Trucking Along, Living the Sweet Life

Kayce Ekpenike, a sophomore at the University of Houston and the owner of Funnelocity Gourmet Funnel Cakes, balances full-time schoolwork with running two food trucks.

By Ginni Beam

Photos Courtesy of Funnelocity Gourmet Funnel Cakes

Photos Courtesy of Funnelocity Gourmet Funnel Cakes

Most college sophomores have enough on their plates without running a business on the side. But Kayce Ekpenike, a sophomore at the University of Houston and the owner of Funnelocity Gourmet Funnel Cakes, is somehow making it work. Last semester she took 15 hours, this semester she’s taking 16, and in-between classes, she runs two successful food trucks. How does she find the time for it all?

“That’s a great question,” she says, laughing. “I’m still figuring that out now.”

Ekpenike grew up in Louisiana and fondly remembers begging her mom for funnel cakes at the fair.

“They were mediocre,” she admits. “They were small and crispy. But they were sweet, and I was young, so I really liked them.” As an adult, she nostalgically wished for a funnel cake, but one that was better than the kind she grew up with. People should be able to get a fluffy, high-quality cake, she explains, and they shouldn’t have to go to the fair to get one. 

Kayce Ekpenike

Kayce Ekpenike

“I also love that I can make my schedule as flexible as I can. And I have great advisors that have helped me make my schedule work.”

“I’ve always had small little businesses like lemonade stands,” she says. “I feel like I’ve always been an entrepreneur.” She came from a family of entrepreneurs; her grandmother had a floral business, and her mom had a bridal decor business and many event planning businesses. It was her turn to prove herself. With no outside financial help, she set out to make and sell her funnel cakes as a freshman in high school.

Ekpenike wanted her funnel cakes to be next level. She was determined that even the basic “OG” funnel cake topped only with the traditional powdered sugar would always be hot, fresh and made from an original recipe that can’t be bought in stores. She invested a lot of time into figuring out the right consistency and ingredients. Then she began adding the fun, surprising toppings that Funnelocity would become known for — ice cream, chocolate and caramel, and strawberry drizzles, cheesecake bites, crumbled cookies, candied pecans — even Fruity Pebbles.

Sweet is the dominant taste, of course, but Ekpenike wanted to explore some salty and savory flavors as well. She gives her concoctions fun names, like “Cookies and Dream” and “Princess Peach,” and likes to rotate in limited-time menu items for holidays.   

For the first year or so, she sold her funnel cakes out of a 10-foot by 10-foot tent. They were a definite hit. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ekpenike worried that she would be forced to stop.

“But because of the pandemic, people were at home. They didn’t really have much to do. And so of course people wanted to eat,” she explains. Rather than slowing down, her business skyrocketed.

As Funnelocity’s popularity grew in their area and profits continued to increase, a food truck seemed like the logical next step. But acquiring it was not a simple process by any means. In addition to having the truck completely custom-built from scratch, Ekpenike and her family had to navigate the legal and technical complexities of a restaurant on wheels. Everything from the ice cream and toppings to the funnel cakes is made inside the truck.

When a single truck could no longer keep up with the demand from local schools, churches and events, Ekpenike bought another one, hiring mostly local high school students to run it. She deeply respects her employees.

Kayce Ekpenike and her mobile funnel cake trucks

Kayce Ekpenike and her mobile funnel cake trucks

“We’re all busy just trying to make a living while we’re young,” she says. 

People are always surprised to learn that Ekpenike is not a business or economics major. In fact, she’s majoring in biology and wants to become a doctor. And no, she doesn’t see her pursuit of a career in medicine as being at odds with her love of funnel cakes.

“I feel like it's great in moderation. We’re here for a good time, not a long time, you know? No calories,” she jokes. “We don’t do that.”

Ekpenike credits the University for giving her the flexibility to run her business while in school.

“Though I do stay on campus, I feel that I'm able to go home and come back here,” Ekpenike says. “And I also love that I can make my schedule as flexible as I can. And I have great advisors that have helped me make my schedule work.”

She loves all of her professors and appreciates the way their knowledge and help have allowed her to worry less about her schoolwork. She is also incredibly grateful for the support she’s received from her family, friends and community.

“Without them, it really wouldn't be possible,” she says. From driving the truck to promoting the business with fliers and social media, they have been behind her the whole way.

During moments of doubt, thinking of them has always kept her going. “My mom always told me, don’t give up. Just keep pushing. Keep pushing to get what you want … they’ve really been here to help me and support me.”

So, what’s next? Ekpenike has no plans to abandon the food truck model anytime soon.

“Food trucks are very popular right now,” she says. “I feel like a brick-and-mortar could possibly work, but for now, I would definitely prefer being in a food truck. Being mobile allows me to reach more people.”

Ekpenike doesn’t know yet what it will look like to keep Funnelocity running once she’s in medical school. She wants to stay involved but acknowledges that there will be considerably more demands on her time.

“I will definitely try and keep the business going and delegate as much as I can while still doing my part.”  

And to anyone in the early days of starting their own business, she gives this advice: “It’s not going to be perfect the first, second, third or fourth time … maybe even the fifth time. And that’s what I struggled with as a new entrepreneur. But just keep going, learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to ask for help, either, because you can’t do it alone.”

Follow Funnelocity on Instagram to track the trucks’ locations and stop by for your funnel cake of choice. Can’t decide between all the great flavors? Ekpenike recommends the “Strawberry Cheesecake”.

Strawberry Cheesecake Funnel Cake

Strawberry Cheesecake Funnel Cake