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Have kitchen, will travel: Mark Fowler

Rick Coates - July 5th, 2010
Have Kitchen, Will Travel: Food guy Mark Fowler‘s EMS comes the the festival rescue
By Rick Coates
Chef Mark Fowler took a vacation to Florida a few years ago with some buddies. While they were hanging out at the beach they noticed a food vendor with a portable kitchen keeping busy.
“My friend looked at me and said hey ‘Mark do you see how busy that guy has been every day we have been here?’ I nodded my head and smiled,” said Fowler. “My mind started racing thinking that I could start something like that for festivals in Northern Michigan.”
Fowler returned home to Cadillac and eventually opened the Bistro, but the concept of a traveling festival catering operation remained in the forefront of his mind. Last week he launched Epicurean Mobile Services (EMS), a portable catering operation based out of an old converted ambulance. He’ll be operating outside of Right Brain Brewery in TC’s Warehouse District for the month of July.

“Part of what led up to all of this was shortly after opening the Bistro. seven years ago the organizers of the Hoxeyville Festival called and asked me if I could offer food for the festival. I agreed and before I knew it, I was taking on more festivals where I was able to leave my job and do this full time,” said Fowler.
So how did setting up at Right Brain Brewery fit into the mix?
“Well everyone always wants food down there. I went into see Russell (owner) and started talking to him about it and he said, ‘no, I have been asked a hundred times and I do not want a kitchen, wait staff and ordering food to concern myself; I want to just focus on making great beer.’ So I proposed the idea of setting up my portable operation,” said Fowler. “He loved the idea. So I am opening with a menu that will feature original gyros and BBQ items. I am just there for July for right now because I do not have any festivals lined up.”
In August, Fowler will head to several festivals including Dunegrass, Hoxeyville and the Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival. He’ll also be assisting at the event being hosted by Chef Mario Batali later in the summer.
So what is the secret to creating a menu to appeal to the masses?
“My menu for festivals expands; you have to cater to the clientele so I offer grab-and-go wraps, gyros and salads. I do a lot of vegetarian items and fresh vegetables and local hummus for an appetizer. It is long hours -- you start by serving breakfast at 7 a.m. and keep going until midnight at most festivals.”

Fowler got his start in the food industry while in college; he headed off to chef school and took his first job at a Mt. Pleasant restaurant.
“I was young and had my own ideas and butted heads with the owner. My parents called one day and said they felt a good sandwich shop in Cadillac would work,” said Fowler. “So I opened the Park Garden Café at the age of 23 and it was a lot of fun. I numbered all the sandwiches after great athletes, so 23 for Jordan, 11 for Isaiah Thomas. I had a running contest that if someone could name all the athletes with the corresponding number they would win a free sandwich.”
The manufacturing industry slowed in Cadillac during the mid ‘90s and Fowler eventually closed his shop. He would become the food and beverage director at the Cadillac Country Club before eventually becoming the director of catering at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Fowler then launched the Bistro in downtown Cadillac that became a popular lunch destination and also hosted a singer songwriter music series. He eventually sold the business and took over the food operation the for Leland Lodge until helping to launch Old Town Coffee in Traverse City two years ago.
“A friend of mine wanted to launch a coffee shop in Traverse City so I agreed to help, and before I knew it I became the general manager of the Old Town Coffee Shop,” said Fowler. “That was two years ago and people kept coming to me asking me to cater events and be their personal chef for dinners and parties. So I decided to put in my notice and right now I already have a dozen festivals booked and several private chef events.”
Fowler said the private chef concept is growing.
“I started doing it in Cadillac,” said Fowler. “People are so busy that sometimes they just want to have a nice dinner at home, but they don’t have the time to prepare it. Also a lot of people who are having parties at their home or office are going the private chef route.”
As for the winter months, Fowler sees himself keeping busy.
“I will use that time to book summer events and festivals and make myself available for private chef events,” said Fowler. “I am a food guy and what I have found over the years is that there are always opportunities for those who are able to cook.”

For details on Mark Fowler and EMS catering visit his website at or call him at 231-920-2562.

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