Sometimes an idea can “taste” good, but it has to be combined with the right ingredients.
Yum Vittles, a food truck service, prides itself on giving the populace a new spin on tacos. This mostly word-of-mouth venture has been instrumental in helping to celebrate Flint’s love of tacos, according to owner, Ebonie Jones, who calls her particular brand, “gourmet American tacos.”
“We are big on tacos … we love tacos,” Jones says. “I just switched it up a bit. I made it so that we could eat steak tacos and shrimp tacos, and turkey tacos, and chicken tacos, not just beef. I kinda get bored with beef. I added my own little flavor to it.”
This distinctive approach was cultivated way back when Jones, a Flint native, was a little girl in her granny’s kitchen (one of the inspirations behind the “vittles” in Yum Vittles), learning how to cook.
Seeing the truck materialize into reality and the overwhelming support Jones has seen since starting back in June, it looks so inevitable now, but she didn’t get here alone. As a young black woman, the challenges were great –– not just because her background was in healthcare administration, but in the black community, entrepreneurship is rarely espoused. Let alone, taught.
“I just wanted to have my own business and I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with that,” Jones says.
Her research led her to Metro Community Development’s BizBox, a program dubbed as a “360-degree start-up program.” Its purpose is to give those hoping to open a business –– whether this is a restaurant, retail, service providing, or the manufacturing industries –– a platform and rigorous online training (which includes seminars and testing), with financing up to $50,000 after successfully completing the program. Once the business entity is established, BizBox can help with securing any subsequent requirements needed, such as licensing or adherence to regulations, depending on the industry. It’s also, at its core, targeted to the underserved in Flint.
A numbers game
Marcus Rankins, a commercial lending manager with Metro Community Development, is well aware of the disparities in the black community and its economic impact. He believes that BizBox can be a catalyst for something larger.
“Our three focus areas are underserved markets: minorities, women-owned businesses and veterans,” Rankins says. “We really have an emphasis on those groups and we want to encourage them to become business owners.”
He notes that millennials are high on their list, since Flint is more than 50 percent African-American. In fact, in discussing the overall impact of black entrepreneurship, the numbers are quite revealing.
The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) released a report in 2017, which found that black business owners have 12 times the wealth of black non-business owners, pointing to the positive effects that might possible when African-Americans embrace –– so positive, that these businesses have on average provided 3.56 million jobs and generates $150 billion in annual revenue.
Rankin agrees that these numbers are encouraging from the standpoint of chipping away at income inequality.
“We also compare black ownership to white ownership,” Rankins adds. “Once you compare black business owners to white owners that multiplier comes down to just 3. If we can start with millenials and young folks, I think we can develop some real success stories.”
The secret ingredient is: motivation
The program was launched at the end of 2017, and by the time, Jones had entered the program earlier this year, it had started gaining traction. He recalls Jones’ excitement and commitment to learning everything she could about business.
“She was super motivated to get through the process,” he says. “It was pretty easy to get her through because we saw the work –– we saw the effort –– and it just looked like a good opportunity.”
One thing that makes Yum Vittles unique as a new business venture, Rankins says, is its ability to relocate at any given time.
“I love the fact that she can go where the opportunity is,” Rankins says. “If there’s a festival here locally in Flint, she can gain sales revenue from that. (If it’s in) Birch Run, Saginaw, Pontiac, or whatever, she can go where her customers are. And that’s a luxury any brick-and-mortar does not have. She has a product that has a great (growth) margin.”
Shortly after starting her business, Jones was featured in a segment on Flint’s Channel 12 News (ABC 12 WJRT), and by 5 p.m. that afternoon, her email in-box was full. It was not only eye-opening, it was for Jones, exhausting.
“It was more than what I expected,” Jones says. “It just choked me up –– it’s overwhelming in a good way. It’s been mind-blowing.”
Jones admits that she still has a lot to learn, especially on the social media side of things, where she’s still learning how to connect with a wider clientele. In fact, she’ll be working soon with a personal advertising business consultant to help her craft that aspect of her business. More importantly, word-of-mouth has been a key factor in getting her this far, and she suspects this’ll still be the case, even if she masters the social media side.
“My support system is huge,” Jones says. “Everybody’s sharing … everybody’s posting … my community is sharing my business all over. I want to give a big thanks to Metro and the city of Flint, and my family and friends. I just hope that I inspire somebody else to open a food truck.”
For more information, visit Yum Vittles’s Facebook page.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of Yum Vittles
Where to find Yum Vittles
July 16: Northgate Flint
July 13: Cruzin for Christ: Grace Emmanuel Church
July 23 and 25: Randy Wise Chevy
Aug. 24: Keep on Keeping on Festival
Oct. 17: Grub Fest