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Tyler Jenkin (right), Matt La France (center) and Ashley Jenkin prepare orders in the kitchen of their family to-go restaurant, Charlee’s Comfort Kitchen in Ephraim.

 

COVID-19 prompts family

to launch food truck

business in Ephraim lot

 

By Robert Stevens

Managing editor

1-20-2021

 

EPHRAIM—Launching a business during the pandemic is no easy feat, but when a local family was faced with an income crunch during COVID, they did it anyway.

Charlee’s Comfort Kitchen is a family owned food truck serving to-go comfort food out of Ephraim. While some local businesses, especially those that serve food, have struggled during the pandemic, Charlee’s managed to get off the ground last year by the combined efforts of its five co-owners.

The idea for Charlee’s began building steam in early 2020 when Tyler Jenkin of Manti, co-owner and manager of the Twisted Lemon, a drink shack that sold high-end lemonade at Utah events, was faced with the hard reality of 2020 events being cancelled due to COVID-19.

“I had been doing the Twisted Lemon since I was just a kid,” Jenkin tells the Messenger. “We had a big season lined up for 2020. It was going to be our best year. With the pandemic, we lost all of that and almost nobody was hiring. I have five kids, so I knew I had to do something.”

Jenkin says his friend, Colby Divecha, allowed him to set up shop with the Twisted Lemon in the parking lot of what used to be Ephraim Market Fresh.

“We thought with a fixed location we could ride out the year until things started getting normal again,” he says. “It started out pretty good but then it began slowing down, until we got to the point where we knew it wasn’t going to be sustainable like this.”

Jenkin began talking with his sister, Ashley Jenkin (nicknamed Charlee by the family) about a shared dream they had for opening a restaurant.

Ashley was an accomplished chef who worked for another restaurant that had shut down due to COVID.

It was something they had wanted to do together for years, Tyler says, and when business at the Twisted Lemon began to slow,  they decided to take the plunge.

It started out as an expansion of Twisted Lemon, with a number of food items added to the menu, including their popular gourmet hotdogs, nachos, fancy desserts and other comfort foods; but they knew they wanted to rebrand the business and open a more substantial food truck-style kitchen that could be operated all year long, even in the cold.

In addition to Tyler and Ashley, chef Matt La France, as well as their father Gordon Jenkin and their brother Tony Jenkin would come on board to play a role in the newly-established family business.

It was a scary time for the family when they were launching Charlee’s Comfort Kitchen, says Tyler. With what seemed like ever-changing public health policies and regulations placed on businesses that serve food, they were all worried the money they were investing in the business would be lost if they couldn’t make it work during this difficult year.

“It was scary to take that leap,” he says. “We were into this a lot, but we were worried it might reach a point where people weren’t allowed to go eat out anymore. It was scary and crazy, but awesome. I was a wreck on opening day.”

Tyler says the family has two big reasons for the success they have enjoyed so far (besides the food itself).                                                      The first was the fact that they were doing it in Sanpete County, which has less stringent requirements from the health department than they would have in Utah or Salt Lake counties.

The second was the mobile kitchen trailer, which he calls their “saving grace” for how it allows them to operate all year and serve food through a drive-through window.

“It’s been exciting and really unbelievable,” Ashley, the restaurant’s namesake, says. “While restaurants across the country are cutting back staff or closing altogether, we actually opened a business and it worked out really well.”

The family has high hopes for the business in the New Year as well.

“Moving forward into 2021, I think it’s going to be great,” Tyler says. “There was such a grey cloud involved with 2020, but there has been a silver lining too. People will always need to eat and we will always make great food. Ashley and Matt are exceptional chefs.”