Questions & Answers with community faces
Joelle Louisignau (35) was born in Traverse City, Michigan, and grew up in the Frankfort area as the middle of three tight-knit sisters. From a young age, Louisignau took a strong interest in art—she took every art class that was available at Benzie Central High School and then attended the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District’s Career Tech Center in Traverse City for graphic design during her junior and senior years. After graduating from Benzie Central in 2002, Louisignau followed her older sister, Sarah, to Seattle to work at a ski resort during the winters and in the service industry throughout the summers.
In 2007, after several trips abroad to far-flung places like Thailand and Costa Rica, she decided to adventure to Great Britain to gain European knowledge and experience. She remained in England for nearly a decade after finding a love for silversmithing, which comes as no surprise, given her artistic background. While working various jobs in the service industry, Louisignau apprenticed in the Jewelry Quarter of Birmingham, starting her own line of jewelry called Elle Creation.
Meanwhile, half a world away from Northern Michigan, Toby Dunne (37) was born and raised in the Netherlands. After leaving school, he became a qualified chef in 1999, working for a French wine restaurant in the southern region of the Netherlands.
In the off-season, Dunne began traveling to other European countries for additional training and to gain experience in a wide variety of cuisines. In 2003, he moved to Australia for two years; then in 2005, after a short period on the Canary Islands off the coast of northwestern Africa, Dunne also landed in Great Britain. In 2006, he started a catering business that featured foods from around the world.
Louisignau and Dunne met on a street market in 2012—she was selling her jewelry, he had one of his food trucks there. Dunne says that he won the way into Louisignau’s heart with his chicken and waffles recipe.
Over the next few years, their days consisted of running a small jewelry business (her) and driving semi-trucks (him), and the couple spent their evenings together, running their food truck—they smashed out tacos at events both large and small across the country.
In 2016, Louisignau and Dunne packed up their British life to travel through Asia and Australia for five months before moving to Benzie County, where they had previously bought a small, three-acre property only about a mile from her father’s home in 2014.
The couple spent the next few months building a small, sustainable house—off-the-grid, solar-energy-powered, rainwater-collecting, made from many reused materials—and they started their quaint Moseley Acres Farm. (Mosely being the village in England where they had met.) She grows most of their fresh food, while he raises chickens, ducks, and heritage-breed pigs for meat. When not working on the homestead, the pair have worked myriad of odd jobs around Benzie County.
In 2017, Louisignau became Louisignau-Dunne and their family grew when a little farm girl was born—daughter Lillian was born just nine days before the couple’s wedding, which took place on the farm, surrounded by loved ones from Benzie County, Britain, Ireland, France, and beyond. Sticking with their self-sustaining natures, Louisignau-Dunne handmade all of the wedding decorations and home-brewed all of the sparkling wine and elderflower cordials, while Dunne smoked the meats that were served.
Beginning this summer, after a three-year hiatus, the couple have come back to where it all began for them—over Memorial Day Weekend, they will kick off the season at Stormcloud Brewing Company’s taproom facility with their Muy Loco Tacos, a little red food truck serving street tacos, street quesadillas, and nachos. Like their personal lives at home, the business model is designed around caring for the planet, starting with little things like “friendly farming,” minimizing waste, recycling, buying local, and upcycling.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with the Dunnes as they were putting the finishing touches on their taco truck.
The Betsie Current: When did you first start getting into food and cooking?
Dunne: I have been interested in food and cooking from a very young age, but it wasn’t until age 19 that I became a trained chef. I’ve been developing that knowledge base for almost two decades now, using my travels to introduce new flavors and techniques.
Louisignau-Dunne: Haha, I love food, but it’s Toby who dragged me into the food truck business.
Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you? Is there a busy season, or is it pretty constant year-round?
Louisignau-Dunne: For the food truck, we will find out!
Dunne: After we take care of our daughter, we all go out and do farm chores together, before going to our “day jobs,” and then some more farm chores when we get home. The farm is 24/7, year-round, but we expect the taco truck to be more seasonal.
Current: Tell us about your business model. From where do you source your ingredients?
Dunne: All of our meats are sourced locally, farm-to-table. All butchers provide us with full traceability, assuring us of animal welfare, minimal environmental impact, and hygiene—we also made sure that they each have a good sustainability record. Most of the vegetables and fruits that we serve are organically grown with love and care at Moseley Acres Farm by Joelle; with her love for the garden and fresh produce, she forms the backbone for our household and taco kitchen. Whatever fruits and vegetables that she doesn’t manage to grow, we buy locally at farmers’ markets or from the farms directly. We work closely with Polish Heritage Farm, 1801 Farm, Honor Family Market, and others.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What’s next?
Louisignau-Dunne: Our farm wasn’t much to look at when we bought the place, and we are glad to see our hard work pay off. We hope that it can continue to provide for us and some for the food truck, too.
Dunne: Maybe a bigger food truck is in the future, we’ll see. We care a whole awful lot about what we serve and how we serve it, so we don’t want to grow too quickly and have the product quality go down. That’s a mistake that many new businesses make when they start to see growth. We pretty much only buy local, from farmers and small business that we know. We think it’s hugely important to keep things in the community, to keep small businesses thriving.
Current: You seem to have a lot going on—what, with a toddler, a farm, a food truck. How do you balance everything?
Dunne: I guess that balancing our farm and business only works because we are a great team, and we work well together. We both understand that you get out what you put in. We are very passionate about working in a sustainable way and teaching our daughter the values of hard work and having respect for the planet.
Current: What did you miss most about this area while you were away, Joelle? How have you seen Benzie County change since you graduated high school? What are your hopes for the area in the future?
Louisignau-Dunne: I missed my family, the lakes, and the gorgeous surroundings that this area of Northern Michigan holds. I definitely didn’t miss the winters too much, but the spring, summer, and fall are beautiful and outweigh the cold! As for changes, I have seen an influx of young entrepreneurs in the community that encourage and offer education for a better way of living. I would love to see continued growth in the environmental impact of living sustainably for our younger generations.
Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County and in Northern Michigan, in general? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Dunnne: We like Benzie County—even though it comes with its challenges, due to the more seasonal nature of the area. We feel lucky to live in such a beautiful place. The most rewarding part for us is to know what we are eating, where it comes from, how it was grown. Farming is hard but also very rewarding. As for the food truck, we just love to see people enjoy our food, the new flavors, and to know where the ingredients came from.
Current: What kind of impact do you think that you are able to have, as a couple of young people ,on the community? We like to use the term “Benzie Boomerangs” to describe young people like you who go off to gain a skill set and then bring that back here to share with this place.
Dunne: We try hard to be sustainable and to promote the benefits of knowing where your food comes from, along with the importance of supporting local farms and businesses in the community.
Current: What else does Northern Michigan/Benzie County need?
Current: Where can people get their hands on your tacos?
Dunne: After the Memorial Day Weekend kick-off, we’ll be at Stormcloud’s taproom facility every Monday and Tuesday from June 21 through Labor Day and at The Crush event at St. Ambrose Cellars on August 24. Additionally, we’ll be at various pop-up events throughout the summer, and the food truck will be available for catering events—people just need to contact us to get a quote, and we’ll check our calendar!
Current: What is your favorite thing on your menu?
Dunne: We are bringing back some of the favorites from our European food truck, including duck and squid.
Louisignau-Dunne: I like new things day to day, so I’m going to say generally our daily special—whatever that ends up being.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots? What’s your perfect spring day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?
Louisignau-Dunne: We haven’t had much time for fun lately—ha!—but we do like to socialize around a campfire and have a good barbecue with friends for good laughs.
Dunne: We love Grow Benzie’s variety of activities for all age groups; we love the wide range of local breweries available—Stormcloud and Lake Ann Brewing being some local favorites. An ideal spring day would be at least 65 degrees with sunshine; the Empire bluff hike is always fun and the views are beautiful.
Muy Loco Tacos launches their little red taco truck over Memorial Day Weekend at Stormcloud Brewing Company’s Tapoom on Saturday and Sunday from 1-9 p.m. Check out TacoverTheNation.com and Facebook.com/TacoverTheNation to learn more about where the food truck will be popping up this summer.