Lifestyle

Alumnus brings Midwestern specialty to Philly

An alumnus switched careers from education to open a food truck.

A sign taped to the window of The Cow and The Curd reads: “It is not a mozzarella stick.”

Rob Mitchell, a 1996 education alumnus, owns The Cow and The Curd, which is a food truck that exclusively sells fried cheese curds.

Cheese curds are the solid parts of milk left over after cheese has curdled. Mitchell has curds shipped in from the Midwest, which he then coats in a beer batter and fries. Customers can choose from three dipping sauces and several choices of craft beers that pair with each sauce.

The Cow and the Curd started  in Philadelphia as Stella Jeanne’s Festival Foods in 2009  — a concession stand that was named after Mitchell’s daughter.

Mitchell was a full-time teacher for 16 years and opened the concession stand as a way to supplement his income during the summer. Eventually, the business started to prosper and Mitchell stopped teaching in 2011 to dedicate himself to working at the concession stand.

The fried curd was a popular item on Stella Jeanne’s menu. Laura Windham, Mitchell’s wife who grew up in the Midwest, introduced cheese curds to him and pointed them out as a way to distinguish themselves in the competitive concession industry.

After launching The Cow and The Curd, Mitchell and Windham spent time in Wisconsin, eating at bars, restaurants and anywhere they could find fried cheese curds.

Mitchell said he wants to make the aesthetic of his truck stand out and make customers think about an “1800s Midwest dairy farm” when they see it — that vibe begins with the painting of a cow and a chicken sitting on a 19th-century bicycle in a field, reminiscent of a dairy farm.

“Even though they know they’re seeing it for the first time and they know it’s a new truck, I want them to think it’s been around for 75 years,” Mitchell said. “Trucks have this opportunity with their aesthetic value to really reach out and grab somebody and connect emotionally.”

Oscar Marin has been working with Mitchell for the past year, starting at one of the Stella Jeanne’s stands and working his way up to managing The Cow and The Curd. Marin said he has 12 years of experience in the food industry, but he had never worked in the mobile food industry until last year.

“I never in my life have worked this hard in a kitchen than in this truck,” Marin said. “When you’re working on the food truck, you can actually see people within seconds take the first bite and really enjoy it.”

“Working on the truck is just one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” he added.

Mitchell’s passion for food trucks doesn’t end with The Cow and the Curd. He is the president of the Philly Mobile Food Association, which coordinates local festivals and promotes food trucks. Mitchell also serves on the board of The National Food Truck Association and is the secretary of the New Jersey Food Truck Association.

Mitchell played for Temple’s football team as a tight end from 1991 to 1995. He was named to the Big East All-Academic Team and nominated for GTE Academic All-American twice. The truck is present at all of Temple football’s home games.

Mitchell credits much of his success in business and education to his time playing for the football team.

“Playing football was probably the most pivotal experience of my life,” he said. “I figured if I didn’t quit at the end of training camp, I could get through anything.”

“I’m very grateful to Temple,” Mitchell added. “I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today. I wouldn’t be the business owner I am, the teacher I was, the coach I was or the dad I am to my kids without that experience.”

Will Stickney can be reached at william.stickney@temple.edu.

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