Every morning, Barb Mazereeuw sends her two sons to school with a bag of home-baked muffins for breakfast.
When she heard that the muffins were traded away among students with high demand, it was a business opportunity.
“I asked them, ‘How many did you have today,’ and they said, ‘Oh, we had four,’” said Mazereeuw.
“We’ve always traded food for store-bought food like fruit roll-ups,” said her son Olin, who, along with his older brother, started exchanging food with other students on the school bus five years ago. “People were like, ‘What homemade stuff do you have today?’”
Mazereeuw took over the lunch truck of Sadie Knelson, who had shut down her business for several years and was looking to sell the vehicle at the time.
Now at its fourth year, with a newer vehicle to replace the original, Maz Meals ’n Munchies Lunch Truck serves about 200 customers every school day at the doorstep of Nechako Valley Secondary during lunch and break times.
Selling hot items such as homemade baked goods, breakfast sandwiches, burgers, as well as candy and drinks, the home business did not start easy, as Olin and his brother helped to promote the truck by trading items for other students’ lunches, Olin explained.
“To let the kids try,” he said. “Now I hardly get any food…it sells out so quick.”
The business took a year and half to build its current popularity, including lots of trial and error, Mazereeuw said.
“I couldn’t have done it without the boys, telling [the students] what I was doing and getting people out,” she explained. “Also trying different things to see what the kids wanted.
“For example, we started with ham-and-eggers, then the kids asked for bacon…they now know what I have and what I could do.”
The menu is dictated by the students, Mazereeuw explained.
“If it’s within my means to do it, I try to make it work,” she said.
With many loyal customers — leading to customized burgers or lunch boxes for some — the lunch truck currently has 60 to 70 kids with tabs.
“They’re supposed to pay me every Friday,” Mazereeuw explained, adding that while most of the students are honest, some take their time to take care of the bill.
Several parents also paid in advance for their children, giving specific instructions such as no candy or only hot food, she said.
“I always worry that parents think I feed their kids junk,” Mazereeuw said, though the majority of her business lies in its hot offerings.
While keeping her menu simple and prices low for the students, she feels that the lunch truck is offering a safe environment for getting lunch.
“They may buy the same thing in downtown 7-11,” Mazereeuw said. “I won’t put up with bullying or swearing…it’s an extra pair of eyes and ears.”
For Ethan Lank, who has started a tab with the lunch truck since the business’ beginning, it’s a convenient option with better food, he said.
“[Downtown] is too far to walk…I’m lazy,” Lank said, as he plays basketball during lunch time as well.
With many kids surrounding the racks while the truck is open, Mazereeuw now has two students to watch for straying unpaid items.
“We just come out to help, nothing to do at lunch anyway,” said Grade 11 student Cora Morril, who has watched the truck with Mica Kells, Grade 12, since the beginning of the school year.
“It’s a quick and easy way to get food,” Morrill said, adding that her favourite options are the hot items.
Some graduated students, including Kells’ older brother, also stopped by Mazereeuw’s rented kitchen at Vanderhoof’s curling rink, as she baked and restocked the truck in the morning.
“It’s a fun job,” Mazereeuw said. “I get to spoil everyone’s kids and send them home.”
“One day, I would like to make homemade lunches for the guys working in the bush,” Mazereeuw said, requiring an early morning start. “But I don’t need to do it now.”
She explained that the lunch truck could also expand to take advantage of morning coffee breaks, though it would involve an extra worker to prepare food full-time.
“The only way I can expand is if Matt (her husband who currently works full-time) helps,” she added. “It’s already a lot for one person.”
The rented oven and grill is currently packed to capacity, as Mazereeuw prepares baked goods before the school’s 11 a.m. break, and then about 100 hot items in 45 minutes before students’ lunch time starts, she explained.
“It’s a really fun business,” Mazereeuw said. “I love the kids…I got to know a lot of them and I see them move on, graduating.”
Between school years, as the lunch truck shuts down, Mazereeuw returns to the family’s farm for hay-making.
“Keeps me busy!”