Ask Courtney “CJ” Jacobs, Jr. what’s a food that all cultures eat and he’ll exclaim, “potatoes!” That’s how he and his wife, Monique came up with the idea to sell potatoes that are loaded with so much meat and toppings that they make a portable meal. “I realized that no matter what their race or culture, people in Baltimore love potatoes,” Jacobs shares with excitement. “So I thought, why not have a food truck that will bring the potatoes to them. And that’s how we came up with Craving Potato Factory.”
From St. Thomas to Baltimore
“I always had a passion for cooking since growing up and being in the kitchen with my mother,” notes Jacobs. “I've also always been an entrepreneur. In St. Thomas [USVI] I used to sell a lot of mangos and local fruits for various holidays.”
The Jacobses both grew up in St. Thomas and came to Baltimore to attend college – CJ at Coppin State University and Monique at Morgan State University. They majored in criminal justice and psychology and worked in those fields before starting their food truck.
“Before we got the truck, we did a test run to see how much people liked our potatoes,” explains Jacobs. “We sold our potatoes through delivery to various places, including malls, to get our feet wet. And we gained momentum when people started to know who we were.” He continues, “We started with a food trailer in 2014 because that's all we could afford at the time. And as time went on, we realized we needed something a little more stable with more room where we could do more locations and get there a lot faster. And food trucks are a big thing in Baltimore right now.”
Craving Potato Factory On the Road
Once they got the food truck, the husband-and-wife team was able to travel to locations all across Baltimore and its surrounding counties. “We cater for parties, reunions, barbecues, schools and weddings,” says CJ.
Monique adds, “We’ve also done employee appreciation events for a veterinarian hospital at their Towson, Columbia and Annapolis locations. And these events are a great way to network with potential clients because we don’t do a lot of marketing for our catering gigs, a lot of it is word of mouth.”
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Their popularity has also gotten them gigs at festivals like Oktoberfest at Braglio Farms, where their “Spud Truck” was doing lots of business. “Braglio Farms posted that they would have the food trucks on Fridays, but by the time I’d get here, Craving Potato Factory would be all out of potatoes,” laments festival-goer Maisha Rodriguez. “So today, I decided to come and place my order early,” she laughs. “I ordered the Ravens Town Steak because everyone was raving about how good it was. And they were right, it’s delicious.”
Full Meals in a Bowl
Smoke filled with mouth-watering aromas wafts from the truck as the Jacobses quickly move through the small space like a mini factory, with CJ cooking the meats and veggies and Monique mashing up the baked potatoes and getting them ready for toppings. Once the meat and veggies are poured over the potatoes, Monique sprinkles them with toppings, including cheese, bacon and chives. Their oldest son, CJ III, takes orders from the crowd.
“Some of our most popular potatoes are The Orioles Old Bay Lump Crab with Old Bay lump crab meat with mozzarella cheese and chives; the Chicken Fajita potato; a Ravens Town Steak potato, which is loaded with marinated steak — real steak, not steakums (laughs) — Mexican blend cheese and grilled onions and peppers,” describes Jacobs.
He continues, “I think naming some of our menu items after Baltimore’s beloved baseball and football teams makes it relatable with customers. We also have our Chicken Bacon Ranch with grilled chicken breast, four cheeses, bacon and sour cream ranch sauce, and our Shrimp Alfredo with sauteed shrimp, minced garlic and alfredo sauce. And for those who don’t want meat, we have our Craving Classic & Simple with broccoli, four cheeses, sour cream and chives.”
Mrs. Jacobs adds, “There’s also a menu item called the Dirty Bird and up to this day, we still don’t know the guy’s name who gave us the idea. He came to our truck and said he wanted two meats on his potato, sausage and bacon and the works. And he said we should call it the ‘Dirty Bird.’”
This reporter tried a Dirty Bird with steak, chicken and chopped bacon sprinkled on top – absolutely delicious with just the right seasoning. Customer Sydney Johnson tried the Garlic Buttery Shrimp for the first time. “It’s amazing! I can taste the seasoning, the garlic, the butter, everything that I read in the menu description. It’s like a full meal! I’ll definitely try them again,” she says.
Craving Potato Factory is used to getting long lines and tasty testimonials but notes there are challenges to running a food truck.
Trucking Through Challenges
“When you buy a food truck, most people just focus on the build-out of how the truck should look and function on the inside,” says CJ. “But you also need to focus on the engine and the mechanical issues. You definitely have to spend a few thousand dollars getting that up and running.”
He continues, “Owning a food truck can be an up and down thing. One minute you're riding fine and the next minute, you've got a $3,000 or $4,000 mechanical issue. So it's not like a brick-and-mortar where you just open up and get started. You have to do a lot of prep and drive to the location and set up and break down, so there's a lot involved. You can have a lot of setbacks, but you just have to keep moving and run through all those brick walls that are set before us.”
The pandemic was another challenge that caused them to take a detour. “During the pandemic, we started being strategic as to what events we would go to, and we also started having our own events like “Food Truck Fridays,” which we promote on our social media,” he explains. “But today, we get so many calls and emails from people asking us to come to their events that it's hard for us to schedule our own events,” he admits.
Keep on Trucking
CJ loves what he's doing and hopes one of his three sons will take over Craving Potato Factory and keep on trucking. “It's good for them to have it to fall back on,” he says. “They're learning a lot about business and customer service.” He adds with pride, “Working with my family is beautiful and makes us stronger as a unit. It's a blessing, and I couldn't ask for a better life.”