Pen and pad in hand, Jordan Feilders works the lunch queue, taking orders. He’s six-foot-three with a 300-watt smile, and he knows how to make small talk, but when the line is long he’s all business, ending each transaction with: “Any dessert? Cupcakes? Cookies? Drinks?”
He could be a counter guy at McDonald’s asking “You want fries with that?” except he’s taking orders for a cutting-edge, artisanal eatery in a world culinary capital – Paris – and he owns the place. What’s more, the “place” is on wheels. In 2011, Feilders (BA 2005 TRIN) was doing community relations work for an international mining company when he decided to pack it in and return to Paris, where he had lived most of his growing-up years.
Launching his own business was in keeping with his activities at U of T. “A close friend, Jake Irwin, and I used to start a project every few months,” recalls Feilders, who majored in international relations. “We began the Environmental Club at Trinity, we installed the college’s first recycling program, we built a community library in Honduras with the Overseas Development Committee. Last year, back in Paris, I realized my French friends loved certain aspects of North America today, like food trucks with really good food. A light bulb went on.”
In a matter of months, with no culinary background but having grown up with “a mom who cooked tasty, fresh California meals,” he learned to source organic ingredients, set up a small prep kitchen, converted an old Citroën delivery van into a stylish foodmobile, arranged – in a possible nod to his U of T minor in environmental studies – to recycle his frying oil with a biodiesel outfit, and snaked his way through the Paris bureaucracy to become one of the first few entrepreneurs to import the high-end food truck trend from across the Atlantic. He based his menu, he says, on “common sense and great ingredients.” The French food press jumped all over the new gastro-bobo addition to the city scene. Four days a week, the shiny brown Cantine California truck rolls up to farmers markets and offers shoppers and nearby office workers a menu of organic burgers and fries, handmade tacos with imported Mexican hot sauce on the side (in deference to the French fear of heat), and cupcakes made from scratch. “A little piece of America on a corner near you,” teases Feilders’ website.
“My time at U of T helped me, I have no doubt,” Feilders says. “That’s where I developed the creative thinking, project management and people skills that allowed me to work in the corporate world long enough to make the money I used to start my business. Today I use the same skills to run a small business that employs six people.”
Feilders says he often gets emails asking about franchise possibilities, but he’s too busy for that – functioning as “everything from meat chopper to cashier to night janitor to new business acquisition officer.” But, he muses, “before too long, I think I’d like to find a fixed location somewhere.”