When you first hear the name The COOP, your mind may wander to a farm setting with rolling pastures, clucking chickens and roaming cows. Owner Lily Sutch grew up on a farm in Durham, NC and knows this lifestyle well. Inspired by her country roots and culinary prowess, she started The COOP food truck to prepare gourmet burritos anytime, morning or night.
Brushed with a hand-painted honorary mascot by Igor’s Custom, we sat truck-side with Lily to hear about her vision for the business and her hopes for the future. Shall we dig in?
How It All Began
Lily went to school at the Culinary Institute of America in New York where she mastered her skills in the kitchen. She moved to Virginia Beach after graduation with an interest in taking her experience outside of a restaurant. She scrolled right into an opportunity. “I saw an online ad for an old post office truck that they turned into a kitchen,” she shares. Pair this with Lily’s morning personality and it makes for the perfect recipe for starting a breakfast burrito business.
As an early bird, Lily has always loved breakfast and found it hard to find breakfast burritos around town. After conversations with friends and inspiration from California’s lifestyle, Lily opened The COOP in 2013. The menu expanded beyond morning bites to please locals’ robust palettes as requested by her customer base. “Our menu evolves slowly and always keeps the customer in mind,” Lily explains. Let’s be honest, burrito cravings should be satisfied any hour of the day.
Most notably known for their classic Breakfast Burrito, The COOP’s menu unites the most flavorful burrito gang in town. Wrap your hands around the Basil Chicken Burrito to savor eggs, grilled chicken, mozzarella, spinach, tomato and house lemon-basil aioli. Bring on the heat with the Diablo Burrito for a spicy kick, including eggs, cheddar-jack, bacon, herb potato, fresh jalapeńo and COOP sauce. Taste the rainbow with the Vegan Haven, including seasonal veggies, fresh spinach, black beans, herb potato, grilled onion, salsa and guacamole. P.s. all menu items can be made vegetarian or vegan. Just ask!
Insider’s secret: order a side of COOP sauce, a homemade lemon chipotle aioli, to dress each burrito bite. You won’t regret it.
The COOP makes appearances at various destinations across Hampton Roads and often offers different menus for each location. You may find them parked at Commonwealth Brewing Co. or Vibrant Shores Brewing during the weekend. On weekday mornings, they serve the military and government workers at the Naval Shipyard and Little Creek-Fort Story base. Follow along on Instagram to find their next location in real-time!
If you are feeding a larger crowd, The COOP offers catering which boasts an expanded menu with tacos, sandwiches, skewers and more. Lily gets the conversation started with a 30-minute phone call to learn more about your event and ideas for the day.
Lily’s priority is her customers and she hopes you feel that with every interaction. “I want my customer service to be number one, always. I want customers to leave remembering how well they were treated.”
As for the flavor, Lily hopes each bite is a pleasant surprise. “I love color and texture; I love spicy and sweet together. I think about ways to make every bite crunchy, spicy and cheesy.” She continues, “It is important to me that our food is better than someone expected, especially if it is their first time.”
Proudest Moment & Biggest Obstacle
The COOP team has made Lily the proudest. “I am so proud of my employees. This job is tough — they get up at 3 a.m. and work so hard on their feet all morning.” Both trucks work 45-55 hours a week. She continues, “Their strength is something I am so proud of.”
Another moment to celebrate was when they brought on a second truck. “I started leasing it and felt terrified it wasn’t going to work. We expanded, and I hired two people. The next day, I went to work and we made it happen.” Year after year, Lily has worked alongside the same team who has helped her grow The COOP into what it is today.
Like any business, some days are long and difficult. Lily’s biggest obstacle is an accumulation of a million little things. She explains, “An entire wall of the truck caught on fire once; We have been vandalized; Our engine has blown on the highway. Everything imaginable has gone wrong, but we push through it every time we hit a bump in the road.” The community has been so kind and generous, and she mentions how customers offer help left and right, one of which lent a hand and welded their order window back together.
Lily has a new project brewing that we are giddy to tease. It will take the form of a truck business as well and is the perfect complement to The COOP. Stay tuned for more buzz!
Advice for Aspiring Business Owners
Lily has experienced the beauty and imperfections of entrepreneurship, and with many years of experience, she leaves you with this dose of wisdom. “Make sure you have really good people working for you. And, be prepared because what you thought was going to happen is not going to happen. If you have a good team and work hard every day, you will be alright.”
Experience All The COOP Has to Offer
Now it is time for you to take a bite! Visit The COOP’s website or Instagram and Facebook channels to see where they will pop up next. Shoot them an email or direct message with any questions or catering inquiries.