After losing his job of six years, Jeremiah Dunning of Onalaska realized he needed a creative solution – especially since he has a young son to support. Although he has lived in Lewis County for 15 years, he also visited Maui, Mexico City, Rome and Hamburg, Germany. He loved the quality and flavor of foods he experienced abroad. He wanted to bring that same experience to local food back home. “Americans have a lot to offer and are often overshadowed by other countries,” Jeremiah said.

Jeremiah’s family is very creative. His grandfather was a sign maker and a graphic artist. His dad is a cartoonist and his brother is a talented graphic artist. Jeremiah obtained a food trailer and his brother designed a big, blue pelican on the side.

Jeremiah Dunning and his son, Carter, wait for a customer at the window of their food trailer. Photo credit: Joyce Fink.

Jeremiah’s love affair with the ocean led to the pelican design. He wanted to draw a connection between the healing power of the sea and a sense of gorging with the pelican’s big pouch.

Working the Pelican food truck allowed Jeremiah to be near his son, Carter. The three-and-a-half year-old is frequently there with him. On good days, father and son play sports or ride bikes in the street. “We also watch a lot of Sponge Bob,” Jeremiah admits. At major events, Jeremiah has someone with a food handler’s permit help him.

Carter spends a lot of time with Mike and Margie Zelick at the neighboring tire store learning to talk with customers and count money on the register. He also likes to make hamburger patties wearing funny white gloves or play with tongs like he’s a Ninja Turtle.

Pelican Food Truck
A special hamburger was offered at the Pelican food truck on the same day as President Trump’s inauguration. Photo courtesy: Jeremiah Dunning.

“Anything I like to do, he loves it,” Jeremiah says. “He is an absolute joy to be with. I’m really curious to see if he will follow in my footsteps.”

Jeremiah did a lot of research before purchasing the food trailer. He went to Olympia to check out a group of food trailers, talked to owners on the internet, looked at some on sale, and checked the Ritchie Brothers auction. He discovered that a new food trailer costs about the same as an older one. He ordered a new trailer built to his specifications in 2016.

“One of the challenges of being mobile is getting the electrical situation figured out,” Jeremiah said. “Every event you go to, they have different outlets. You have to have different options when you arrive at your destination.

Pelican Food Truck
Carter gives his dad a hug inside their shiny food trailer. Photo courtesy: Jeremiah Dunning.

“I had a local business wire my unit and he sent his apprentice do it. He wired it up before I went to my first event over the county line in Ocean Shores. When I plugged in the pigtail to the spider box, it fried half of my current. It over-heated everything and I lost my water pump.”

It was a disaster, to say the least. “There were thousands of people there,” Jeremiah recalled. “The crowd was so big they had drones filming everyone. I drove all the way over there and the health inspector showed up and struck my menu because I couldn’t pump my water or wash my hands. They threw away hundreds of dollars of food and I lost thousands of dollars in profits.”

Fortunately, the electric company helped. “[They were] really kind and fixed my problem when I got back, and reimbursed me for some of the hardware that burned up,” Jeremiah said. “That was a nightmare, but it made me a better chef. I now know how to work in stressful situations. There isn’t anything I can’t handle after that because that was about as bad as you can get.”

Jeremiah Dunning displays a plateful of tasty fish and chips outside the Pelican food truck. Photo courtesy: Jeremiah Dunning.

On another occasion, Jeremiah had a line of customers waiting when he had to switch gas tanks. The valve opened too fast and the safety valve stuck to keep it from blowing. Jeremiah had to call in a truck to rescue him and he lost his customers.

While they waited for repairs, Jeremiah and his son walked through the exposition portion of the festival and found an antique Red Ryder tricycle that was perfect for Carter. In spite of the rust and squeaks, he still rides it outside the food trailer. “I’ll always keep that memory close to my heart,” Jeremiah said, stressing the positive side of their experience.

Massive crowds can also be a challenge. “I compare it to big wave surfing,” Jeremiah said. “People come in sets like waves and some are bigger than others. That’s how I look at it, as sort of a sporting challenge. Nothing is more satisfying than when that crowd of people recedes and everyone is happy. And if you put an onion on a burger when they didn’t want one – watch out!”

Pelican Food Truck
Jeremiah and Carter Dunning get some play time in front of the food trailer. Photo credit: Joyce Fink.

Advertising is another challenge. “I don’t advertise in the newspaper or on Instagram or Facebook or anything like that,” Jeremiah said. “It’s all been word-of-mouth which is some of the best advertising if you ask me.”

Jeremiah’s food is worth talking about. It’s no wonder word has spread so fast. “My food is fresh and handmade,” he said. “The fish is fresh frozen right out of the boats from the Bering Sea. I buy all my supplies from Costco in Fife. They have a really good selection.”

Jeremiah thanks all the great business owners in Onalaska for their help and support over the past three years. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be another part of the community,” he said.

You can usually find Jeremiah and The Pelican food truck at 1818 Hwy. 508 in Onalaska.

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