Sylvia Zietek - Pierogi Queen Food Truck
Tell us about yourself
Since I can remember, pierogi have been a staple in my household and our love for good food has always brought our family together, not only on holidays but on any day of year.
I was born and raised in London, Ontario by two hardworking and loving parents who had recently immigrated to Canada from Poland.
I went to Catholic Central High School before heading to the University of Ottawa to study linguistics which led me to explore my love of language and culture. I backpacked through Europe and Central and South America, learning about different cultures and cooking. I’ve worked in various restaurants for a decade, mainly in London and Port Stanley, including The Wortley Roadhouse, in front-of-house and back-of-house positions as well as management for Kelsey’s, and GT’s On the Beach.
In 2018, I completed Fanshawe’s Entrepreneurship certificate program, which led me to a great opportunity with the College’s LeapIN Incubator, a 9 week summer program that focuses on mentorship, business growth, and supports start-ups with seed funding and one-on-one in-depth business analysis. This ultimately gave me the confidence and push I needed to make my food truck dreams a reality.
Tell us about your business
Pierogi Queen Food Truck is in the tail end of its second season and has been open since May 2019 offering curbside, event, and catering services. We focus on authentic and fusion flavoured handmade Polish pierogi, ranging from Traditional potato and pressed cheese, to Buffalo Chicken, to seasonal dessert Blueberry or Apple Pie and everything in between. We showcase the freshest local fillings for each handmade pierogi paired with various toppings. Other Eastern European inspired menu items that you will find include our Pork Schnitzel Sandwiched with garlic aioli, caramelized onions and mushrooms, and pickles on pumpernickel rye as well as our Polish Dill Pickle Fries.
Has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
We were delayed by opening by at least two months, scrapping all of our spring and summer planned events. In the early days of COVID-19, we offered porch drop offs and packages in collaboration with our food truck friends. We’ve been fortunate enough to carry on with our season and have implemented COVID-19 protocols, and while circumstances have continued to change the way we interact with our customer base, we have adapted by relying less on mega festivals and events, and turning more towards shorter, more contained, community events put on by the London Food Truck Association. Continuing to work with other trucks to offer these types of events has allowed for patrons to visit multiple trucks, enjoy a meal outside, and still feel safe while practicing physical distancing. We’ve also hired less staff, behind the scenes and on the truck, in an effort both to minimize contact throughout the food preparation process and in response to not requiring the same level of staff typically needed for extended service.
What led you to start this business?
It started out as an ode to my babcia (grandma) and mom and grew from a place of wanting to carry on tradition through the power of food. Somehow, I wanted to turn that desire into a career outside of the standard serving jobs I held in the restaurant industry. I’ve never been a 9-5 person and have always loved the way food bonds people from different backgrounds and walks of life and brings them to the same table. Pierogi have always been one of my favourite foods ever since my babcia handed me a rolling pin at the age of 4 and told me to get to work, and I suppose I took that very literally. Starting a food truck allowed me the freedom to take my food anywhere and offer a constantly rotating menu to cater to any crowd, and hopefully give them an unforgettable experience in the process. An added bonus as an owner/operator in a male dominated industry is that I’m in a unique position to show other aspiring female entrepreneurs that they can follow their dreams and be their own bosses in whichever industry they choose and that continues to drive me today.
What were some of the challenges you faced getting started and how did you overcome them?
Legitimizing the business of street food and gaining the public’s support in small urban cities has always been a challenge. I was lucky to start my food truck at a time when the tide had mostly shifted as a result of the tireless efforts of Food Truck owners before me and the door had been opened to encourage new food trucks to join London’s growing culinary culture and food truck scene. And still, there were a lot of hoops to jump through and systems to navigate in realizing my business plan. Throughout the entire process of licensing my business, securing the truck, getting it up to Code and everything in between, I found that getting involved with well connected organizations such as the Small Business Centre, Fanshawe’s LeapIN Program, and working with the London Food Truck Association and other seasoned food trucks gave me support I needed to make my start that much more welcoming and seamless.
Is there anything currently happening in the London business community that excites you?
The completion of the Dundas St. flex street has been a long time coming and has only started to scratch the surface of what it may be able to offer the City of London. We know that businesses in the core have been especially impacted by COVID-19 and ongoing construction, and so the focus has rightfully been on supporting these businesses at this time. But we are excited to get the chance to park downtown again and be apart of the flex street and community culture that it is seeking to support and develop.
What's in the future for your business?
I’ve always considered opening up an all year-round market location or even a second truck one day. Until then, my focus is on ways to grow the business while simultaneously figuring out how to keep up with demand and maintaining the high quality of our food and keep the pierogi handmade. We have been experimenting and looking for ways to offer our pierogi when the food truck season eventually ends. In the last few months, London’s Church Key Bistro has been sourcing our blueberry dessert pierogi and featuring them on their dessert menu, and we plan to continue this through the winter. We will be offering some holiday packages and limited pre orders for customers to order pierogi in bulk, a service we don’t typically offer while the truck is operational. We are always looking for ways to give back to our community and support more socially aware events, teaming up with local service providers and staying true to the vision of pierogi and good food being a strong unifier even in times of uncertainty.