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Jordan Foley: Helping Veterans Break Into the Culinary Industry

Jordan Foley: Helping Veterans Break Into the Culinary Industry

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Jordan Foley, aka JJ, the founder and CEO of Let's Chow. Let’s learn about what’s happening at Let's Chow and how JJ is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi JJ, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Let's Chow?

JJ: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Starting a restaurant is hard work. Did you know that fail rates exceed sixty percent in the first year and only one out of every five restaurants makes it past their fifth anniversary? It can be even harder for at-risk and underrepresented populations. My company, Let’s Chow, assists culinary entrepreneurs who are veterans, military spouses, and military-connected refugees, in developing their product-market fit, sourcing, and menu testing through our food truck training program.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

JJ: I’m on a mission to revitalize America’s Main Street culinary scene. It’s my life’s work to reduce the high fail rates restaurants see in their first few years and build local culinary culture through training and education for aspiring restaurateurs and chefs. I grew up in a steel town and watched businesses, one-by-one, close their doors after the mill shutdown. These places are now just memories. The buildings remain vacant, but I’m not losing hope. I believe Main Streets like this all across America are an opportunity for aspiring chefs to launch the next great restaurant and build community.

Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?

JJ: Since starting my nonprofit, Let’s Chow, in 2020, we have grown to five food trucks nationwide, and this year we are training 18 businesses, four of which are Afghan refugees who served as interpreters for the U.S. In four years, we have helped train, startup, and increase profitability for over 45 small businesses. I also fly around the country to military bases to provide live cooking demonstrations for military families. These demonstrations are accompanied by a video of the healthy, low-cost recipe. The families sample the food and get a basket of groceries used in the recipe to take home. Over 40 percent of military families experience food insecurity, so this education initiative is helping reduce those numbers.

Spiffy: Wow, that’s awesome! Can you share a recent organization milestone or initiative, and the impact it makes on your community?

JJ: With five food trucks in Atlantic City, Baltimore, DC, Miami, and San Diego, my organization supplements food insecurity operations and provides training for our students in those areas. These trucks develop regional businesses, and many entry-level students are in the program for developing their culinary skills to one day become the businesses owners they dream about. The impact is not only through business development, but much of our operations involve meal donations. In our program, a donation of $4 provides one hot meal for a person in need and 15 training minutes for a veteran.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

JJ: I decided to start a nonprofit helping veterans and military spouses start culinary businesses after experiencing the death by suicide of a close US Navy friend who failed while trying to start up a food service company. In order to teach and train culinary businesses, I started using food trucks as a microcosm of the culinary industry. Our food truck training focuses on everything from menu sourcing, to mincing onions, to marketing in a hands-on approach. That veteran or military spouse never pays tuition and actually earns money through stipends and food sales.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, JJ—it’s been an honor!

Jordan Foley commissioned into the Navy in 2012 from the US Naval Academy and served on submarines prior to becoming a Navy JAG. During law school, Jordan experienced the death by suicide of a friend and fellow veteran who fell into debt starting his own business. In 2020, Jordan founded Let's Chow to help veterans break into the culinary industry. Jordan finished culinary school in 2021 and uses a lifelong passion of cooking and mentorship to help others achieve the American Dream. (Nominated by Alexandra McNair Quinn. First published on the Ladderworks website on March 5, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2024 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.