July 7, 2012
Cooking up career change
Former Ithaca College professor parks food truck in city
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Owner Jodi Cohen makes crepes in her traveling diner on wheels called Cookin’ On Wheels. Behind her is employee Cobi Byrne. Cohen’s first day was Friday, and she set up her food truck on Port Watson Street.
At 57, Jodi Cohen had a tough choice to make.
The Virgil resident has been in academia for her entire adult life and a professor at Ithaca College for 25 years.
Earlier this year, she weighed the comfort and routine of 10:30 a.m. lectures and summer breaks against the itch to try something new.
“I looked at myself and asked, ‘Am I willing to do this until I drop dead?” Cohen said. “I just feel like I have some adventures left in me,”
Standing inside a metallic food truck, outside of the Cortland Alternative School on Port Watson Street, Cohen talks over the sizzle of crepe batter splashing onto a griddle.
Friday was Cohen’s first day as her own boss, running her own food truck called Cookin’ on Wheels.
For Cohen, the food truck is a big gamble, costing about $110,000 and a majority of her savings. Cohen says sometimes you have to take chances in life.
“I used to get ready for 10:30 a.m. lectures,” Cohen said. “But now I’m up at 5 a.m., loading the truck. I’m really anxious. I feel like I have a lemonade stand.”
Inside the food truck Cohen has an array of fresh fruit and toppings and batter for her breakfast crepes. She plans to add bacon and other savory varieties as business gets going.
After years in academia as a professor in speech communication, Cohen said she wanted a change. She is following the path of her sister Pamela, who co-owns six successful diners in the Pittsburgh-area and recently cooked her crepe-style pancakes for President Barack Obama at the White House.
Cohen said she thought about opening her own restaurant in Virgil but ultimately decided a food truck would be a better risk.
Cohen has received permits to park her truck on Port Watson Street on the edge of the Alternative School parking lot. She also has a permit to park her truck near Coffee Mania on state Route 222.
She hopes customers will notice her truck as the enter the city. She plans to be open from about 8 a.m. to 1 p.m on weekdays.
Cohen said her goal is to serve about 50 customers a day. She said she wants to succeed in Cortland because she has lived her for years.
Her backup plan is to move to Pittsburgh since her sister’s restaurant has a large following and is known for crepes.
She said food trucks are exploding in popularity in other parts of the country.
On Friday, Cohen waited calmly as her first customer arrived. Stan Connelly of Virgil stopped by around 8:30 a.m., and ordered a strawberry crepe with whipped creme. Connelly and Cohen both serve on the planning board in Virgil.
“It’s really good,” he said, as he lounged next to the food truck in a beach chair.
Cohen said she is looking forward to running her business in Cortland. She also plans to cater events and hopes to build her own loyal following.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’m testing myself. This is a new challenge in my life.”
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