The most delicious school project ever conceived in the Ocean State is coming to a school near you this fall.
Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE)’s Menu for Success Student Food Truck Initiative, originally announced in December 2022 with a roughly $1.6 million investment from the School Building Authority Capital Fund, has empowered 13 school districts across the state to create a fleet of student-run food trucks.
“The job skills that students will learn through this program, like automotive repair, the culinary arts, and entrepreneurship, are evergreen paths to good-paying jobs,” Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos said in December’s press release. “These food trucks are a major opportunity to do more than teach our students. It’s a chance to truly engage them and make them excited about their coursework.”
Each of the schools has received $125,000 to purchase a food truck and have the students cook up an entire business, leveraging pre-existing culinary education programs while applying various other disciplines. Consider everything that goes into running a successful food truck: How do you obtain a business license? What’s the process for designing a concept and logo? What do you do if the engine breaks down? And who’s going to promote the truck on social media? Like every food truck owner, students will have to find creative solutions for emerging problems. Many of these learning experiences will overlap with class programming but also offer a chance for professional experience outside of the classroom, and many schools emphasize multiple disciplines in creative ways.
Culinary arts and business studies are at the forefront of the educational opportunities here. Students in Coventry High School’s culinary program already run The Knotty Oak Room restaurant and The Oaker Cafe, so we can safely expect excellent cuisine from a food truck that will probably have “oak” in the name. Like most schools, Coventry will also incorporate business, finance, advertising, marketing, and design into the project.
Students in East Providence’s Automotive Technology Program, for instance, will maintain the food truck’s engine as part of their studies. Coventry’s welding students will also help with some of the labor in constructing their business. Virtually every school, including Cranston Area Career and Technical Center has plans to incorporate its truck into the culinary, entrepreneurship, graphic communications, and interactive digital media programs. Woonsocket is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach. Students in P-TECH Computer Science will design custom apps for ordering food from the truck, and at least some of the produce will be grown by the school’s Biotechnology program.
Lincoln High School’s Lion’s Mane, named after the school mascot, will likely be the first Menu for Success truck to go fully operational. After purchasing the truck for $115,000 from The Ocean House restaurant in May, the school used the remaining $10,000 in funds to refurbish the truck. It will function as a mobile concession stand selling fare such as hot dogs and fries sourced from local vendors at football games, with all earnings reinvested into the school. But by and large, these trucks will likely appear at all sorts of community events, fundraisers, and more.
Many of the details for individual trucks remain under wraps, but culinary instructor Chef Jamie Finkelstein of Westerly High School has already teased a local favorite: “We’d like to advise anyone who enjoys chowder, you haven’t had chowder until you’ve tasted our CHOWDAH!”
The following schools have yet to receive their trucks: Chariho, Davies, Newport, Providence, Warwick, and Westerly.
The program also emphasizes racial equity. As a major foodie capital of New England, Rhode Island falls woefully short in terms of diversity: Fewer than 2% of the state’s 14,000 restaurants are owned by people of color.
A busy early autumn for these emerging new businesses will culminate in a “Commissioner’s Cup” culinary competition on Saturday, October 21 at Chase Farm in Lincoln that’ll include a battle of the bands at football games. PVD Food Truck Events (the organization behind Food Truck Fridays at Roger Williams Park) already produces an ongoing series of popular food truck and concert events on Saturday evenings at the venue, so it seems like a perfect fit.
Keep an eye on RIDE’s official website and social media for updates.