ARC graduate Justin Covarrubias to open food truck

Covarrubias uses experience from the culinary program and the Oak Cafe to accomplish his dreams


After going through the culinary program and working at the Oak Cafe, Justin Covarrubias, a 2017 graduate of American River College, is set to open up his own Filipino inspired food truck. (Photo courtesy of Justin Covarrubias)

Justin Covarrubias, a 2017 graduate of American River College, grew up eating meals made by his grandmothers, but it wasn’t until they passed away that he started cooking.

“I missed their cooking and it was a way for me to feel connected with them,” Covarrubias said. “I love that food connects people through culture, tradition and love.”

Covarrubias was raised in a Mexican and Filipino household, where he tried many different foods when he was little.

He now has plans to open his own Filipino inspired food truck within the next two years.

“I wanted a restaurant at first but Covid changed my whole vision,” Covarrubias said. “I like how mobile a food truck is, so I can use it for catering events and festivals.”

While at ARC, he received a degree in social science, a degree in hospitality management and also five other certificates.

Once he graduated from ARC, Covarrubias worked as a lead pantry cook at the french and italian restaurant, The Waterboy, in downtown Sacramento.

Covarrubias says there were many professors who were helpful during his time at ARC.

“Brian Knirk, the director of the program…was the first person that made me realize my potential,” Covarrubias said.  “[He] helped make it possible for me to take more courses because he knew I could handle the workload.” 

Covarrubias credits chef Roxanne O’Brien with building his confidence in his cooking ability and teaching him how to successfully cater an event.

He also remains in contact with Theresa Urkofsky, professor of culinary arts and hospitality management at ARC, and says he often goes to her for life and career guidance.

During his time at the Oak Café he was able to gain experience working in multiple aspects of the kitchen such as server, cook, chef, pastry chef, bartender and dishwasher.

While working at the cafe Covarrubias learned many skills, such as keeping his composure when it got busy.

“I learned first and foremost that it is a team setting,” Covarrubias said. “All the pieces have to work together to produce a smooth service.”

Covarrubias said that every year he is a guest speaker for the ARC culinary department. He shares his experiences in the program, answers student questions and gives them advice.

“I recommend taking as many electives in the culinary program to expand your knowledge and be better equipped to handle a situation,” Covarrubias said. “There are so many variables that can go wrong, and the culinary program has helped me equip myself with more tools to take on those variables head on.”

Covarrubias also learned the importance of hard work, networking, organization and research while in the culinary program.

Knirk, professor of culinary arts and hospitality management at ARC, said that the culinary program helps teach students the fundamentals of cooking.

“The students also take classes in marketing, management and accounting in order to understand how to run a business,” Knirk said in an email to the Current.

According to Knirk, students in the culinary program like Covarrubias take a series of classes at the Oak Café where they cook for up to 100 customers a day. 

Knirk said that the ARC culinary program has a reputation for producing successful chefs and those who have opened restaurants, bakeries and food trucks.

“It’s great to see Justin branching out on his own. He’s a very thoughtful and talented individual,” Knirk said.