JP Udenenwu sells pancakes in turquoise cups in the heart of West Campus. At 6 feet, 7 inches tall and 300 pounds, he said some people are surprised to find out he’s the man behind the brightly colored food truck and desserts.
“There was this overwhelming sense of peace that I felt that (told me), ‘You're supposed to be here, JP,’” Udenenwu said.
Udenenwu discovered his passion for pancakes in 2015 while working at Taco Cabana. One day, he made pancakes for his co-workers from some leftover mix and whatever else he could find in the kitchen. He said the atmosphere in the room was pure joy.
“I was addicted,” Udenenwu said. “From that day forward, unintentionally, I made it my mission to recreate this atmosphere again and again and again.”
In mid-January, Udenenwu opened JP’s Pancake Company in West Campus. Udenenwu offers toppings such as bananas, chopped bacon, blueberry syrup and Nutella.
“The attention and the detail that we get to put into something that makes people feel good when they eat it is my favorite part,” Udenenwu said.
Advertising senior Sarah Mohammadian met Udenenwu after he waved her and a friend over to the truck. She then kept visiting the truck to chat with Udenenwu, and he eventually hired her.
“I was actually the first person he ever hired,” Mohammadian said. “I'm really not a sweets girl at all, so it's not on-brand for me to work (there), but honestly, I really like (it).”
Advertising senior Ansley Marquardt joined the team after she responded to Udenenwu’s call-out on Instagram for marketing help. Later, he created a permanent position just for her. She said he really cares about his clientele and staff.
“We have our shifts in the truck, but we're also friends outside,” Marquardt said.
For some students that visit the turquoise truck, Udenenwu has been ready to offer relationship advice and friend matchmaking. Mohammadian and Marquadt said the environment fosters family-like relationships.
Coming from Nigerian roots, Udenenwu said he is no stranger to the obstacles that Black business owners face. Although he fully supports the Black Lives Matter movement, he said he has mixed feelings about the #SupportBlackBusinesses trend.
“I worked so hard to get where I'm at,” Udenenwu said. “I don't want the risk of anybody else trying to take credit for the blood, sweat and tears that I put into it.”
Udenenwu said his truck’s revenue was only impacted for one month after the hashtag was created, and while he understands its intentions, he believes the motive may have gotten lost in translation.
“The heart behind it was good in the beginning, but it soon became just a photo op” Udenenwu said. “Everything is trending nowadays, so this was a way to score woke points for a lot of people.”
Udenenwu said he will continue to chase the same joyful atmosphere he found at the beginning of his pancake career.
“I'm just waking up every single day, and I'm making a commitment to not only be the best at where I'm at, but to do the best with what I have,” Udenenwu said. “And now we're here.”