The Daily Gamecock

Columbia food truck vendors make space for women in male-dominated industry

<p>A sandwich from the Hippie Chicks food truck. Hippie Chicks' grilled sandwiches have meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions on sourdough bread with a side of sweet potato fries.&nbsp;</p>
A sandwich from the Hippie Chicks food truck. Hippie Chicks' grilled sandwiches have meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions on sourdough bread with a side of sweet potato fries. 

Women-owned mobile food vendors, such as The Haute Dog Lady, Hippie Chicks and Charming Cupcakes, provide a variety of food while balancing the ratio of female to male food truck ownership in Columbia.

There are more than 60 food trucks currently operating in the Columbia area, with only a small percentage of them owned and operated by women, according to Roaming Hunger.

The Haute Dog Lady is a small joint run by Gisela Kloess. It was first established in April 2014, and the food truck continues to bring signature dogs all around Columbia. From homemade kraut to hot dog nachos, it uses 100% beef and gluten-free ingredients that are free of fillers.

<p>A hot dog item available off The Haute Dog Lady’s menu.&nbsp;</p>
A hot dog item available off The Haute Dog Lady’s menu. 

The word “haute” is French for high-class. This reflects The Haute Dog Lady’s original menu created by Kloess, she said. She wears many hats as the owner; as a self-taught chef, she makes everything directly from scratch.

“Rule number one, you have to be in a happy mood. That way the food tastes good and energy is great. It transfers over,” Kloess said.

Alongside operating a food truck, Kloess is a trained, licensed and certified international protocol and corporate etiquette consultant. She teaches business skills and cross-cultural awareness, which have helped her grow and make her food truck successful, she said.

A duo team, Elizabeth Hitchcock and Nichole “Nikki” Knitz, own the Hippie Chicks food truck, serving up fresh burgers, grilled sandwiches, salads and more.

They initially opened around 18 months ago, after first meeting while working at a karate studio.

With their menu including classic American food, “we ended up with the largest food truck menu we have — or, that I’ve ever seen — especially here in Columbia,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchcock and Knitz persevered through COVID-19 by being active in neighborhoods, Hitchcock said.

“I instill in my kids equality between the sexes ... showing them that not just men can run a restaurant," Hitchcock said. "I show them, I put in the hard work every day, and I can be just as successful as any male-owned business."

Charming Cupcakes is a mobile food vendor, owned and operated by Brittany Benjamin. It incorporates a variety of desserts such as banana pudding cups and raspberry cream cheese cupcakes.

Started in 2013, Benjamin has been baking ever since middle school. After catering her best friend’s wedding, she began Charming Cupcakes.

“A lot of women that I know that own businesses were mothers," Benjamin said. "Women are trying to find alternatives to just doing things the traditional way. And just supporting women-owned businesses is just important because most — especially in the food truck and mobile food business, (are) dominated by men.”

A commonality between the businesses is that service is their favorite aspect of being a mobile food vendor, they said.

“I just like seeing people happy,” Benjamin said. “I’m excited to be able to serve them and make them happy for at least a moment."

People are one part of what makes being a food vendor satisfying, Hitchcock said.

“We meet so many interesting people. Everyone has their own story,” Hitchcock said. “But also, having something that I created, something to call my own — I don’t have to answer to anyone above me. I know that this work I put in is for something I created." 

Benjamin, Hitchcock and Kloess all said they value hard work and seeing people enjoying their food.

“That’s my favorite part, when people enjoy the work that was put in, because it is a lot of work,” Kloess said. “I also do it because, I don't know, it just tickles my heart when somebody is like, 'Oh, my god, this is so good.'”