Engineer reinvents herself as food truck entrepreneur
As a child, Jacqueline Curley, now of South Whitehall, had no idea she would grow up to be a top salesperson in one of the world’s largest corporations, while also being the only woman in her global engineering role.
But, what Curley did know in her youth, growing up in Wilkes-Barre, is she loved math and interacting with and helping people.
So, she was determined to find a career that cultivated these passions.
And she did, rising through the ranks with a 28-year career at General Electric, most recently as the company’s application engineering leader for G.E. Automation and Controls, a business-to-business unit of the enterprise.
Curley’s role came with global travel on assignments to troubleshoot solutions for industrial networking devices, including noteworthy successes on solutions for cranes in Singapore, Titan IV missile launcher at Cape Canaveral, and the control system for the Freedom Tower in New York City.
“I developed quite a knack for [industrial networking] communications,” Curley said. “I can trouble shoot anything and make it work again.”
But in March 2017 Curley’s nearly three-decade career run at G.E. came to a screeching halt when her role was eliminated during a corporate downsize.
This left her unemployed and with a future that looked bleak and uncertain.
“Although it’s hard to take news like that after being so loyal for 28 years, I was excited to write my next chapter,” Curley said.
Curley, 51, with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Penn State University, knew she had to think fast.
Following on the heels of a secondary passion to work in the food industry, Curley brainstormed with her niece, Elizabeth Cox, renowned executive banquet chef at Renaissance Allentown, to come up with a concept and recipes for a food truck business.
The same day she received the news that she no longer had a job, Curley and her niece unanimously agreed to the name Aunt Jackie’s Peace Love & Pierogi as Curley’s new business venture.
With a Lithuanian heritage, and growing up eating pierogi, and after researching the existing food trucks in the Lehigh Valley, Curley knew pierogi would be a differentiated cuisine.
“I’ve always had a passion for food,” Curley said. “I was never brave enough to just do it.”
She was asked how working at G.E. helped her gain courage.
“I have a very strong executive presence and a great translatable skill set to do anything,” she explained. “A lot is inherent nature — being analytical, empathetic and patient to solve a problem.”
Curley’s food truck can be seen at various wineries, distilleries and breweries across the Lehigh Valley, including her grand opening gig in July 2017 at Eight Oaks Craft Distillers in New Tripoli, which turned out to be the biggest Saturday in the two-year history of the distillery.
To make the career transition more rewarding, Curley has made Aunt Jackie’s a family business, with her teenage daughter and son helping her prep the food and work the truck.
“To cultivate these two little people into young adults,” Curley said. “So they can have good work ethic and be problem solvers and interact with the public, while watching them grow has been pretty incredible.”
Not only has Curley hit the ground running with a successful food truck business, already sitting at the top as the No. 3 food truck in the Lehigh Valley, she was a guest mentor Feb. 13, at Da Vinci Science Center’s Women in Science and Engineering forum, at Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.
At the forum, Curley used her engineering career experiences to help mentor hundreds of Lehigh Valley high school girls, to encourage them to enter into careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
“Unfortunately, many young women do not always have the opportunity to meet female STEM role models,” said Lin Erickson, executive director of Da Vinci Science Center.
“The WISE Forum provides students with the unique opportunity to meet one-on-one with successful female STEM professionals like Jackie, inspiring their own path to future success in STEM.”
Curley is looking forward to sharing her experiences with other young women.
“I had such an incredible career,” Curley said. “If I can capture the attention of one kid and inspire them, then that makes it all worthwhile.”
“My advice to the future STEM leaders is to develop their domain expertise, but to round out their skills,” Curley continued. “Be a good listener, communicator and problem solver. Most of all, be empathetic and passionate about winning.”
Aunt Jackie’s menu consists of five to nine pierogi with new ones added periodically, mostly savory, with a few sweet.
To complement the pierogi menu is Curley’s family recipe for homemade kielbasa and halupki.
The pu pu platter consists of half a kielbasa sandwich served on a marbled, rye roll with creamy horseradish sauce, two pierogi and one halupki.
The most popular pierogi, Jamaican Me Crazy, is Jamaican jerk chicken, plantains and brown sugar, stuffed in curried dough.
A few other popular pierogi flavors are Chicken Pot Pie-rogi, Shepherd’s Pie-rogi and New York Deli.
To support area businesses, Curley uses local vendors for the ingredients for her products as well as local farms for produce and eggs.
With Curley’s niece on staff to create recipes and plate presentation ideas, Aunt Jackie’s has set the bar for typical food truck fare.
“We take it to the next level,” Curley said.
The last piece of importance to Curley with the launch of Aunt Jackie’s is to use it to help pay it forward in the community with fundraising, while bringing awareness and education to certain causes and efforts.
“There is education that needs to happen in the community,” Curley said. “If I can be a part of that, it would be a thrill.”