When Dank (stylized “DANK”) co-founders/partners Ashleigh “Kirby” Cleveland and Chalamar “Chy” Harris first started their business, they weren’t sure how it was going to turn out.
“We had no equipment, no financing, and no previous experience building a food truck. We just knew if we bought one, we’d figure it out,” Harris told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Harris and Cleveland met while in the marching band at Miles College, a historically Black college located outside of Birmingham, Alabama. The story of Dank, an acronym for Delicious Ass Nomadic Kitchen, goes like this: Back in 2014, a friend had a challenge—if she entered a bodybuilding competition, then Harris had to launch the food business he’d been talking about. Once his friend entered (she placed second, by the way), Cleveland and Harris got the ball rolling on their new endeavor in early 2015.
“I got with Kirby and we talked about it. The next month, Kirby made a down payment on a food truck and we had a custom trailer built,” Harris explains.
Over the next several years, any money they had left over from paychecks went to finishing the truck. They ran into a few issues along the way, but they were finally able to make their debut at the end of last year. Once COVID-19, happened and everything shut down, Cleveland and Harris had to figure out how to stay afloat.
“What you’re seeing now with the pop-ups and stuff like that is our comeback,” Harris says.
Both of them left their respective full-time jobs and decided to put all their focus solely on DANK. After coronavirus hit, they saw the potential in their business and didn’t see any reason to go back to their previous careers. Once they started the transition into making DANK their full-time priority, Harris says they felt some pressure.
“We’d already made the changes, but we had to do it. No ifs, ands, or buts. After a while, we realized we’d come out of this alright,” Harris says.
They officially launched Dank earlier this year. Their first event was at Ybor City’s First Chance Last Chance bar back in March. Of course, there was a bit of reluctance about opening a food business during a pandemic.
“You just have to find ways to do it safely. We’re wearing masks and gloves plus we make our customers do the same,” says Cleveland.
While COVID-19 impacted small businesses negatively, Dank experienced the opposite. An overwhelming amount of support from social media helped them build their fan base.
“One promoter put our page up and stuff like that really helped. The followers liked all our pictures, placed orders, and we’ve developed a lot of relationships with our customers,” says Harris.
Dank’s pop-up taco stand is located at 904 W. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Seminole Heights. According to Harris, the reason they choose to do pop-ups is because they don’t want to be a restaurant. They say if it makes sense for them, they’re open to doing pop-ups at more spots. Harris says Dank is for people who like serious or luxury food and don’t mind waiting for it. He and Cleveland want to do it on their terms.
“It’s for the cool factor. We wanted to do more of an underground thing, so we chose the days to pop-up and just do it,” he adds.
Dank serves the popular birra tacos (a sort of stewed barbacoa), which come with free guac (beat that Chipotle!). In addition to the taco stand, Harris and Cleveland do contactless catering and offer a newly-launched meal prep membership called the Slightly Secret Eat Club. Members can decide between a “Lite Eater” (bi-weekly) or “Eater” (weekly) membership. An email is sent every Sunday listing the week’s meal options, ranging from shrimp and grits to French toast covered with various cereals like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap’n Crunch. There’s even Hennessy butter pecan fried chicken. When members make an order, their chosen secret names act as a coupon code for any meal preorders. Dank’s menu price ranges from $3 for birria tacos up to $65 for the Slightly Secret Eat Club Eater membership. They are working on creating vegan and vegetarian menu options at the moment.
“I think everyone makes the same food but you have to think outside the box and make yours stand out in some way,” says Cleveland.
You can catch a Dank pop-up every Tuesday and Saturday from 6:30 p.m. until they’re sold out. If you’re part of the Slightly Secret Eat Club, meals are ready for pickup every Thursday starting at 6:30p.m.
“We had the vision to do birria because we saw the cool things other cities were doing and thought this would be dope for Tampa,” says Harris.
Cleveland and Harris are talking to a few bars without kitchens to see if Dank can be served outside to their customers, but nothing is official yet. If it makes sense to everyone involved, they’re open to working with whoever.
“Those are a lot of our partners because we both added value to each other. Hopefully, we can go back up to Ybor City on Thursdays,” Harris says.
Cleveland and Harris say people are mind boggled when they find out that a Black-and woman-owned business serving tacos exists, but that doesn’t stop their hustle.
“It’s a real grind but people are surprised. It’s all love and good energy at the end of the day when our customers come out,” says Harris.
Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you up to the minute news on how Coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.
Want to know everything going on with Tampa Bay’s food and drink scene? Sign up for our Bites newsletter.