Valda Shakespeare knows a thing or two about cooking for crowds. Back home in Jamaica, her mother would make three meals a day for her and her 12 siblings. Then, Valda cooked at or managed various catering operations. Now, she runs Chef Shakespeare, a popular Caribbean food truck based in Tampa, FL.
Valda immigrated from Jamaica to the United States in the late 1980s and went to culinary school in 2006. “I’ve always been in the food industry,” she says, having worked at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium and at Aramark in the University of South Florida. But when the pandemic shut everything down in spring 2020, all that changed.
And that’s when she knew: “It was time to get my own little thing going.”
“I love people, and I love cooking, with all my heart,” Valda says. That care shows in her food–from flavorful curry goat to luscious fried plantains. Chef Shakespeare even offers vegan meals, such as jerk veggie ribs and sautéed jackfruit, which is a spin on escovitch, the Spanish-influenced fish dish. “My family ate jackfruit almost every day from the trees in our yard,” Valda says, “But before, we just opened the fruit and ate it. I had never cooked it before, so I said to myself, ‘let me try and do this right.’ Now, I make a sauce with bell peppers, carrots, and onions. I season it and put it over the jackfruit. Even my family is surprised, ‘What?’ they say, ‘Jackfruit can cook?’ And when they taste it, they’re like, ‘No way!’ It’s so delicious.”
Technically, Chef Shakespeare is a food trailer–not a food truck. “I know from experience that if I have a food truck, and I go out one day to cook my food and turn the key and the engine is not working, I’m doomed,” Valda says. “So, I have a trailer.” That way, all she has to do is haul the trailer. Even if her truck fails, she can borrow or rent another truck.
Sometimes, Valda will pack up her trailer and haul it to an event to sell food there, and she occasionally receives requests for catering. As word spreads, she’s learning which invitations are worth her time and which aren’t ideal for her.
Valda says, “I think there’s a need for authentic, good food, because people complain all the while that they spent all this money and the food tastes bad. I love to present food to someone, and hear them say, ‘Oh, I’m so full–that tasted so good!’ That’s my reward.”
But even a tremendous cook like Valda can’t do everything on her own. Before opening Chef Shakespeare, she met two representatives from companies that offer point-of-sale systems–one from Clover and one from a competitor. She recounts: “I gave them both my business card and said, ‘I am opening a food truck very soon.’ The other guy was like, ‘Okay, you can give me a call when you’re ready.’ And the guy from Clover said, ‘I will call you.’ So that’s a difference, right?”
That same Clover rep has supported Valda through the launch and evolution of her business. “He went above and beyond to help me out with certain things and get me going,” she says. “He showed me how to call for assistance and how to update my software. He was very helpful, and he still is—whatever I need, I can call him.”
Beyond using the Clover Mini point-of-sale system, Valda takes advantage of Clover’s monthly sales reports feature, and she appreciates that Clover promptly deposits the day’s proceeds into her bank account. But, her favorite feature of the Clover restaurant POS system is its integration with the third-party app DAVO, which automatically apportions and pays sales tax for her. She says, “That has been a tremendous help—like a gift from heaven.”
Valda only has one employee for now, but she would love to expand her catering activities and perhaps buy another trailer for Chef Shakespeare. In the meantime, she’ll be cooking for the people of Tampa. She says, “If you want tasty, authentic Jamaican cuisine, then Chef Shakespeare is the place to be.”
Read more stories about how merchants are getting the support they need to launch and grow businesses they love with help from Clover, and learn tips from other Clover merchants on building a resilient catering business.
Sign up and learn more about Clover.