In honor of #NationalTacoDay, we present The Vet Chef

Lauren Warner
October 04, 2018 - 12:46 pm

Photo courtesy of The Vet Chef LLC

When Kyle Gourlie was injured on a deployment to Afghanistan in 2005, like most soldiers, he was left wondering 'what's next?'

Two years in rehab at the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton ended with a medical retirement for Kyle.

"What am I going to do with my life?" Kyle's wife Amanda recalls him saying. "I was in the Infantry, you don't get a whole lot of real-world experience from that."

Photo courtesy of The Vet Chef LLC

A visit to the Art Institute of Seattle inspired Kyle to use his G.I. Bill to pursue a culinary degree. At the same time, he was invited to speak on panels and local veterans programs for the VA about veteran awareness. It was during that he recognized the huge shortfall in the civilian workplace reintegrating veterans and helping them feel fulfilled.  He wanted to help fill that gap, and after graduating from the Art Institute in 2014, he decided to open a restaurant. The goal? To hire veterans and create something that they could feel passionate about. 

"We had a one and a half-year-old at the time," says Amanda. "I suggested we scale it down a bit, maybe try a food truck? The more we talked about it the more we realized that a food truck would be the perfect fit for our family."

The next hurdle was figuring out how a food truck was going to help veterans, which was quickly solved by deciding that the brand would be owned, managed and operated by veterans and their families. 

Photo courtesy of The Vet Chef LLC

The Vet Chef opened on July 5, 2015, and successfully employs five veterans, two immediate veteran dependents, and three extended family members.  Kyle and Amanda now have five food trucks in their business and are well on their way to fulfilling Kyle's goals of creating and running a business that veterans can be passionate about.

What better menu to serve from a food truck than tacos, carnitas and burritos. The menu's Mexican influence started with Kyle's father-in-law who taught him to cook traditional Mexican dishes at his wife's annual Castro Family reunion. One of the best sellers on their menu is their street taco meal and Amanda credits Kyle's special rubs and spices for the meat. 

"You can go anywhere and get a street taco," she says, "but in order to have a good taco, you need savory flavor, need to have crunch and a little bit of texture with the tortilla."

Kyle continues to speak on the importance of integrating combat-injured veterans into the workplace and how employers can better understand and assist their combat veterans. Now he not only advocates for it but puts those ideas into action serving as a model for how to successfully bring veterans back to the civilian workforce.

If you live in Seattle, check The Vet Chef  website or subscribe to their calendar to get updates on where their trucks will be throughout the week.

To share your story or your thoughts, send us a note at gethelp@connectingvets.com.