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From a school bus to a food bus

An Appleton woman hits the road as she accomplishes her lifelong dream of owning her own restaurant

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January 12, 2023

APPLETON – Working in the restaurant industry nearly all of her working life, Heather Karisny said she has always had a dream of one day owning her own restaurant.

“I have been in the restaurant industry since I was 15 years old,” she said. “I started as a hostess, became a waitress, bartender, then front of house manager to general manager.”

During that time, Karisny said she would often find herself in the kitchen, filling in and learning as she went, eventually working as a kitchen manager.

“While working as kitchen manager, I was able to learn how to cook at all of the stations in the kitchen, as well as developing my cooking skills,” she said. “I created menu items, recipes, etc. and realized my passion was in the creating and cooking of items.”

These experiences, Karisny said, only further fueled her desire to one day open her own restaurant.

“I’ve helped open restaurants and have worked in the industry everywhere I have lived,” she said. “These years of service in the food industry are what gave me the confidence to take the leap and do my own thing.”

Karisny said she always knew whatever she did would be out-of-the-box different.

But, had someone told her then that her “own thing” would put her behind the wheel of a school bus, she likely wouldn’t have believed them.

However, in the aftermath of a global pandemic, Karisny said the wandering table – her food bus – was meant to be.

“COVID-19 completely changed the restaurant/dining-out world, and my mind changed on owning a brick-and-mortar place,” she said. 

Karisny said when the idea of a food truck came to mind, she knew she had to do somethingdifferent.

“That was the only way I would open a food truck,” she said. “I started thinking about what I could do differently with that. That is how the idea of putting a table inside came up.”

Cue the bus
Karisny said a school bus had enough room for a kitchen and a small table.

“We are able to provide your normal food truck events – special events with seating up to 10 people at unique locations, such as chefs tasting dinners, birthday parties, bachelorette parties, and work gatherings, as well as catering on the bus or off.”
Karisny said she wanted the mobile restaurant’s name to be as unique as its “location.”

the wandering table sets up shop at food truck events, hosts special events with seating up to 10 people and offers catering on the bus or off. Submitted Photo

“I wanted to have the name be something that encompassed traveling and food, which is how ‘the wandering table’ came to be,” she said. “When I heard it, I knew it was the one.”

The renovation of the bus, Karisny said, was a long process, and took about six months from start to finish.

“We had planned on opening a few months sooner than we did, however, we ran into a lot of delays with the shop space not being ready on time, as well as delays in getting equipment in,” she said. “It was stressful, and also a cool process to witness it going from a school bus to a food bus.”

The menu
Like everything else associated with the wandering table, Karisny said its menu is also unique.

“My whole philosophy with the menu is to be able to offer something for everyone – no matter what their food preference or dietary restriction might be,” she said. “The menu changes seasonally. We try to add features as well.”

Karisny said the wandering table also offers gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, low-carb and dairy-free options. 

“We make all of our sauces from scratch, and each menu item is made to order,” she said. “We also offer catering – whatever that might look like for our clients,” she said. “We can cater for a small family gathering, all the way to a large wedding. We can offer drop-and-go catering or full-plated dinner service.”

Karisny said the wandering table also offers online ordering.

“Our customers are able to see where we are, pick a time, place their order and get a text when it’s ready,” she said.

Karisny said it is a convenient option – especially with the colder weather.

She said at this time, the wandering table doesn’t offer delivery because it doesn’t have the staff.

“We are also actively looking for local farms to get produce from, as well as researching other local vendors for other items, like cheese and bread,” she said. “Locally sourced items are important to me.”

Wandering throughout Northeast Wisconsin
Karisny said the wandering table currently travels from Green Bay to Oshkosh and from Hortonville to Kaukauna.

“Anywhere in the Fox Valley area,” she said. “We are always looking for new places to set up and new partnerships to make. Right now, we have developed some strong relationships with some local breweries and other businesses.”

Karisny said the wandering table’s summer 2023 calendar is already starting to fill up.

“We will go directly to people’s houses for private events, weddings, we do music festivals/live music events or other various events in the area,” she said. “We don’t have a set schedule, but we post on our Facebook and Instagram pages where we will be each week and then again the day of. No day of the week is off limits for us.”

Unavoidable hurdles
Karisny said with any new business opening, there are always hurdles to navigate.

“We have had our fair share in our few months open,” she said. “We have had major delays with our shop space/home base, which caused the bus to not open when it was supposed to.”

Karisny said this was a big stressor, as the food bus missed the majority of the warm months and didn’t open until Oct. 1.

“We’ve had issues with some equipment not working properly – it’s mostly fixed for now,” she laughed.

After spending much of her adult working life in the restaurant industry, Heather Karisny said it was the time to gamble on herself – which she did by opening the wandering table in October 2022. Submitted Photo

There was then the puncture in the bus tire, the generator theft and the Wisconsin weather.

“We are still down a generator,” she said. “Though it is not easy at all, we have carried on throughout all of these obstacles.”

Karisny said the cold weather this Wisconsin winter is bringing has proved challenging.

“Most people do not want to stand in the cold to go to a food truck,” she said. “This is one of the reasons we decided to offer online ordering. We are trying to get creative with what we do so people can still enjoy us all year round.”

In its own lane
Karisny said there are several things that make the wandering table unique.

“We are unique because we offer something no one else offers,” she said. “We have a different vehicle and a different way of serving our guests. We have a table inside our food truck, which gives us the capability to do small, private dinners at some cool locations.”

Karisny said despite all of the stress, sleepless nights, blood, sweat, tears and more stress, being able to see something from start to finish has been “incredibly rewarding.” 

“It is exciting to watch people try something new and give us feedback,” she said. “We have made some incredible connections with different businesses and different people.”

After working years in the industry for other people, Karisny said she knew it was time for her to take the risk and do something for herself.

“Put all of my hard work into my own thing, and see what it could become,” she said. “I also love that I have the opportunity to give back to my community – the community my family and I are living in. It is so rewarding, and I can’t wait for what’s to come after we’ve been open a little longer.”

?Looking toward the future, Karisny said she hopes the bus keeps growing, continues to make connections and offers an “amazing product” to the Fox Valley area.

“The relationships I’ve made throughout this journey have been amazing, and I look forward to continuing meeting people and making those connections,” she said. “I am always open to answering people’s questions and bringing the bus to new locations.”

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