paying a $75 fee. The fact that everything offered for sale is pre-packaged simplified the review by the Health Department and the steel cart simplified the fire approval process because it has no heating or cooking facility. Jay said he was thankful for the help from Tammy at the Health Department, to the clerks at Cranston City Hall, and to the state fire marshal’s office for smoothing the process.
Jay said, “We had to do all this because we wanted to make sure that we had a good foundation. A lot of this is a lesson for Cecilia to learn how to be fiscally responsible and how to start a business for yourself.” Cecilia said, “He was looking out for me. Great job. Number one dad!” Karen said. “We just know that we have to be legal, whatever we do, so we find out what we need to do to be legit, and take the trouble and take it from there.”
Asked whether they had any worries, Jay said, “Whenever you’re doing anything where your child is out there… you don’t want them to get hurt, you don’t want them to be disappointed. We’re moving into territory that we’ve never done. I’ve had different things or helped out or done branding or marketing with other businesses, but I haven’t had an eight-year-old for a boss. We just want to make sure that we’re doing stuff the right way. We’ve been embraced by the community. We want to make sure that we keep it going.”
“I don’t have too many worries,” Karen said. “I think we’re pretty good at keeping her safe. We’re always going to be together the whole time, doing it together. So we’re just gonna, she’s gonna have fun.”
Cecilia answered, “No, actually. We’re all just gonna have a good time like mom said. It’s a family business. Together.”
Cecilia’s Snacks has a Facebook page — fb.com/CeciliasSnacks — and a website in development — ceciliassnacks.com — where the business engages with customers and posts a schedule of where they plan to be.