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Couple leaves behind Irma & Maria damage for new St. Pete life, food truck business

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – You may have spotted a bright blue bus adorned with paintings of various sea creatures driving around St. Petersburg the past few months.

That cheerful-looking bus is actually a food truck: Starfish Food Truck, owned and operated by Emma Winkles and Ryan Jacobs.

Their story is unique as the kitchen they work in.

The couple came to Florida from the Virgin Islands after riding out both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

Winkles and Jacobs were in the middle of starting a popsicle company at the time.

“But unfortunately, in the midst of starting it, we had to evacuate because of Hurricane Irma. We actually evacuated after Hurricane Irma happened because about a week before the hurricane, we found out that Ryan had cancer in his eye. And he needed medication that needed to be kept on ice and, without power on the islands, we simply couldn’t facilitate that,” Winkles explained.

“Two category fives in about a week,” recalled Jacobs. “So Irma ripped the roofs off of everyone’s house, then Maria dumped the water inside.”

The couple rode out the storms in Winkles’ father’s home in St. Thomas. Their own tree house home and boat were destroyed.

Jacobs said it was an easy decision to take off after the storm, but they felt bad “abandoning the place they loved.”

Winkles and Jacobs evacuated to Miami-Dade County.

They believed popsicles “wouldn’t survive in the U.S.” so they began to think bigger.

They told 8 On Your Side they purchased a food truck in April of 2018.

(Starfish Food Truck)

But the area where they had evacuated to was too busy for the couple.

“We made the decision to find a city that really suited us. So I Googled verbatim, ‘best city to live in for a young couple in a city that’s up and coming.’ So St. Pete showed up in like five to seven different articles,” Winkles said.

The food truck owners, who have lived in six states and on three islands in 12 years, said they fell in love with St. Pete immediately.

Their truck has been on the road in the city for about two months now and the community response has been great.

(Starfish Food Truck)

“So we do tacos and sandwiches and other various seafood items. But some of the more popular ones, we do conch from the Bahamas. We have alligator on the menu. All sorts of shrimp, Key West pink shrimp, gulf coast caught shrimp,” Jacobs explained. “Grilled octopus. Local sheepshead, Snapper, grouper. We change it up depending on what’s fresh and what’s new. So he provisions constantly.”

Their mission is to remain local and loyal to the City of St. Petersburg, as well as to increase sustainability and reduce their carbon footprint.

Starfish Food Truck features bamboo forks and biodegradable plates.

Winkles explained they are also working on going completely solar-powered.

(Source: Starfish Food Truck)

She also explained she and Jacobs work to serve lionfish in months where local fishermen are going out to spear them.

“A huge part about what we do is that we try to be sustainable, we try to be local, and lionfish were affecting the Caribbean, we’ve lived in several islands in the Caribbean,” Winkles explained. “And it’s now affecting the commercial fishing industries on the coast of Florida. Fish like snapper and grouper are getting gobbled up by the lionfish, so the more we can get out of the water and sell, the better for everybody, really.”

The couple said they want to stay in St. Petersburg and support other local businesses, as well as lead by example with their sustainable and solar aspects of the truck.

Their journey to the Tampa Bay area and their own mobile business wasn’t easy but Winkles and Jacobs say it made them stronger as a couple.

“It’s a grind. And in the beginning, it was definitely a hump to get over. And I’m sure anyone who works with their husband or with their wives or significant other can attest to that. But honestly, I think we’re stronger because of it,” Winkles said.

“Yeah, totally,” Jacobs agreed.

You can find out where Starfish Food Truck will be next by visiting their Facebook page.

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