Celebrity chef Carla Hall made her second appearance on Drexel’s campus Nov. 5 as she and the team of students from the Center for Hospitality and Sports Management ran a food truck right outside of the Daskalakis Athletic Center during the pep rally. The pink-bandana-clad team was cooking up signature menu items from Hall’s Southern Kitchen: hot fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, braised collard greens and pickled green tomatoes. All the food was free, and the line never totally disappeared until the food ran out. The event was an attempt to get the community involved while students practiced cooking sizable quantities of these core dishes for large crowds.
The team served upwards of 400 people out of their small food truck, rented from Street Food Philly. Only three student chefs worked inside: Julianne Scott, Kaitlyn Hoefert and Noah Williams.
Alex De Los Reyes, a sophomore involved with the project serving up food alongside fellow student Dana Bloom, commented on the success of the location of this truck. “[The truck] is a good way to get food and [school] spirit together,” De Los Reyes said. The Center for Hospitality and Sports Management is not only about food, but also about school spirit, school athletics and cross-disciplinary support within the center.
Chef James Feustel, who is heading the program and partnership with Hall, stood back to watch. “We’ve got this down to a science now. … We know what to expect, large crowds, tons of people,” Feustel said.
Previously the team took over a food truck in the center of New York City to showcase Hall’s Southern dishes Oct. 15. The marketing strategy here was a little different: the food was free, but the customers didn’t know that until they came to the window and received their meals. On that day, the team served an impressive 375 New York locals off the streets. “It was good to get [that] confirmation that the food was good,” Hall said about the crowds in New York.
When the pep rally started, Hall was introduced to the audience and spoke briefly on her excitement about the partnership with Drexel. “It is such an honor to work with … Drexel,” Hall said.
“We are going to put the fire in the dragon’s mouth with the hot chicken,” she continued.
During a short interview outside of the food truck, she was interrupted by a fan who exclaimed his desire for a second helping. “You want more?” Hall asked, before quickly whisking away to the window of the truck and asking for a serving of the meal.
At this, Jerry Levin, Hall’s chief financial officer, laughed and commented, “She is the woman who makes things happen.” She posed for countless pictures with strangers making hot chicken faces and praising her TV show; she even posed for a picture with Mario. “We don’t do anything little here,” Levin commented.
Recently, the project’s Kickstarter fundraising term has ended, and the goal of $250,000 was topped; a sum of $264,000 was raised. Any donor who gave $25 or more will be listed on a “Founders Wall” which will be placed in every restaurant of Hall’s to open in the future.
Currently, Hall is working with Groupon to sell four different Thanksgiving packages valued between $39-289 including everything from signed cookbooks to full, multiple-course Thanksgiving dinners ready to feed anywhere from six to 16 people. The distribution of these packages will occur in Philadelphia. This is a community outreach Hall hopes will entice people to visit or at least contribute to her restaurant when it opens in the future. The location of the restaurant should be settled before the end of Nov., the team estimates.
The team under Feustel is certainly learning a lot, and getting their hands dirty in the process. “You can’t simulate that experience,” Feustel said. He added, “The best way to learn how to open a restaurant is to actually do it.”
The team will continue to test recipes and the mass production until the final formulas have been achieved and approved by Hall herself, who visits frequently to provide insight and critique. Eventually, when the restaurant is ready to serve people, the recipes — handcrafted in partnership between Drexel students and Hall — will be put to the most real test yet.