Inside the Food Wagon

Jackson McMurray, Staff Reporter

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If you ever find yourself lost in or around Barto Hall, feeling very hungry and slightly adventurous between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, there is a school-sanctioned vehicle-based solution for all of your problems just a few feet away. 

The Food Wagon, an official CWU food vendor located right outside of Barto Hall, is a place on campus where the school’s culinary staff can cut loose and hungry students can enjoy the results.

According to Campus Executive Chef Joe Ritchie and CWU’s Catering Chef and Food Wagon menu planner Darren Macri, the Food Wagon is a place where students are more willing to try new things and eat a wider variety of foods than those available inside the SURC.

“For me the Food Wagon is kind of a creative outlet, you know, I think that you can do things that are a little more risque, a little more creative,” Ritchie said. “Right now, we have a lamb stew on [the menu]. If we put lamb stew on the menu at the SURC, we probably wouldn’t sell it at all.”

The Food Wagon runs with a student staff, which is typically selected from students in the CWU catering program. According to Macri, working inside a food truck is a stressful job, so it’s important to find students who are really passionate about the work they’re doing.

Students even get some input on the menu, said Macri, who described the ideas he gets from catering students as “lofty.” 

“We try to meet in the middle,” he said with a chuckle.

The wagon’s menu has some perennial dishes, but many are rotated in and out on a quarterly basis. Each rotation introduces appropriate food for the season it’s being prepared in.

“Winter quarter we’re focusing on soups and stews from all over,” Macri said. “We have tom ka gai, which is a Thai influenced soup, there’s the lamb stew, pork pizzaiola [and] chicken chili.”

Feedback comes not just from students working in the wagon itself, but also from student customers. The wagon has already finalized its menu for winter and recently gave out food from that menu to students in the Bistro as a sort of test audience.

“That’s the students right there,” Ritchie said. “We have hits from previous years that we’ve brought back when students really enjoyed them.”

According to Macri and Ritchie, one of the charms of making food for the wagon is that there’s less of an emphasis on healthy eating, as opposed to the booths in the SURC, which are more committed to encouraging students to eat wisely. 

That said, according to Ritchie, the staff is always working to make sure that the restaurants on campus include vegetarian and gluten-free options, and the Food Wagon is no exception.

According to Food Wagon Supervisor Carol Secondi, who supervises the day-to-day operation inside the truck, there are some changes being planned down the road for the Food Wagon. 

The staff recently purchased two outdoor heaters, hoping to create a more comfortable outdoor eating space in the colder months.

The wagon recently adjusted the menus to include more photographs, since not every student is especially confident when confronted with the word “pizzaiola.”

According to Secondi, the Food Wagon is typically stationed in front of Barto Hall, but it is often driven to different locations, as it is still a wagon after all. The restaurant gets driven to football games, student orientations, graduations and many other University-sanctioned events throughout the year.

“The response [to our winter menu] was pretty enthusiastic, the things we were giving out,” Macri said. “It’s a lot more adventurous than you’d see in most areas on campus, it’s pretty cool.”