My summer internship was defined by an odd combination of sweat and truffle oil. While the majority of my friends were working in the confines of a cubicle, I found myself crammed into a different kind of cube-like structure altogether. From June until August in the sweltering D.C. heat, I experienced firsthand what it’s really like to work on a food truck.
“On the fly” would probably be the single best phrase to explain the day-to-day life of an entrepreneur. This rang especially true at Swizzler, the truck I worked on, which was run by only three partners, the founding fathers of the gourmet hotdog: Jesse, Ben, and Jack. They are their own bosses, and they completely own it.
All three graduated from Wake Forest in 2014 and during our time together at school, I watched their idea grow from a simple class project to a full-blown business by the time commencement rolled around. Swizzler is based out of Union Kitchen, a “food incubator” that serves as a communal kitchen for food trucks, catering businesses, and other culinary start-ups. Taste tests, early 2000s hip-hop, and active collaboration are all part of the daily culture. It was this atmosphere in the kitchen and the camaraderie among the members that made the job so unique. It was an odd, but perfect combination of high energy innovation and laid-back familiarity. Each day at work was slightly different. We arrived at the kitchen anywhere between 8 and 9 am to begin prepping any food we would need for that day, i.e. slicing tomatoes, making pesto, or frying french fries. From there, three of us would hop on the truck to serve lunch, while the others stayed back to handle other administrative aspects of the business. At the end of the day, we all reconvened to tackle cleaning the truck and doing the dishes. From time to time we also worked at festivals or private events at night. Obviously, this was not a typical summer internship.
When the opportunity to work at Swizzler presented itself, I was in the process of searching for a traditional internship in D.C.’s political sphere. I applied to Swizzler without really considering it a serious possibility. Even though I was very much interested in food, I was intimidated by all of my friends around me who were securing impressive, and traditional, summer jobs. But once I realized that this was most-likely the last time in my life that I could afford to seize this sort of opportunity, I decided to dodge the status quo and follow my passion. I had no idea what to anticipate my first day on the truck. I stood shyly at the window, attempting to appear prepared as I processed the incredibly high demand for Swizzlers and parmesan truffle fries. My favorite position came to be at the prep table where Swizzlers got their toppings before heading out to hungry customers. I loved the challenge of keeping up with the ticket orders rapidly firing out at me and turning a plain hot dog into something unrecognizably decadent.
Unexpectedly, I found the highlight of my job experience went beyond the daily time spent on the truck. A couple of times throughout the summer all of us stayed in the kitchen until late at night, experimenting with new flavors and recipes, to concoct the next Swizzler we would reveal to the public. None of us were required to be there; we were all simply motivated by our passion for food and creativity.
If I could do it all over, I would not change a thing. Profusely sweating while slicing 200 pounds of French fries and cleaning mystery mixtures of sauces and leftover food out of the sink drain could never deter me from repeating my summer. I was so genuinely happy doing something that I not only loved, but also challenged me.
After taking that unconventional leap, the looming future after graduation doesn’t look so daunting. Although unorthodox, I cannot imagine spending my summer sweat and truffle-oil free.