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Back to School Career Profile: Food Cart Owner



With her husband Damien Gill, Becky Leonard owns the popular food cart DC Vegetarian, located in a bustling downtown pod. They're known for giant, affordable sandwiches and delicious housemade seitan, which is also available retail at hippie-friendly establishments like the Alberta Co-Op and Food Fight.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?
The University of Maryland. I studied Government and Politics.

What was your work experience like immediately after school?
I worked for a newsletter of events listings of everything happening in DC—protests, government hearings. And then a super corporate job as a management consultant for infrastructure projects. It was probably the most money I'll ever make, but I hated it.

How did you fall into this line of work?
I moved to a new city that was super open to starting a new business. And Damien and I, as vegetarians who were unemployed, were living in Southwest Portland and looking for cheap food options around us, and we were like, "Hmm, there's a lot of carts, but we can eat at Whole Bowl or get burritos that we could make at home better or cheaper, and that's it." So we decided to open one.

Did your education prepare you at all for owning a food cart?
It was in no way helpful. There's stuff that I learned in jobs that I had after college that I wouldn't have held had I not had a college degree. But if you don't go to school you end up in any service industry job you can find, which probably would have been more helpful.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently with your education?
Yes. I would've gone into a skilled trade, either spent money going to cooking school or done something more business and finance based—so I could do my own taxes.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into your line of work?
A lot of people come up to us and ask us that, and unless you have an idea that hasn't been done already—a niche food idea you can't get anywhere else—then don't start anything. Seriously, there are like four Thai carts on our block, and another one will open, and it's not like there are suddenly more people who want Thai food. You need something that serves the population where your cart is located, that you can't get already, that they can't make at home.

What advice would you give to someone who's just beginning college?
Have a job in mind. Or put off college until you do, if you're gonna be paying for it. And take vocational or trade schools into more consideration. Maybe you do want to be a law clerk or a dental hygienist or a nurse—those are legitimate jobs.

Visit DC Vegetarian on SW 3rd between Stark and Washington, dcvegetarian.com

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