Laura MacFarlane, from Metepenagiag, was married at 16, had 6 kids and now, many years later, she is a red seal cook at Nashwaak Villa and owns her own business, the Mac Shack food truck.
“I got married when I was 16 and I left high school, then I went back and wrote my GED and I went on to work hard and work honest,” said Laura. “To be able to study and really get some education for myself made me proud. It’s wonderful to be a stay at home mom and a housewife but to have something on paper that you can show others makes you feel good.”
Laura loves to cook and she has been working in the food industry for most of her life. About 6 years ago, she started working at Nashwaak Villa in Stanley, NB. Nashwaak Villa moved into a new facility in 2013 and Laura has been employed as a cook there ever since the move.
“About a year and a half ago I was interested in going to challenge my red seal to be a cook,” said Laura. “I always wanted to get my certification to ensure myself a better chance at getting a job. I knew that someone would be retiring and in order to get that job I thought I would give myself a little boost by getting my red seal.”
Laura contacted JEDI and JEDI connected her with the Apprenticeship and Occupational Certification Branch under Post-Secondary Education Training and Labour. Laura was able to challenge her red seal as she already had the 9000 hours of restaurant or food industry experience required to get her red seal. The only other component was passing the exam.
“JEDI really helped me,” said Laura. “I have 6 children and sometimes to buy a text book or to pay to write a test, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but when you are basically living paycheck to paycheck and you are looking after your family, for someone to give you that little bit that you need… the lack of money might be the excuse to not go forward. You might think that maybe I don’t have $500- $600 to put into this, but that little bit of money alone was a big help. I studied that book relentlessly. I went from zero to red seal in 3 months. I wrote my test and now I’m red seal certified.”
Being a red seal has not only helped Laura get the job that she wanted, it has also improved her lifestyle.
“I was making good money doing what I was doing before I became a red seal,” said Laura. “This is the best job that I have ever had but once I became red seal certified my salary literally almost doubled. That makes you love your job even more.”
Laura didn’t just want her red seal though, she also wanted to start her own business. Around the same time she started the process to challenge her red seal, she also bought a food truck.
“We bought a food truck about a year and a half ago and we call it the Mac Shack since our last name is MacFarlane,” said Laura. “We love it. It’s a 1980 curb master truck, it was originally a food truck. I’ve seen it parked on the road for probably about 5 years and I finally convinced my husband to buy the darn thing. We bought it, we gutted it, did it all up in deck steel and brought it up to standards for cooking in. My son painted it, all of our family chipped in and helped with this project and it’s been very good for our whole family. We travel around to some festivals with it. We set up in the village park here in our community, we’re supported above and beyond what we expected with our truck. People seem to like us, they seem to like our food.”
JEDI helped Laura get her business going. The economic development team helped her to figure out what she wanted and needed for her business, including connecting her with people that could help her with a business plan.
“JEDI had recommended that I talk to someone who owned a food truck on Eel River Bar reserve and they were very gracious,” said Laura. “I went over to talk to them to see what was working for them and what wasn’t working for them. They gave me some great ideas about travelling around to different reserves and for pow wows and things like that that are going on; the good money makers. They showed me through their operation and told me of some places where they did their ordering. That is always helpful, wherever you can save costs, that’s important when you have your own business.”
As a business owner, Laura has to think about costs, but that isn’t her sole focus. Her main strategy for her food truck is to serve great tasting food that keeps her customers coming back for more.
“I love to cook, I love everything that I put into my food,” said Laura. “I don’t want to brag about my cooking but I cook it the way I’d want to eat it. We always butter and toast our buns in the food truck, our meat is 100% ground beef, everything is fresh, made to order. There are a lot of shortcuts you can take and a lot of financial cuts that you can make but the curb master truck is a 1980 and that was kind of our theme. We were thinking that if we keep everything natural and real like it was back then, people are going to like it. People want their burgers and I make the best burgers.”
Laura isn’t content to keep her business as it is though, after the success of her first summer, she wants to get a second food truck.
“Maybe I’ve got dollar signs in my head or something but I bought enough equipment to start up a second food truck,” said Laura. “We know that there may be more work coming to the area in the future and that means more jobs in our community. We’re thinking that another food truck might be a good idea. We’re not sure where it’s going to go or if it’s gonna fly or if we’re going to sell it again in a year or two but we’re having fun with what we’re doing right now. We’re tired, but we’re having fun."
Laura is an inspiration to anyone who wants to follow their dreams and she has some great advice about giving it that something extra.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” said Laura. “The opportunities are out there for anybody. It’s not easy and they’re not going to give it to you, you have to work really hard. You have to do that little extra to be able to study and think that you can do it and make it happen. It is worthwhile for sure. JEDI helped me to believe that I could do this. This was going to be my work, but with JEDI’s help I was able to succeed. I’m very proud to be red seal certified.”
To hear Laura tell her story, check out her video: