KINGS — In between customers, Candace Rivera helps her kids with their summer school homework.
The owner of Hazel’s Cafe in Oregon expanded her business in April and now has a food truck in Kings Tuesday through Friday and hopes to expand into Rochelle in the near future. The truck serves coffee, baked goods, breakfast, lunch and more.
“I'm trying to open up more hours and hopefully find a consistent couple of days to be in the Rochelle area,” Rivera said. “I think Thursdays and Fridays in the May Mart area. That's kind of my goal. We do events, too. We're doing the sip and shop in Rochelle in July.”
Since the state reopened after COVID-19, Rivera has been doing weekend events and some weeknight events. Last week she did four events in four days.
The pandemic pushed Rivera to start the food truck operation. Prior to COVID-19 she noticed Hazel’s had a calling at events. She didn’t find a tent and table to be much fun.
“We wanted something more mobile that we could haul around,” Rivera said. “All of our communities around here are big on events and we wanted to be a part of those as much as possible. The way to do that is to launch a coffee truck we can take with us just about anywhere. COVID-19 gave me a little bit of downtime because I shut down the shop for a couple of months. It really pushed me to shop around. Just think about how I could plan it and work it out."
Rivera said it’s been tough to run the shop and the coffee truck. She’s worked some 14-16-hour days. After hiring a new employee, she was able to step away completely from the Oregon shop to run the truck.
Rivera runs Hazel’s On The Go on her own. When she works as a vendor at events, she gets her mother or her husband to help. She hopes to hire someone in the future to help with the truck due to “very overwhelming” demand so far.
“There's a lot going on this year with everything opening up,” Rivera said. “It's hard to say no. We're almost completely booked for the summer. It's been going pretty smoothly.”
Rivera runs the truck from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. She’s had to get used to getting up at 4 a.m. She’s been happy to see events and businesses opening up after having to close her shop completely for two months during the pandemic.
“It's so heartwarming and very positive,” Rivera said. “It kind of makes you forget that COVID-19 happened. The shop is doing very well and we're pretty much back to normal, if not a little bit busier than we were the year before COVID-19. It feels really good."
Rivera believes unique and trendy drinks set Hazel’s Cafe On The Go apart. She bakes muffins, scones and cookies herself. She prides herself on knowing where Hazels’ ingredients come from.
“We do sell breakfast bowls and burritos along with lunch,” Rivera said. “We try to have a little bit of something for everyone whether they're a coffee drinker or not.”
The truck is just off Illinois Route 64 in Kings and there are signs to follow. Rivera is happy to be part of the food truck family. The business model is something that has started to grow in the area in the past year.
Rivera said running a food truck was never a thought for her when she first started the Oregon location. The cafe became busy and chaotic. She’s glad that she had the time and ability to open the truck, which she operates near her home.
“It's really nice because I am a mom and they're on summer break,” Rivera said. “I'm able to be here and they can hangout and I help them with their summer school and that kind of stuff. Otherwise, they'd be at the shop every day and they'd be stuck there. It's nice to be able to be home. It's a huge plus."