Miss Nola’s Gumbo

Written By Hannah Blair Hurt

Video By Cassandra Castillo.

If you happen to be rolling down Brainerd Road on a Saturday afternoon, you may find multiple generations of the Taylor family packed into their food truck, stirring up some authentic cajun cuisine. 

Tacia Taylor, affectionately called ‘Miss Nola’ by some in the community, runs Nola Girls Gumbo while also working a nine-to-five and running a nonprofit organization. Taylor is no stranger to the food industry; her parents opened their restaurant in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans when she was just thirteen years old. 

“It is a family affair,” Taylor says. “Anytime you come on the truck, you’re gonna see myself, my husband, my sisters, my brothers, my children. We’ve learned that from my parents, of course.”

Unfortunately, Taylor and her family were forced to leave the state of Louisiana in 2005. 

“I came here as a result of Hurricane Katrina, only because we found hotel rooms here,” Taylor says. “We didn’t know anyone here in this city. But we decided to stay here and it’s been a blessing being here in this beautiful Scenic City.”

A skillet of crawfish mix simmers on the stove of the Nola Girls Gumbo food truck. Saturday, December 3, 2022. (Photo By Seth Carpenter).

Ever since Taylor and her family arrived from Louisiana, Chattanoogans of all kinds have requested she make them some famous New Orleans grub. Although she only runs her truck two to three times a week, she loves to see how many people enjoy her native fare.

“You know, there’s nothing like New Orleans culture,” Taylor says. “I do miss the food, I miss the culture. I miss the vibe that New Orleans gives us. But we’re able to bring that here. I thrive on being authentic with all of my cuisines.”

Taylor says her passion is not for cooking, but rather for people. Her business began not because she was eager to cook, but because so many people asked her to. Taylor got the idea to make gumbo for the holiday season one year, and Chattanoogans ate it right up.

“It took off. I mean, I just got so many orders… people were picking up the food from my home. So it evolved into a business,” Taylor says. “I really wasn’t gonna do the food truck, but of course, I didn’t wanna do a brick-and-mortar. It became so popular and I kept getting so many requests until I had to develop a real business. And then we decided to purchase the truck.”

Before purchasing their truck, Nola Girls Gumbo did catering and pop-ups whenever they could. Without a rolling kitchen though, they were limited with their menu. Taylor says this is one of her favorite perks of owning a mobile unit. 

“I can go to the customer,” Taylor said. “A brick and mortar, I have to sit and wait on the customer to come to me. The good with the food truck is, like I said, you’re more mobile. You’re able to expand to a larger customer base.”

Tacia Taylor carries a box of fried catfish to the window for a customer while Kearen Utai (left) fixes up another one. Saturday, December 3, 2022. (Photo By Seth Carpenter).

Taylor has found, in addition to that, there are many limitations that a physical store would put on her business that a food truck simply does not. 

“The brick and mortar is a lot of overhead,” Taylor says. “It’s a lot of late nights and early mornings. And it is much more stress in my opinion to do a brick-and-mortar. With a food truck, it’s more convenient. You don’t have that overhead, you don’t have those expenses. You can have a smaller staff and be able to produce the same type of product.”

Along with the practical advantages of running a food truck, Taylor values her customers and experiences over it all. Although the food industry was never her dream, she continues to find joy through the opportunity her food truck gives her to connect with her community. 

“It is always an adventurous day,” Taylor says. “You get to meet all types of people, smiling faces. It’s hectic, but wonderful at the same time.”

Audio by Brittany Santiago and Seth Carpenter.

Taking a Bite out of Chattanooga’s Food Truck Industry

Written By Kylee Boone

Ricky Escobar eats a tamale from the I Heart Tacos food truck at the Chattanooga Market. Sunday, November 6, 2022. (Photo By Seth Carpenter).

In recent years, the food truck industry has grown rapidly in the city of Chattanooga. From festivals to the side of the road, just about every event out there is bound to have a food truck on site. 

Mark Holland, director of Kitchen Incubator of Chattanooga (KIC) said, “We are at that central intersection of 75; I think that’s why Chattanooga is the great place for food trucks. I can take advantage of all the festivals. I can be in Chattanooga, but I can be in Alabama, I can be in Nashville, I can be in Atlanta. I can take advantage of all those.”

 The KIC is one organization that has capitalized on the boom in this market. They have provided resources for business owners including classes, refrigerated space, and a commissary in turn helping them get their wheels on the pavement. 

“So what we do is we have a 10 week non-profit class that we encourage everyone to go through,” Holland said. “Most of our people that come to us have gone through our program…We bring in guest speakers that [are] able to work through their whole process from beginning to end during that 10 weeks. We also offer coaching after that is over.”

KIC Director Mark Holland shows the food storage that the Kitchen Incubator of Chattanooga provides to local restaurants and food trucks. Monday, November 7, 2022. (Photo By Seth Carpenter).

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the food industry as a whole. The difference in COVID-19 regulations between brick and mortar restaurants versus food trucks was the difference between success and failure during such a unique point in history.

“There were restrictions on corporate catering so you had no corporate catering events,” Holland said. “Food trucks were the only thing that there weren’t any restrictions on during that time; [so] if you didn’t have a food truck and you were hurting.”

As of today, around 40% of the KIC’s total business is through food trucks. According to Holland, this number is projected to increase astronomically within the next year.

“Since we have done our ribbon cutting and the way the phone’s ringing, I think we’re gonna end up [with] around 60 to 70% of everyone will be food trucks” Holland said.

With opportunities such as lower overhead costs, flexibility and less financial risk, many restaurant owners through the KIC have jumped on the trend of owning their own food truck. 

“They’re able to see that being right here in this kitchen incubator trying to sell food out of the front door, [doesn’t] have the same opportunity as someone who’s able to be mobile,” Holland said. “If they don’t have a food truck…they catch the bug like, I want to get a food truck.”

Meet the Storytellers

Seth Carpenter is a photojournalist and the photo editor of UT Chattanooga’s student-run newspaper, the University Echo. Seth has done stories on a nurse working through COVID-19, the life of a former prisoner, and much more. Seth hopes the stories they tell will make a difference in the lives of others. If you have a story that needs to be told, reach out to Seth at Sethcarpenter101@gmail.com.

Kylee Boone is a visual storyteller studying Communication at UT Chattanooga. She utilizes her leadership qualities as the Social Media and Advertising Director for The University Echo and as the co-founder of her nonprofit organization with Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home. She hopes to one day work in social media management and inspire others through her work in storytelling. For questions or collaboration, please contact llb813@mocs.utc.edu.

Cassandra Castillo is a junior Communication major with minors in Spanish and International Studies at UT Chattanooga. She hopes to give a voice to the voiceless through visual and written storytelling around the world. Cassandra works as a writer for the University Echo, video editor for Mocs News, and editor for the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs. For questions or collaboration with Cassandra, contact xmx829@mocs.utc.edu

Hannah Blair Hurt is a final semester senior Communication major at UT Chattanooga. She is a writer and storyteller with special interest in feature and entertainment. She comes from a family of musicians and travelers, having been to 46 states before the age of ten. Hannah Blair has written for the University Echo, Rising Rock Media and is currently interning at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. For questions or collaboration with Hannah Blair, email zpf745@mocs.utc.edu.

Brittany Santiago is a UTC student double majoring in Communication and Sociology with a minor in Innovation. As a multimedia storyteller, Brittany  focuses on amplifying muted, oppressed, or otherwise disenfranchised voices. Originally from New York City, then Atlanta, and now Chattanooga, her cross-cultural experience allows her to make connections with a diverse set of people and gain insights that allow her audiences to feel those connections too. To connect or collaborate with Brittany contact xcb317@mocs.utc.edu.

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