Newhouse’s food truck visits bring diverse cultures and flavors to the Syracuse University campus
By Rose Boehm
Shortly after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Newhouse Dean Mark Lodato searched for a way to unite students across campus. Hiring Julie Walas, Director of Recruitment and Student Engagement, was a vital part of that plan. By organizing weekly food truck visits for Newhouse students alongside Nancy Vaught, Walas has brightened and fed the SU campus.
“When I was hired two years ago, part of Dean [Mark] Lodato’s vision was that someone would come in and, as we come out of Covid, bring things that would brighten [a] student’s day throughout the semester,” Walas said.
Similarly, food trucks are searching for an opportunity to gain an audience. An example is with Calle Tropical, who was on campus on February 9. They bought the truck during the pandemic and have been hoping to establish themselves within the community.
Calle Tropical is owned by Odalys Negron, who grew up making empanadas with her mother; however, recently, she has brought a new twist to this food. The beef and chicken empanadas are the most authentic ones on the truck, but Negron offers buffalo chicken and Philly cheesesteak empanadas as well.
“I took a lot from my mom and my family. My in-laws, and I pretty much took that, and I put my own twist on it and honestly a little bit of YouTube too,” Negron said. “My goal was to just create a food truck where you can get all different types of empanadas.”
These food trucks give the opportunity to the Newhouse community to connect with the diverse cultures around the Syracuse area. “Part of me wanting to invite some of these food trucks is that they represent different cultures that are part of our Newhouse community that I would like to celebrate,” Walas said.
The food truck series started with an ice cream truck early in the Fall 2022 semester. Seeing people line up to enjoy ice cream showed Walas and her team that they should continue connecting with vendors in the community.
Walas sent a form through the Syracuse Food Truck Association pitching the idea for the food trucks to come to campus. She was looking for the ability to do three things: make it profitable for the food truck, make the price tag accessible to students, and make it fun with tokens.
“These events just kind of hit. The lines were long, people were excited, and we could do some fun promos with it like tokens or coupons that drove business,” Walas said. “We never want it to be inaccessible to someone, so the price range really matters, and I work with the food trucks to make sure that their options of a handful of dollars could get you a meal.”
Walas found the ability to do so by using tokens that will either purchase one item or make the meal cost cheaper. For example, Newhouse faculty hid coupons for an empanada around the three buildings when Calle Tropical was here.
“The token guarantees the food truck a sale,” Walas said. “They know that in the end, Newhouse is good for the bill even if they have a pretty sad sales day.”
According to Negron, Calle Tropical had a good experience, and the tokens were easy to process. “My experience was really, really good. We were really prepped – I think we served about 190 to 200 students within about three hours,” Negron said. “Surprisingly, we received a lot of those tickets, and everyone was happy.”
During the winter season, there’s less business, but Calle Tropical was able to have a good sales day because of SU. According to Negron, the slow season means they will keep connections with schools and companies they have worked with in the past. They have worked with the JMA Wireless Dome, Colgate University, and Le Moyne.
“We do what we can because there’s not as much business in the wintertime, but come springtime, we’re doing all the colleges, even elementary schools in the city of Syracuse,” Negron said.
These food trucks have given Newhouse the opportunity to highlight the diverse food scene in Syracuse. Calle Tropical is just one of many different cultures represented. With the growing food truck scene, including Harvey’s Garden and regular food truck rallies, Walas wanted to shed light on different businesses around the area.
“I think that sometimes Syracuse students just scratch the surface, and it disappoints me when the only restaurant they ever go to is Dinosaur Barbecue or Pastabilities,” Walas said. “There’s so much Syracuse has to offer and so many people doing cool things that part of me wanted to bring that right here and give it as an accessibility to our students.”