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PEOPLE AND PLACES: Serving up a smile

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By Kacie Goode

When the first customer approached the window, Wanda and Kenny McDowell were brimming with excitement and nerves. It was the start of their new adventure. 

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“Stomachs in knots,” Kenny said, recalling the first day jitters. “Do not mess up.” 

The Bloomfield couple were set up at an event in Lockport last year, operating out of their concession trailer for the very first time. Wanda was staffing the window, while Kenny was preparing the orders. 

“It was an experience,” Kenny said. “We had no idea what we were getting into.” 

The day came with hurdles, but the McDowells made it out ultimately unscathed. 

The business, Red Hearts Concession, is something the couple got into about a year ago. With 31 years of factory work under his belt, Kenny told his wife he wanted to find an activity he enjoyed and something they could do together. 

They decided on a mobile concession stand. 

After finding and customizing a trailer, passing inspection and getting their license, the McDowells started working on what Kenny considered the hardest process — creating a menu. 

Kenny said the goal is to offer what customers want and at a good price. 

“We’re always pushing forward, trying to come up with new ideas,” he said.

Wanda said they often listen to customer suggestions, and the menu changes from time to time. 

“We kind of cater to the event,” Kenny said, explaining that some venues are going to have customers seeking more grab-and-go options because the atmosphere is faster pace. 

But whatever comes through their window, they also want to make sure it’s quality.

“We take pride in our food,” Wanda said. And they want to please the crowd. 

Building a positive relationship with others is another reason behind the creation of Red Hearts Concession. The couple enjoy meeting new people, and opening the concession has given them a reason to branch out and interact. 

“It’s been a tremendous blessing,” Kenny said. “We get to meet people from all different walks of life.” 

When they aren’t serving customers, the events give them a chance to grow as a family. While Kenny and Wanda often operate the truck alone, sometimes their adult children and grandchild come in and lend a hand. 

The McDowells are also a foster family, having provided temporary care for more than 50 kids in the past 10 years. 

While the kids don’t work at the concession, they enjoy bringing them along to different events and spending time together in a family-friendly atmosphere. Their home life has also helped prepare them for the food business. 

“We have a big family,” Kenny said, and they are used to cooking for numbers.  

Since opening about a year ago, the McDowells have set up on the roadside, at the library, at Kroger on Dixie Highway and at smaller community events, such as auctions, Mud Madness in Lockport and the Lawrenceburg Chicken Swap. 

“If people need us, they get in contact, and we set up and go there,” Wanda said. 

Because Kenny still works a four-day week at YKK, a factory in Lawrenceburg, the McDowells are currently limited to one or two-day events and weekends. But they are always on the lookout for opportunities.

“We would like to get into some fairs and festivals,” Kenny said, with several fall events fast approaching. But there is a lot to consider when looking for venues. 

Right now, the McDowells’ prep work often includes buying ingredients on a per-event basis, and even then, it’s calculating how many customers they think they will see.

“You have to buy enough ,but you can’t buy too much,” Kenny said. “If you buy too much, you ruin your profit.” 

They must also consider the weather, because the events they attend are outside.

“For most of the day, it was really pretty,” Wanda said of an event last week. But around noon, the busy time, the rain came in. “Then, you have to shut down.” 

But every challenge is a learning experience. The McDowells are still building a reputation and product, and Kenny said observing other operations has opened his eyes to the culinary industry. 

“It is a lot of hard work,” he said. 

At the moment, Kenny said, Red Hearts Concession isn’t a big, moneymaking endeavor. “We’re still trying to swim and breathe air.”

But it is an opportunity for the locals to serve their communities in a simple way and take pride in what they do.

“Seeing little kids, when you give them that ice cream, how their eyes light up,” Kenny said. “You made their day.” 

 

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Wanda and Kenny McDowell have called Bloomfield home for about 23 years. They were married in October 1986 and have two children, Brian and Amie. They also have a 6-year-old granddaughter, Macey, and a granddaughter, Kinsley, on the way. 

Their role as a Maryhurst foster family began 10 years ago, a choice they describe as both a challenge and a blessing, and one they find rewarding. Wanda has a background in child care  and said some of the children they have provided care for over the years still stay in touch. 

The next scheduled event for Red Hearts Concession is the Lawrenceburg Chicken Swap the first Saturday in September.