Student turns recipe into sweet success

Many people wait for opportunities to come to them, while others take the bull by the horns and spin something out of nothing.

For Joshua Stevens, a 26-year-old Pierce College small business management student, creating his own path has always been his ultimate goal.

Straight out of high school at 18 years old, the Van Nuys, Calif. resident couldn’t take the thought of working for “the man,” so he enrolled in Pierce’s Small Business Management program.

Soon, he was taking the knowledge gained from class and applying it to the real world through his small business, West Coast Fun Foods.

“I used to enjoy when the teacher would give the class a situation like, ‘Say you had this many hotdog carts…’ and I’d raise my hand and say something like, ‘Well in my business … ’” Stevens said. ”It was a pretty awesome experience.”

Stevens began to create the framework for his very first business funnel cake venture with just $1,000.

“I had a partner for the first few months. He just must have been more sane than me,” Stevens said, laughing.

The first location where the “Worlds Best Funnel Cakes” set up shop was at the Northridge Mall Farmer’s Market.  Stevens still sells his food there in addition to other locations like the Los Angeles County Fair and Pierce’s own Halloween Harvest Festival.

“The Harvest Fest was our very first long-running event,” Stevens said. ”We absolutely love coming back each year.”

After the success of the funnel cakes, Stevens couldn’t help but continue to grow his business. He decided to keep with the food theme and start a lemonade stand, too.

Although food wasn’t the driving passion behind the business, he felt he found his niche and decided to stick with it.

“Who doesn’t like food anyway?” Stevens said. “Lemonade and funnel cake, the perfect combo — one for each hand.”

The business has been successful enough to allow Stevens to begin to dabble in the world of selling his products wholesale.

“At first I didn’t want to sell it,” Stevens said. “I wanted my own thing, that no one else could have.”

After he had grown tired of the constant requests for his secret recipe, Stevens said he finally gave in and started selling to mostly small Mexican restaurants around the Valley.

Not only can his funnel cake mix be purchased, but he has begun to sell his shaved ice carts as small franchises to people interested in owning their own business, “without all of the royalties,” Stevens said.

The Harvest Fest has been having Stevens’ funnel cakes and lemonade at the event for the past six seasons and has added in the last few seasons his shaved ice cart and “Salt and Pepper,” which has more of a gourmet food truck feel.

“It’s been amazing to be able to be a part of such a great group of people who truly want the business to succeed,” Jake Ortiz, a 20-year old employee at Stevens’ shaved ice cart, said. “The camaraderie between everyone is unbeatable. This is definitely one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

Connor Bruno, a 20-year-old employee at Salt and Pepper, admits that the heat, dust and exhaustion can get to him at times, but the interactions he shares with the public keeps him coming back each year.

“It’s a lot of dirty hard work,” Bruno said. “You really have to love it — if your heart’s not in it, you won’t last in this business.”

Not only has the Halloween Harvest Festival helped boost the publicity of the growing business, but each year they’ve returned to the Festival, their profits have risen by at least 30 percent, Stevens said.

Robert McBroom, the Farm Center manager, admits that Stevens’ stands hold a special place in the Festival family.

“Josh is a great kid, hard worker, and continues to show us each year how much farther he can take his business,” McBroom said. “His food fits in perfectly with the Harvest Festival.”

Being at the Festival is one of Stevens’ favorite parts of his job, not only because of the family feel of the Pierce Farm Center, but because he has made a full circle from where he started.

“I can stand here at the Farm Center and practically see where I learned the concepts I use on a daily basis, only a few hundred meters away,” Stevens said. “It’s kind of an out-of-this-world experience.”