Jake Sessums found a need, and with a little creativity and a shiny new food truck, he’s satisfying hungry citizens with what might be the most mobile food: tacos.
After Sessums, a Brookhaven native and former Ole Miss student, decided to plant his roots in Oxford, he began to notice a few voids he couldn’t help but try to fill.
“There’s a great little foodie industry in this town, but there are definitely some needs that aren’t being addressed,” Sessums said. “The whole food truck concept kind of came out of that.”
After a trip to Missouri to purchase the truck, Sessums turned to his friends and family to help create the vivid piece of art it is today. Local artist and Bottletree baker Lauren Dyann created the logo and Sessums’ father, also an artist, created the truck design.
Oxford hasn’t always been graced with the option of mobile restaurants. In fact, trucks cannot legally park on any given street; they must be on commercial property.
This drove Sessums to cultivate mutual relationships with businesses around Oxford including End of All Music whose employees can visit the truck for lunch and can see some of YoknapaTaco’s customers thumbing through records. Not only will Sessums have a legal spot to serve food, but those businesses will also have lunch waiting right outside their doors.
On weekend nights, YoknapaTaco will be parked at Jones at Home to cater to the late-night snackers, while providing another option for residents, this time within the sparse pool of past-midnight eateries. Sessums also plans to introduce a brunch menu to be served on Sunday mornings on the Square for people leaving church or perusing the sidewalks in search of a quick brunch spot.
Sessums is no stranger to the food industry, and he credits his 15 years working in the business, from dishwashing to ownership, to the now-material manifestation of his own vision. But his accumulation of knowledge and connections, however helpful, is not the answer to every roadblock Sessums meets.
“Starting your own food business is something that you’re never really ready for,” Sessums said. “You kind of have to take a chance on yourself that you know what you’re doing and you can kind of figure out, react on your toes and work with it. Murphy’s law is very alive and real in the food industry.”
Most recently, Sessums had to find a commissary space, a place to store and prepare food to be used on the truck. This led to the creation of Hick Wallflower, which will provide a space not only for YoknapaTaco’s needs, but also those of other up-and-coming food businesses in Oxford. Sessums hopes Hick Wallflower will help support the local food-truck scene.
“It’ll be a commercial kitchen for rent, as well as cold and dry storage,” Sessums said. “We’ll try to use it to bring other food trucks in from around the state. We’ve got some electrical plugs so that trucks can come and plug in over night.”
Hick Wallflower will also serve as a space for those doing cottage production, catering or just working on expanding their business.
As for the food itself, the menu has been a running collaboration of sorts, Sessums said. With help from some of his connections within the restaurant and food industry, Sessums has formulated a menu that presently comprises a chicken tinga taco, a green chorizo and potato taco, and a classic beef taco. The ingredients will be primarily locally sourced, and a vegetarian taco will be added to the menu when the local ingredients are available. Sessums said he hopes to create some dishes featuring pulled pork and barbecue from local businesses, as well as farm-raised catfish.
Additionally, the truck will be serving Oxsicles, popsicles made from locally sourced ingredients. According to Gabby Alonzo, who Sessums commissioned to create flavors and who he calls a “popsicle master,” the Oxsicle will be served during Oxford’s warm months. Of the current flavors they’ve been working on (available on YoknapaTaco.com) Alonzo says her favorites are watermelon mint, Bottletree espresso, and strawberry basil lemonade.
Sessums is adamant about adjusting the menu to the taste of the customers.
“It’s not somebody coming in, creating the food, and stamping their name on it,” said Sessums. “It’s going to be a collaborative effort with the town, the community and everybody that kind of gets involved with it.”
When Sessums needs a trusty taste tester, he turns to his business partner and pet bulldog, Phyllis Gordon.
“She loves to give us feedback on how good the dishes are, but she’s more of a behind the scenes kind of person,” said Sessums of his dog. “She doesn’t really help with day-to-day operations as much.”
The food truck scene in Oxford is sparse, but has ample opportunity for growth. Afrissippi, an African and Southern fusion food truck, has been successfully serving since the summer, though it’s not quite on the radar of the University crowd yet.
With Sessums’ YoknapaTaco and Afrissippi, the door has been opened for more alternative methods of food service in Oxford.
According to Alonzo, YoknapaTaco is “just what Oxford needs.”
YoknapaTaco will be open full time tomorrow. The truck can be tracked on social media for those who want to keep up with where and when it will be serving. Updates are available on Twitter at @Yoknapataco and Instagram at Yoknapataco_Ox, as well as on Facebook.