Faces of the Boom: Woman cooks up delivery service for people with the munchies

Kelli Cook, owner of Munchies Food Taxi, picks up a food order at North-Bound Restaurant in Williston, N.D., on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – A new Williston resident who moved to North Dakota after the hair salons she owned in Chicago closed is getting ready for her new business venture to take off.

Kelli Cook, a 40-year-old mother of two, recently launched Munchies Food Taxi, a restaurant delivery service that aims to fill a void in Williston.

Cook has three locally owned restaurants participating and is seeking more delivery drivers while she builds agreements with larger chain restaurants.

“I want to be ready for when it goes berserk,” said Cook, who does much of the delivery driving herself.

Cook first heard about North Dakota’s oil boom on a TV news show that aired as she was thinking about what job options she’d have in Chicago. The downturned economy forced her to close the salons she owned for 15 years.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, there has to be a million men there. I can cut hair,’ ” Cook recalled.

She moved to Williston a little over two years ago after doing some research and learning there was a demand for hair stylists in the growing area.

Cook started out cutting men’s hair in a barber shop of a crew camp that houses oilfield workers. But the men were so tired after their long shifts that they’d often cancel, and most wanted buzz cuts or a trim above the ears.

“I like to create masterpieces and you can’t do that on a man,” Cook said.

Cook still considers hair a passion and sells hair extensions on the side, but she decided to use the skills she gained as a business owner and go in a new direction.

“God directed my path differently,” Cook said.

She got the idea for a food taxi business one cold winter evening when she was craving restaurant food but didn’t want to leave the house. Cook recalled that Chicago had restaurant delivery services and thought Williston could support a similar business.

“I had a feeling it would hit Williston like a brick,” Cook said.

Munchies Food Taxi has been operating for about three weeks, and word of mouth and social media advertising have Cook and her delivery drivers hopping.

She has four chain restaurants that are interested in having Munchies deliver, but the businesses are already so busy that they’re still figuring out how they would handle the additional volume. Customers have told Cook that once she adds more restaurants, she’s going to be flooded with orders.

“That’s when I’m going to get my gym shoes on and get ready,” Cook said.

Cook said her family was worried about her moving to Williston, primarily concerned about how a black woman would be received in predominantly white rural North Dakota. But Cook said she has felt welcomed in Williston and experienced more incidents of racism in Chicago.

Cook, who has a son in elementary school and a daughter in high school, said she expects to stay in North Dakota and expand the business. She plans to expand to Minot and Dickinson and will consider franchise opportunities.

Even as the business grows, Cook said she wants to continue doing a lot of the deliveries and building a rapport with customers.

“People are really appreciative of the service,” Cook said. “The looks on their faces are just like ‘thank you.’ ”

The business can be found at www.munchiesfoodtaxi.com.

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