Brockport Alums Find Niche in Local Food Truck Industry
Lizzie Clapp ’06 remembers trips as a kid to the family cottage in Québec and stopping off to get poutine. They didn’t buy it at a restaurant or fast food chain. Instead, they would pull off to the side of the road where small vans and trucks called “chip wagons” would be offering the delectable treat.
Unless you’re from Canada, you may have never heard of poutine. It’s a dish that originated north of the border and consists of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. It’s becoming more and more popular in the United States – particularly in Rochester – thanks to Le Petit Poutine. It’s a food truck company co-owned by Clapp and Ronnie McClive ’06.
Besides their entrepreneurial spirit, there is something else Clapp and McClive have in common. Each earned an English degree from Brockport. They first met as seniors when they went took part in study abroad programs in London. They wouldn’t become business partners until more than five years later.
“I always wanted to work for myself,” says Clapp, who started working when she was 14. “I didn’t want to work for somebody. You always dream of being your own boss.”
Clapp started Le Petit Poutine with her brother and his girlfriend. At first, it was a weekend gig at the Rochester Public Market. Before long, it became clear they would need to find different avenues of serving in order to sustain the business. That meant making it a full-time job. Clapp bought out her other two partners and went solo. McClive started helping her out and eventually became a partner in the company.
At that point, Le Petit Poutine was becoming a fixture. From weekday lunch and late-night shifts to farmer’s markets and festivals, poutine was quickly becoming a favorite in the Rochester area. It was also becoming a challenge for Clapp and McClive, who were also working jobs on the side in those early days. Today, with an established presence, the duo devotes all of its time to delivering the best product they can.
While they’re not yet selling poutine year-round, they spend the so-called winter off-season planning for when they do pick back up in the spring.
“We’ve been working really hard in developing our brand for this next season and expanding a little bit of what we’re doing and offering,” says McClive. “We’re working. We’re just not slinging potatoes.”
They’ve also become active in lobbying for their industry, which has grown right along with Le Petit Poutine. Clapp and McClive started the Rochester Food Truck Alliance, which spreads information and shares ideas with other food truck owners. The organization also plays an advocate role when it comes to local politics.
“There’s still so much to be done for food truck vending in Rochester as far as the legislation is concerned,” says Clapp. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of focus still on that portion of it. We meet with council members all of the time. It’s frustrating, but it’s worth our time because it’s going to impact how we grow as a company for the long haul.”
When they reflect back on their time at Brockport, both agree that experience served a valuable purpose.
“College is more about the journey. It’s about setting goals for yourself and meeting deadlines and rising to the occasion,” says Clapp. “That’s what college really is. It’s you becoming a grown-up.”
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