BELOIT — “People are a whole lot happier when you feed them.”
That’s what Jalen Ponder, an 19-year-old graduate of the 2020 Class of Hononegah High School, said about the business he founded known as Evendtor.
Designed to book food trucks for events, Evendtor has been growing along with the trend of food on wheels. Ponder, who works with 30 area food trucks, helps book them for birthday parties, graduations, corporate events and more. His business has assisted with the Rockton River Market and events for Frito Lay and the Phoenix Apartments in Beloit and schools such as Hononegah High School and Willowbrook Middle School. More information is available at https://www.evendtor.com.
When Ponder gets a request for an event, he starts notifying his growing fleet of area food trucks. The type of truck selected is determined on availability and the type of food sought by the host.
Ponder said he began his unique business at age 13 when living in Detroit with his aunt.
“I wanted to find a way to help out my family, but I was too young to get a job. I didn’t want to make money the wrong way,” he said.
When brainstorming ways to make a respectable income, he spotted a food truck operator up the street selling hot dogs with a special chili sauce and deep fried cornbread nuggets.
“He always had people handing him money, and I asked how I could help him out,” Ponder said.
The vendor told him he could help him do posts on his Facebook page. People responded well and started messaging the page to find out where the truck would be located.
Ponder still has warm memories of the man and his food truck, which were willing to take a chance on him and give him opportunity.
Ponder’s adventures as a 13-year-old continued as one night the food truck owner called him to tell him his truck blew up after a stove caught on fire.
“I felt like I was in a James Bond movie,” Ponder said. “It looked like a bomb went off, and that put him out of business.”
The owner of Chili Sauce and Dogs, Benjamin Welch, fondly recalled his days mentoring Ponder prior to the truck’s demise. Welch, who has moved on to real estate, said he met Ponder through Ponder’s uncle. Welch admits when he first saw Ponder he thought he was a lot older than he was as he was so tall. When he was later dropped off by his grandmother, Welch realized how young he was.
“I couldn’t believe it. Once I learned how old he was, I decided I was going to give him a chance,” Welch said. “I have a marketing background myself. I took him under my wing to help me out while he would learn how to start a marketing company. He just kept getting better and better.”
Welch said Ponder has always been bright.
“When I met him I was very impressed. He was eager to learn. He’s the true definition of an entrepreneur. He was fun to work with, and it was mutually beneficial,” Welch said. “He’s great at taking feedback and making adjustments and not scared to go out there and learn something new.”
After honing his booking skills in Detroit, Ponder decided to try his hand at bookin in the Stateline Area and started working with Pizza Fresca. Over the years he brought in the Olive Branch and other food trucks to his offerings.
Patrick Anderson, owner of Pizza Fresca which offers woodfire pizza and artisanal gelato, was thrilled to meet Ponder. Anderson said his truck had been struggling to secure well-populated events when he brought on Ponder.
“We do well but if you get a good crowd you can do a lot of transactions quickly. Almost 10 percent of sales come from three big days,” Anderson noted.
Anderson met up with Ponder at a Starbucks and started talking.
“He was trying to get food trucks into high schools to do teacher appreciation lunches. He worked hard, and I was very impressed. He was a junior at the time. He was very diligent to make sure we had what we needed and he bent over backwards to help,” Anderson said. “I was very impressed with his work ethic and his flexibility to work with us and find creative ways to synergize.”
Over the years Anderson said Ponder got Pizza Fresca to high school events and weddings.
“He tends to get us stuff everywhere. We’ve done quite a bit of work with Jalen for last year,” Anderson said.
Ponder explained how food truck operators are busy cooking and don’t always have time to do marketing and sales.
“I’m in a sales position. I go out and approach these corporate offices and new markets and help sell their services so they can get bookings,” Ponder said.
The demand for food trucks continues to grow as their food is unique, fresh and affordable.
“Apparently people want food trucks and their wedding and I’m not going to tell them ‘no,’” Ponder said. “It’s a steal, and they just love it.”
Ponder, who said he’s always liked parties and food, says he likes making memorable experiences for people. The beauty of food trucks is how people don’t have to stray very far from their business or gathering.
“You don’t have to leave to go get food. You can put together a party around food,” he said.
Ponder, who took a break from Beloit College during the pandemic, continues to flex his entrepreneurial muscles. He created a digital marketing business with five others called Evolution DMA (digital marketing agency).
“We do digital marketing for primarily Black and Latino businesses. We have a photographer, copywriter and graphic designers. I focus on doing the operations and client updates and making sure our clients are happy,” Ponder said.
Ponder plans to return to school to study business, although he admits he struggles to do things from a textbook after so much hands-on experience.
He joked how one of his colleagues in Evolution DMA got an ‘F’ in a business class when he proposed the business idea and the instructor said it wasn’t very realistic.
“Grading is partially subjective,” Ponder said.
Ponder plans to continue his business ventures. He hopes to one day run a large event company which not only provides food trucks, but also offers DJ’s, florists, decorators and other offerings for larger weddings and events.
One day he dreams to have the resources to fight climate change and start a child development center in Detroit to give more kids opportunities.
“Some of the kids we knew in Detroit have already passed away or are in jail. It really shows it’s not about the person in some instances, but the environment. I want to give these kids a start,” Ponder said.