By Michelle Kennedy, Fort Drum Public AffairsAugust 14, 2014
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 14, 2014) -- Three women dedicated to friendship, adventure and the Army? Check.
A menu of modern takes on traditional comfort food? Check.
A pink camouflage food truck? Check.
Three Fort Drum spouses will have an opportunity to show what they are made of from the confines of a pink camouflage food truck, starting at 9 p.m. EDT, Sunday, on Food Network's Great Food Truck Race.
Team Military Moms is one of eight food truck teams who hope to own their own business, win a food truck and a $50,000 prize on season five of the show.
Carol Rosenberg, a chef and the group's self-proclaimed "wild and crazy team leader," enlisted the help of two friends and fellow Army spouses -- Wendy Newman and Michele Bajakian -- to help fulfill her dream of owning a food truck business.
It all started in 2012, when Rosenberg saw an episode of The Great Food Truck Race while living in Garmisch, Germany. Although she and her family were unsure of their next assignment or whether her husband would have to deploy, she applied for the show anyway.
"(When I saw the show), I thought 'that's what I have to do! I want to go home and start a food truck,'" Rosenberg said. "I couldn't start a business the first year because he deployed. It took a little while for me to talk him into it, because we're frugal and we like our money, and food trucks are expensive.
"I flippantly applied to the show, and I never heard back," she continued. "That wasn't going to stop me. I bought a food truck. I started developing the brand, the logo, started the website and bought the food truck, which is all gutted."
While contestants could own a food truck, in order to be eligible for the show, they could not have ever been in business, Rosenberg explained. Being a chef, she found that like many military spouses, it's difficult to establish yourself when the family has to move every few years. A food truck -- a mobile business -- would be a perfect option for her to share her passion for food wherever the Army took her.
"As a chef, what do you do? How do you move to another restaurant?" Rosenberg said. "You have too much invested in it. Food trucks are perfect for someone in a crazy field like that. You can take it with you. There are a lot of foodies out there and a lot of chefs out there who are sucking it up and flipping burgers somewhere. They can have a truck and do their own food.
"It's amazing what food trucks owners are doing," she added. "There was a food truck that won Bon Apetit's Best Lobster Roll, and some that make award-winning burgers. It's a way for chefs to get something with low overhead and a way for them to control their food."
Owning a food truck also allows chefs to establish relationships and support local farmers and growers, Rosenberg explained. Food trucks also can appeal to a wide audience.
"That's what's really fun about it," she said. "There are so many military people around here. You don't have to be a chef. There's just such an incredible amount of ethnicity in the military community. Anyone can do it, and there's so much incredible food out there from the spouses and the Soldiers."
SETTING OUT ON HER OWN
After teaming up with Bajakian last year, the two began working on menu items and other business concepts.
It was another year before Rosenberg received an email from a representative from the show. When she originally applied to the show, Rosenberg didn't have any partners or a firm business plan. She just wanted to get her name out there.
"When I first applied, I threw in two other people's name (for my team) -- it wasn't Michele and Wendy -- and I came up with a totally different concept than what we take on the race," she said. "I can't remember, but it was totally different food. I knew I was writing a menu for a race, so I conceptualized it to be simple and easy."
By the time casting for season five came around, Rosenberg was working with her teammates at Fort Drum.
"Michele and I had been working together for about a year, and I was paying her in food," she said. "Wendy had just joined on to do the business three or four months prior. When I got the email, I just knew we were going to get cast."
"Michele and Wendy didn't know each other," Rosenberg added. "I knew Wendy in Germany. I ran into her at Fort Drum a few months ago, and in three seconds, I knew she had to be a part of it."
Newman said she remembers Rosenberg approaching her and saying, "I'm starting a food truck. You have to be my business brain."
The three women completed a 10-minute audition video, reconceptualized the business plan, wrote biographies and had several web chats with Food Network executives.
"We had taken a lot of time building the menu. I thought it was really important to create a menu that was doable," Rosenberg said. "It was months later before we knew more."
When the team found out that they would be on the next season, they were ecstatic.
Rosenberg believes their unique story set them apart from other food truck hopefuls.
"That's kind of how they pick you," she said. "We were unique and special because we are military spouses, and they look for somebody with a good story. Some of the other chefs had crazy backgrounds to get where they are at."
"You just had to be prepared to not know what was going on until they tell you," Rosenberg added.
This journey was going to give them an opportunity to leave their children with their husbands for an extended period of time.
Newman said going on this food truck adventure was like a different type of "deployment."
To prepare for the contest, the women watched previous seasons of the show.
"Wendy did a lot of research, but there's only so much research and prepping you can do," Bajakian said.
When the group arrived at their first location on the West Coast, they realized the show was nothing like the others they saw.
However, the unknown was a challenge in which the three seasoned Army spouses were very familiar.
Rosenberg, Newman and Bajakian have all been married to their husbands for roughly 20 years each, so the team knows how hard it can be to plan anything when you're married to a Soldier.
"That may have given us an advantage!" Newman said.
Bajakian agreed, adding that military life often requires family members to roll with the punches when they are uprooted every few years.
"We know how to shop," she said. "Every move you make you have a new store to shop in and new cities to navigate, you have to find the places where people go. That's all part of moving in the military."
Rosenberg added that she thinks the team surprised their fellow cast members and crew.
"I think they were astonished at our abilities and what we could pull out of our back pockets," Bajakian added.
The team settled on the concept of putting a twist on old-school classics. Some of the items on the menu included the Sgt. Cheesy, a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and spicy jam; the Pvt. Jelly, a grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich with fresh berries; and the Charlie Foxtrot, a spicy version of a sloppy joe.
"Your menu is developed for the race," Bajakian said. "The menu for what you want to do in your food truck business -- you'll be able to spend more time on what you really want to do."
Newman added that for the race, teams had to have menus that could be prepared quickly and inexpensively.
While the Military Moms can't spill the beans about the outcome of the competition, they did talk about some of their experiences on the road.
"I was the truck driver," Newman said.
The truck, which was 24 feet long, 8 feet wide and 13 feet tall was a "beast," but Newman said she held her own behind the wheel.
"She was dang good at it," Bajakian said, laughing.
Rosenberg added that Newman was her first choice to be the food truck driver.
"I absolutely knew I had to take Wendy, because I knew she wasn't going to be afraid of a big truck," she said. "Who knew where they would take us? Wendy could maneuver that truck better than all the boys on the race. I'm not kidding. They are big trucks.
"What's fun is we weren't pink camo until we had the 'pink plea;' we were green," Rosenberg added. "I told them, 'you can't green camo us, we'll blend in with everything else!' Pink is empowering. We had to be pink camouflaged. It was a pretty truck."
The uniquely designed pink camo drew the attention of many customers along the way. People would see the pink truck drive by and follow it around the city.
"People followed it just because it was pink camo," Newman said. "All the little girls loved it. It was quite different. Everybody noticed us."
Bajakian said she was surprised at the reaction from customers.
"I think the best part of the race was seeing so many people who had some sort of military connection," she said. "There are so many people out there who don't wear the uniform, but they appreciated (service members) and families."
"There was one time where someone had just seen the pink camouflage," Rosenberg said. "Camouflage is very recognizable. You immediately associate it with some kind of armed forces. It was fun. All kinds of people came up and would tell us about their uncle who was in the military or somebody they knew.
"You'll see that in the show," she continued. "It's a little slice of what most people don't see. A lot of Americans show patriotism because somebody they know was in the military. I think people had a lot of fun with the fact that we were moms and we left our kids at home with the husbands."
The women agreed that they are excited to see some of the stories and experiences unfold on TV.
"It was hard going from life at Fort Drum, to life with television and cameras in your face and microphones strapped to you," Bajakian said. "The crew was amazing. They were fun."
"Some crazy stuff happens to us," Rosenberg said. "There's a little inkling in the promo, but we don't have any terrible moments.
"I'm wildly passionate about this truck," she added. "This is a dream of mine and it's kind of crazy that it's being played out on screen."
Newman explained that the show is "unscripted TV."
"The crew was surprised by our 'script'; we surprised them," she said, laughing. "I don't think they were ready for us."
Along with the humor and laughs, many of the people they encountered along the way shared heartfelt stories that had the team in tears, Newman said.
Most of all, Bajakian said she made memories she will never forget.
"I had a crazy ride with y'all," she said to her team. "It was a lot of fun, and we met some great people along the way. There are stories that I will never ever forget."
Rosenberg agreed, adding that their fellow cast members will go on to do great things.
"We met people who are going to go on to do some crazy things because they are from all over and they are all dreamers," she said. "It's kind of fun to have a big dream that takes you on a road trip -- in pink camouflage. I never thought that when I became a chef that it would be this wild and crazy.
"We should all aspire to do what we want to do regardless," Rosenberg continued. "Even being married to the military, you can still have wild and crazy dreams. We married military men; we can't be afraid of separation, adversity and conflict."
"We can all dream big," Newman said.