By Haley Wilson
The Birmingham Times
Sometimes it takes a little trial and error to determine your path in life. Just ask Ni’Cole Connor, owner of Coco Crabs, a mobile seafood truck. Conner worked in corporate America for a while, once did hair and makeup, and, she said, “I was even a truck driver.”
“I have always been a person to try something at least once,” said Conner. “If I have an interest in something, … I’m going to attempt to turn it into a business for myself in some kind of way.”
When it came to Coco Crabs, Connor’s adventurous mentality kicked in.
“I’ve always loved seafood. In the last year or so, seafood has gotten extremely popular, so I just started cooking my own at one point,” said Connor, who never considered herself an “in-the-kitchen kind of girl.”
“I’ve always been in a mirror somewhere, … or in makeup or playing dress up,” she said.
Making People Smile
When Connor told family members she wanted to try her hand in the food truck business, they were surprised.
“They were like, ‘Now, come on, what are you gonna do with a truck?’” she recalled. “The main reason I wanted to try my hand in the food truck business was really my love for people. It was not so much the cooking [as much as it was] seeing people smiling and happy from something I made.”
To get ready to reveal her entrepreneurial side, Connor started preparing seafood plates for family and friends.
“I just got really good at cooking to the point that whenever somebody bought seafood, they would come to me and say, ‘Hey, if I buy such and such, can you cook it for me?’ Or they would say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna come over to your house. Can you cook some [seafood]?’ I was like, ‘OK, fine.’”
Connor’s “side hustle” grew so much that she started selling plates, and the orders eventually ballooned to 20 or 30 a day.
“I would take people’s orders and meet them at a certain location to deliver their plates,” she said.
Dipping into Different Things
Connor, 46, graduated from West End High School in 1993. She went on to attend Lawson State Community College, where she focused on business administration and loan specialist courses.
“My first real job [was as a loan specialist],” she said. “I was excited because I got to dress up for work every day. Though I enjoyed that part of it, I’ve never been a person that likes to be closed in.”
Her first taste of entrepreneurship came from working with her mother, who owned and operated a local cell phone store on Pearson Avenue in Birmingham’s West End community.
“Seeing that my mom opened her own business really let me know that one day I could, too,” Connor said. “It’s important to have those examples in your life at an early age.”
When the store closed, Connor studied hair and makeup at Paul Mitchell The School Birmingham.
Her next job spoke to her adventurous nature: truck driving.
“I wanted to see other areas of the world, but I didn’t really want to move out of Birmingham completely. I didn’t want to leave my family, my mom, my son,” Connor said. “When I told my family, they were like, ‘Where did that come from?’ because I’ve always been so girly, and you can’t wear heels on a truck.”
Traveling on the road for about three years, Connor has been to “every state except Alaska.”
“My favorite place I traveled to had to be the state of Washington,” she said. “It is honestly the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Beautiful lakes and nature.”
Connor’s next adventure has probably been her most fulfilling. “In 2020, I had a vision for my [food] truck,” she said. “I found someone who could provide that vision and had it built from scratch.”
A Miami, Florida-based company found and reconstructed an old snack food delivery van. They mocked up some designs and Connor approved them.
With her team of four, Connor provides fresh seafood platters featuring crab and shrimp with an added touch that makes her customers savor the dishes.
“The big thing about my seafood is my sauces,” she said. “I make my own butter sauces: garlic butter, Cajun butter, and lemon butter.”
Another Coco Crabs favorite is the shrimp and grits.
“With our shrimp and grits, I just kind of came up with it on my own … [while] playing around in the kitchen,” Connor said. “I love seafood, but sometimes I don’t always want straight seafood. Throwing some grits in there really shakes it up. I’m really big on serving food that tastes the way I would want it to taste like.”
After their initial doubts, Connor’s family is now “super proud and supportive of her,” she said.
Coco Crabs often can be found at the West End Food Truck Park, on the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus, at the Birmingham Public Library, and in the Forestdale area Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Fridays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more info about Coco Crabs, visit www.facebook.com/cococrab205/
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