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Food truck helps keep Alberta rodeo star racing during pandemic

An Alberta-based professional barrel racer says a pandemic can be a great time to start a side hustle, with the right strategy and support.

Barrel racer Melissa Thiessen staying afloat with a new venture called the Cowboy Cafe

COVID-19 offered a unique opportunity for Melissa Thiessen to pursue her dream of opening a food truck with a southwest flair. 0:58

An Alberta-based professional barrel racer says a pandemic can be a great time to start a side hustle, with the right strategy and support.

"I have wanted a food trailer for a long time. I can't even tell you how long," Melissa Thiessen told CBC News.

The Stettler rodeo star has been working in restaurants since she was 14.

"I always thought it would be really cool to own a restaurant, but I do know that it runs your life and nothing else happens but that," Thiessen said.

"I love to cook. I like to entertain."

Cowboy Cafe is the product of barrel racer Melissa Thiessen and her husband Steve's time away from competing during the pandemic. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

So when the global pandemic hit and the shutdown began, Thiessen and her husband knew the timing was as good as it was going to get.

"In April, I said to my husband, Steve, let's just do it. Let's put our heads down and finally get it finished. It only took us two weeks, which is crazy," she said.

"Rodeo is our passion and you want it to be your one and only source of income, but the reality is you need something else."

The couple landed on southwestern as a theme based on the food they liked when they travelled into the United States for competitions.

"The feedback has been really good. It's been fun," Thiessen said.

Melissa Thiessen is a seasoned Alberta-based barrel racer who used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to start a food truck business. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

"I had been testing my recipes for a long time."

She's keeping the menu short and targeted, with typically about seven menu items.

"The people who know southwest food are very happy. I sell out all the time, so it's been good."

Her personal favourite? Chili lime pulled pork tacos.

These chili lime pulled pork tacos are food truck owner Melissa Thiessen's favourite. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

Thiessen says she suspected a food truck — one of the first types of businesses allowed to reopen as pandemic restrictions softened — would be a hit.

"Because of COVID-19, I knew it would be a success, because food trucks were allowed to be open. It's very COVID friendly. I knew I would be OK," she said.

She says she gets plenty of requests to set up the food truck at various locations — more than she can handle.

"In the last two weeks, I have turned down at least two jobs every day," she said.

And once the new post-COVID-19 world is figured out?

"Even when things get back to normal, you will still see the Cowboy Cafe," she added.

With files from Vincent Bonnay

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