Young Entrepreneur Feeds Passion

Ashley Manning Finds Tasty Business Niche

By Jack Criss

Manning’s Munchies, a food truck in Oxford, is the brainchild of twenty-one-year old Ole Miss student, Ashley Manning. This ambitious young woman, besides majoring in Entrepreneurship along with a Chemistry minor who is also getting her pre-requirements for veterinary school, has found the time to feed her business drive—and her hungry fellow college students.

“I opened up last October 8 during the first SEC football game on campus here,” says Manning, who oversees eight employees on the truck. “I trained everyone to do a little bit of everything here,” she says. “We’re located on the Square, right behind the bar, The Green at Harrison’s, in a gravel yard—they’re our commissary. I partnered with Harrison’s to remain permanently placed there and not drive around like other food trucks. We’re open Thursday through Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., so we’re what you’d call a ‘late night’ food option. There are not too many of those types of places in Oxford so, being located behind a bar, business has been extremely good so far. Our being where we are and serving what we do also keeps people from driving to the chain restaurants after drinking,” she says, “and we’re located right by the Uber pick-up place, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Manning herself studied all of the City of Oxford’s regulations and requirements prior to opening Manning’s Munchies, of which there were quite a few: a food facility permit, privilege license through the city, proof of commissary from the Health Department, etc., etc. After finding the perfect location, which she said was the most challenging part of opening, was met by locating on the private property behind The Green at Harrison’s.

She has three main cooks on her truck, but Manning herself cooks also. “Everyone can cook if necessary, though,” she says. “All eight employees can not only prepare the food but they also can work the cash register and, basically, do everything and anything required. Our main food items, or specialties, are our patty melts, cheese fries and chicken and cheese quesadillas which are made with fried, not shredded, chicken—are all three very popular and sell well. Oxford doesn’t have a Whataburger or Waffle House that serve these kinds of foods, so when I began planning the menu I wanted to make sure we did have them available. We also don’t sell alcohol—only water and Powerade,” says Manning.

“We received our custom made trailer from US custom trailers located in Tampa, Florida,” says Manning. “Throughout our experience we have had trials with the company that built the trailer such as certain appliances not working or parts having to be replaced, not sending us records of equipment purchases proving the equipment was new, etc. But, thankfully, we have everything fixed and running now. But having to deal with that was our main challenge when we started out.”

Manning says that the support from the community has been tremendous, especially from Pinelake College, and various sororities and fraternities on campus that frequent her food truck. “We are a Christian- established business,” says Manning. “We write bible verses on top of our containers along with a verse of the day on our chalkboard that has our menu to try to spread the word.”

Manning credits her family’s support—on several levels—for her success thus far. “I had had this idea for some time,” she says, “and, initially, my brother, Jake, was going to go in with me. But he has several businesses of his own and just couldn’t find the time. My oldest brother, John, who loves to cook and also loves the business side of restaurants—and is a businessman himself, too—decided to go in with me on the business. He became an investor, mentor and menu-planner and helped me find our trailer—and then we approached my dad with the idea. (Her dad is the well-known Madison physician, Dr. Michael Manning, a Drew native). He had put money away for me and my brothers for college over the years, and I approached him to get a little bit of that early to jumpstart Manning’s Munchies. My dad trusts us to do the right thing, and always has, so he agreed to give me my half which I used to apply for a loan. My parents also transferred my car in my name in order to help with the loan. So, this business would have never existed without my brothers and my parents, Michael and Scarlette.”

“I raised all three of my children to be entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs they all are,” says Dr. Manning. “Our children will forever be Scarlette’s and mine’s greatest accomplishment. We sure are proud of them.”

Manning trained her staff before opening at her parent’s house in Ridgeland with brother John teaching the crew the recipes and  menu. “So many other people were involved early on in helping me open Manning’s Munchies,” she says. “I could have never done this without their help. It’s truly been a blessing.”

Will she keep the truck after graduation? “The plan is for one of my managers, a freshman named Maddie—who knows business, having worked with her father—to take over while I’m gone. Of course, as the owner, I’ll be back in as often as I can, but it will be left in good hands.”

This young entrepreneur will obviously go far in the different careers she has ahead of her. Ashley Manning’s success certainly proves that young people, who have her levels of drive, determination and business savvy, can do well at any age.