Anchorage residents may have noticed a bright yellow food truck parked at various places around the city this summer. The Magpie features breakfast and lunch made from seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, and the plucky little bird on the truck’s sign is the emblem of a dream made real by CIRI descendant Cy Two Elk and his wife, Amanda Cash.
“The idea behind this was to create a business where we could control our own schedules and keep our family close together,” says Two Elk. For many years, he worked in construction, a job that kept him out of town for long stretches. Later, a stint on the North Slope meant he was gone most of the winter. With two small children, that kind of schedule was untenable.
Cash, meanwhile, had learned to hate the schedule she’d kept as an executive chef, which had her working 14-hour days with few days off. So this summer, the couple decided to open the business they’d been thinking about for years. They bought a ready-to-use trailer from El Rodeo Mexican Restaurant, made a few changes—like adding a small oven and removing stickers advertising tacos and burritos—then hit the road, appearing in a new spot around the city each day. Facebook posts let their fans know where they’ll be.
The business combines Two Elk’s love of accounting with Cash’s talent for creating casual fare that’s nevertheless unexpected. “I started out growing my own food and using what was available seasonally,” explains Cash, who spent several years honing her chef skills in Indiana. She brought her cooking philosophy with her to Alaska, where she uses local vendors like Alaska Pure Salt in Sitka and Turkey Red bread in Palmer. At Magpie, she whips up delicious dishes like biscuits and gravy with fried egg and basil, or herbed goat cheese and beet sandwiches.
After years of operating heavy equipment, driving trucks and performing skilled labor, Two Elk recently earned an associates degree in small business administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage and is now pursuing an accounting degree online from UA Southeast.
“The CIRI Foundation has been very helpful in my educational pursuits,” Two Elk says. “In turn, this has helped me gain a better understanding of accounting, and we use that knowledge all the time for this business.”
Two Elk doesn’t just do the accounting and bookkeeping for Magpie, though. Every day, he conducts a pre-inspection of the truck and helps Cash get set up. Often, he’ll do an emergency run to the store if the truck runs out of propane or Cash needs eggs or tomatoes. In the evenings, he disposes of the truck’s waste water, changes the oil, maintains the generator and gasses up.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes operations,” he says. “Then there’s all the cost accounting that goes into it. And, of course, I’m the taste-tester.”
When not helping out on the truck, Two Elk can often be found studying and watching the couple’s kids. “If the truck is close to home, I’ll bring the kids over to play and see their mom,” he says. Their older daughter has gotten used to sauntering over from the playground to order lunch from “Mommy’s pie-pie.” It’s exactly the life they pictured for themselves when they dreamed of opening a food truck: family, food and fun.
“It just creates joy in the neighborhood,” Cash says. “People see the truck and come out, see their friends, get some local food.”
After just one year in business, she and Two Elk have fed hungry customers at Southcentral Foundation, Cook Inlet Housing Authority housing openings, and Alaska Native Medical Center’s primary care facility. They pop up at various food truck carnivals and town events, and they’ve even held a pay-what-you-can fundraiser to raise money for Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis.
As colder weather sets in, the Magpie food truck will go into hibernation, but Two Elk and Cash plan to stay busy with a boxed meal delivery service, if they can find the right space out of which to work. In the meantime, they’ve already been voted the third-best food truck in the Anchorage Press Picks.
For more information, or to keep tabs on the Magpie’s summer schedule, like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/themagpieak.