The world of food service and culinary craft is woven deeply into my personal narrative. My parents devoted their careers to the food service industry, my father being the head chef at several esteemed Cape Cod, Massachusetts, restaurants. Additionally, two of my brothers pursued their culinary passion by attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. My food journey began at the age of 12, laboring as a line cook, and continues today at home.
Before joining Cushing Academy in 2018, I served as the CFO of a community hospital. This experience gave me a business and operational lens on large-scale food preparation. When I arrived at Cushing, I saw an opportunity to elevate the food service and went through a formal RFP for providers; we ultimately brought Brock & Company on board.
I enjoy leisurely strolls around my school’s campus, often with our head of school, and I’ve found that inspiration often strikes at the most unexpected moments. One day, while passing by the town’s public works garage, we happened upon an aging water department van tucked away in the parking lot’s far corner. This serendipitous encounter jumpstarted our mission to bring a permanent food truck to Cushing Academy’s campus.
From student gatherings to admission events, registration days and more, the food truck would serve as a fun mainstay to campus gatherings.
Cushing had occasionally invited food truck vendors to campus to delight our students with special culinary treats. So why not have a school-owned and branded food truck for special events, I thought? From student gatherings to admission events, registration days and more, the food truck would serve as a fun mainstay to campus gatherings. With the enthusiastic endorsement of the head of school, my journey to create “The Raft” began.
Procuring the Vehicle
The initial plan revolved around purchasing the van from the town. The town had classified the vehicle as surplus property and was willing to sell it through a competitive bidding process. The van was listed on a municipal property auction site for 30 days. Over this period, I closely monitored the bids, which were initially within Cushing's budget. In the auction's final days, however, a bidding war escalated the price to the low five figures, and regrettably, Cushing was outbid.
Undeterred, we embarked on a fresh approach and discovered Blue Ribbon Food Truck LLC in New Hampshire, which procures used panel vans and converts them into food trucks. After extensive research and scrutiny, we gained the confidence to commission the construction of the Raft.
Designing “The Raft”
Our vehicle was designed to be a versatile food truck capable of accommodating different menus. The truck's transformation included the installation of a refrigerator, freezer, sinks, a flat-top grill and two fryolators, along with appropriate exhaust and fire suppression systems, workstations, a generator and even a flat-screen TV for menu displays. The onsite general manager for Brock & Company was instrumental in approving the design and layout of the equipment. The general manager and the facilities manager took the two-hour ride to New Hampshire to approve the final design and the quality of the construction prior to the final installation. This team was also instrumental in getting the necessary approvals from the board of health and the local fire department. All in all, total costs for “The Raft” landed at approximately $55,000. Cushing was fortunate to have a generous donor step up to cover this cost. The cost of upkeep is not anticipated to be significant and is far outweighed by the fun and excitement it brings to campus.
We dubbed the vehicle the Raft in a nod to the Cushing mascot: A group of penguins at sea (where they feed) is called a raft.
Collaborating closely with our communications and marketing team, we crafted an eye-catching “wrap” for the van in school colors, purple and white. Cushing’s beloved mascot is an emperor penguin, and the wrap design featured many fun illustrated penguins engaged in various activities representative of our vibrant student community. The interior and exterior design exceeded my expectations, and the food truck has resonated exceptionally well within our community. We dubbed the vehicle the Raft in a nod to the Cushing mascot: A group of penguins at sea (where they feed) is called a raft.
Ambassador on Wheels
The Raft made its debut during Cushing’s 100-day celebration, a countdown marking the final stretch before seniors’ commencement. Since then, it has become integral to various events, from class gatherings hosted at the head of school’s residence to numerous pop-up events for students, open houses, revisit days, registration and commencement. Since its debut, the Raft has produced quesadillas, gourmet grilled cheese, smash burgers, cheesesteaks, paninis, edible cookie dough sundaes, breakfast sandwiches, burritos, artisan sandwiches and salads. Just recently, Cushing incorporated the Raft into the Town of Ashburnham's fall celebrations, with Brock and several of our students generously volunteering to craft and distribute over 400 fresh, made-to-order ice cream cookie sandwiches.
The Raft has truly added a unique and flavorful dimension to the Cushing Academy experience, and its success has been a testament to the power of innovation in our community.