Helping Veterans Cook Up a New Chapter with Let’s Chow

Luis and Olivia Surla with their Let's Chow food truck

Nov 13, 2023

Let’s Chow is a recipient of an Impact Grant from, the company’s social impact arm, as a part of its Pledge 1% commitment. Founded by an active duty military member, Jordan Foley, Let’s Chow aims to support Veterans and military spouses as they transition back to civilian life with training and business opportunities in the food space. The Spotlight Series highlights outstanding organizations dedicated to enriching the food experience for all.

Let’s Chow is a nonprofit organization (and Toast customer!) dedicated to helping military Veterans and their spouses find their successful next chapter in the food industry with culinary and business training and job opportunities. While some Veterans may have gained culinary experience during their military service, they often lack specific skills or certifications required to work in professional, civilian kitchens.

That’s where Let’s Chow comes in — with a 5-step vocational culinary program, they offer a paid training curriculum that Veterans can complete in their own time as they explore and develop skills for a new career path. In honor of Veterans Day in the U.S., we caught up with co-founder, CEO, and head chef Jordan Foley to understand why he started the program and the impact it makes today. 

Navigating Change

Each year, approximately 200,000 service members leave the U.S. military and transition to civilian life with various skills from their time in the service. There are a number of organizations, from the government to the nonprofit sector, designed to help navigate this change, but for some, these options, which span a multitude of careers and sectors, can be overwhelming as they get started.

“There are a lot of programs out there that are a mile wide and an inch deep saying, ‘You can come to us, and we’ll help you start any business,’” said Foley. “I wanted to invert that and hyper-focus on one industry so I could take a Veteran from zero to full ownership of a set of skills and a business.”

Among those leaving the military are a number of Culinary Specialists who, in many cases, spent years in the Army or Navy cooking up hot meals for their fellow service members each day. With this in mind, Foley designed the Let’s Chow program to support all levels of culinary experience. However, it’s not limited to aspiring chefs alone — the team even encourages Veterans to join the program for the therapeutic benefits of cooking, whether they plan to open a restaurant or simply look to impress friends and family at home.

“We didn't want to assume everybody coming to us had culinary experience and, at the same time, we didn't want to put somebody who had 20 years of experience as a Navy Culinary Specialist on the starter track,” said Foley. “We assess each person in our program and see where they are professionally, see what their goals are. Do they want to open a food truck? Do they want to operate a brick-and-mortar restaurant? Do they want to go into consumer packaged goods?”

This personal approach is critical, as finding purpose can also be a particular challenge for Veterans. According to Pew Research Center, 44% of post-9/11 veterans say their readjustment to civilian life was difficult, which can often be attributed to a number of issues that are, unfortunately, common among Veterans, including job-hopping, isolation, and depression.

“Finding meaningful work, engaging with the community being part of their job, working with a menu that might call back to their own heritage, or even using a grandmother’s recipes, all of this gives a Veteran an opportunity to find their purpose,” said Foley.

A Network of Support

Behind Let’s Chow is an entire ecosystem of support for the military community, as their food trucks and catering programs serve food at churches, homeless shelters, American Legions, and other nonprofits that work with Veterans. This network-building approach is part of what inspired Let’s Chow in the first place.

“I started Let’s Chow as a response to the death of a friend of mine, who was a Navy Veteran,” explained Foley.  “He was trying to start up a food delivery business and kept failing, and February 2019, he died by suicide. He was a Naval Academy grad, a football player, with a really extensive support system, so I thought, if there's no hope for him to start a business post-service, what's the hope for an enlisted sailor who doesn't have that kind of network?”

Each element of the Let’s Chow program is designed to help Veterans develop new skills while also creating a support system for them to explore the culinary industry with minimal risk. 

“The failure stories are super important too; people can do this for a month and realize, ‘Wow, the culinary industry is hard, and I don't want to do this,’ and the good news is they didn't spend their life savings on a food truck. They made some money for a month or two, and now they can walk away, scot-free,” said Foley. “We absorb that, but at the same time, we’re here to help set up businesses to succeed.”

A Recipe for Success

Out of those failures also come a number of success stories. Let’s Chow currently operates 18 businesses, including four food trucks across the country, catering operations, and other food businesses. One of those businesses includes Joselle’s Filipino Cuisine, a food truck in San Diego. 

Started by Luis and Olivia Surla, a husband and wife team, Luis previously served as a Navy medic and was injured in the Iraq War. A trained pastry chef, Luis was able to send Olivia to culinary school with his GI Bill. As Foley explains it, Olivia’s mother had recently fallen ill, and she began searching the internet late at night, seeking ways to feel more fulfilled and connected to her heritage.

“Whether it was luck or SEO, Let’s Chow comes up. She put in an application that said, ‘I want to cook my mother's recipes. I want to call it Joselle’s Kitchen after her, I want to be my own boss and start my own food truck,’” said Foley.

Olivia and Luis entered the Let’s Chow Fellowship program in 2021, and the team was able to set them up with their very own food truck. Being located in San Diego, which has a large military presence, has allowed them to continue to give back to their own community as they often donate their services to feed fellow Veterans.

“They’ve grown it from a couple delivery orders from a ghost kitchen to one of the top 10% of earnings for mobile food orders in Southern California,” said Foley. “And that’s just incredible.”

Jordan Foley is the co-founder and CEO of Let’s Chow. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Foley served on submarines prior to becoming a Navy JAG. During law school, Jordan experienced the death of a friend and fellow Veteran who fell into debt starting his own business. In 2020, Jordan founded Let's Chow to help Veterans break into the culinary industry. Jordan finished culinary school in 2021 and uses a lifelong passion of cooking and mentorship to help others achieve the American Dream.

You can learn more about Let’s Chow on their website and connect with them on Instagram.

This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. 

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