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UD alumna opens Fork in Road Café near Delaware Memorial Bridge

University of Delaware alumna Leigh Ann Tona at her Fork in the Road Cafe.
University of Delaware alumna Leigh Ann Tona at her Fork in the Road Cafe.

Right before or after the Delaware Memorial Bridge, depending on whether a traveler is heading north on I-295 to New Jersey or south to Delaware, lies the Fork in the Road Café, the newest venture taken on by University of Delaware alumnus Leigh Ann Tona, who has already experienced culinary success with her I Don’t Give a Fork food truck.

Tona – who graduated from UD in 2012 with a bachelor of science degree in business management and a minor in entrepreneurial studies, and who worked at the UDairy Creamery – said that in addition to serving as its own eatery open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Fork in the Road Café will allow her to offer more variety in her food truck offerings — such as sliced deli meat sandwiches — and open an avenue for her to expand her catering services, as well.

“When I just had the food truck, I didn’t have a kitchen and was doing a lot of my prep on the food truck, and so I was pretty limited with what I could serve because the food truck doesn’t have an oven, just a fryer and a grill top,” said Tona. “But the café has a steamer and an oven and a six burner stove, so we started cooking our homemade pork every day and we slow cook it for 15 hours in an oven, which is really nice. We also slice all of our own meats for our sandwiches, same thing with our cheese, so it was really just an opportunity to go back and start to offer those items again on a menu.”

Located off of Route 9 in the Vincent A. Julia Center, where the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) has a walk-in E-ZPass center — Tona said that visitors can follow the purple E-ZPass signs to get to the restaurant — the Fork in the Road Café facility served as an office cafeteria until 2013.

“They had such a big kitchen, and it is a large and beautiful facility,” Tona said. “They realized that the only way someone was going to come in and take it over was if they have an existing business where they can utilize that kitchen somewhere else.” That made her the perfect tenant.

Because the cafeteria had a built in customer base when it was still in operation, Tona said she is trying to offer similar, low-priced fare to bring that clientele back.

“The menu for the café is more expansive and we do made-to-order breakfast, with pancakes and French toast and this grab and go cereal dish, plus we do all different kinds of breakfast sandwiches,” Tona said. “Lunch is a good portion of what I’ve had on the food truck over the years condensed into one menu and since we have a meat slicer again, we can go back to doing the deli sandwiches and all different things like that.”

In addition, Tona has a crew of three employees — one full time manager and two cashiers — who oversee the café while she is out on the food truck.

The biggest difference between operating a food truck and operating a stationary café is the ability to move in order to get customers.

Tona said the food truck heads to different, pre-determined locations every day: Wednesdays at Rodney Square in Wilmington, Thursdays at Barclay’s in Newark and Fridays at Barclay’s in Wilmington.

If she decides to go to another location and it doesn’t have as many customers, she can simply move the food truck.

“With the café, if people aren’t coming in for lunch, and if we’re not busy, I can’t say, ‘Let’s just try a new place tomorrow,’” said Tona.

With the new kitchen space, though, Tona is hoping to be able to expand her catering services.

“We can do catering whenever. We can do drop off catering, pick up catering, and we’ve been trying to get offices or business meetings to select us for catering because that’s something that’s really easy for us to do out of the café. We’re already making sandwiches anyway and that’s our goal,” said Tona.

She also stressed that the café is a great spot for visitors to eat.

“It’s literally right in the middle of 295 north and south. You can see both sides of the highway from my building. There’s outdoor tables and umbrellas. It’s definitely a cool spot to eat if you’re there. I’m just trying to get people to find it,” said Tona.

For those interested in learning more about the Fork in the Road Café and its services, email Tona at forkintheroadde@gmail.com.

Article and photo by Adam Thomas

Orginally posted on UDaily – Fork in the Road