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A Small Start and Big Dreams Helped One Small Business Cook Up Success

September 6, 2022
Anthony Montgomery
Anthony Montgomery

With important supporters in her corner, Tan Clarke knew that owning and operating her own food truck would be the small business she dreamed of as a kid.


Clarke's partners at the Mississippi Small Business Development Center, Ms. Connie and Ms. Geneva helped change the trajectory of her business when they introduced her to Hancock Whitney's Small Business Matters program.


Together, these partners helped get Clarke's dreams on four wheels.


“I don’t think I would know half the things I know had I not been introduced to them,” Clarke said.


Clarke and her husband are the owners of Meatbawls Food Truck, specializing in authentic Jamaican cuisine on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Clarke’s husband is from Montego Bay, Jamaica, and he and his mother taught Clarke to cook traditional dishes such as jerk chicken, oxtails, and more.


“My husband helped a lot, but his mother broke the ground with the really good recipes,” she said. “I’m just a girl from the south that loves cooking. I’ve always loved to and now I’ve been able to travel the world learning how to cook different foods.”


A lifelong Mississippian, Clarke was born and raised in the heart of the Delta in Belzoni, a town of around 2,000 residents. Clarke’s love for food would take her to Mississippi Valley State and then south to the Gulf Coast region, where she and her husband have worked for nearly two decades in the area’s bustling hospitality industry.


During that time, she began to dream of owning her own food truck.


“It’s funny now, but when I told people I work with that I wanted to be a food trucker and travel the world, people would laugh,” she said. “But now that time has passed, these same people are here like, ‘you really are a food trucker, and you really are seeing the world.’”


Like most businesses, Clarke’s dream had a humble start. A standard trailer, purchased from someone she knew, became the foundation for all the work that lay ahead. Her neighbors tracked her progress as she and her husband laid the floors and built out the kitchen. Over time, the truck came to life just the way Clarke had envisioned it.


Clarke’s food truck


“I’m proud that we built this. I’m proud that we laid those floors and worked hard to the point when we got to the end of the day we didn’t feel tired, we felt accomplished,” Clarke said. “We did this together, like a team. Every time I look at it outside, I’m proud to know that we built that.”


Meatbawls has made its way across the Mississippi coast, but during the week they post up at Keesler Air Force Base, a place Clarke always knew she’d find an audience.


During a typical lunch shift, Meatbawls serves up to 100 people. One day recently, the outfit served over 110 people in a single shift, a high for the truck.


As the company continues to grow, Clarke notes that the support of the Hancock Whitney Small Business Matters program has been invaluable.


While Clarke mastered the cooking, she quickly learned there was much more to being a small business owner. Throughout the multi-week entrepreneurship program, she learned how to account for business costs, apply for permits, schedule inspections by the fire marshal, and more.


“Everything they laid out for me, and all the classes they had me take, helped me become a better business owner.”


The 2020 Small Business Matters program opened Clarke’s eyes to what’s needed in order to create a business with staying power. The long-term plan for Clarke and her husband is to own and operate a restaurant in the area. It aligns not only with the goals she has for herself, but also with her desire to pass her knowledge on to others.


“My goal everyday is to inspire someone to live their dream,” Clarke said. “I just hope that someone else can see it and know that if I can do it, they can do it. Be yourself, live your dream and don’t take it with you to the graveyard.”