While the USF football team was hard at work in Raymond James Stadium during Saturday’s spring football game, former USF defensive end Julius “Ju Ju” Forte was putting in his own work.
This time, however, Forte was making an impact off the field.
On the south side of the stadium, in the blazing heat, Forte was operating his very own food truck. A vibrant eatery serving meals centered around burgers, sandwiches and bowls.
As the truck’s slogan commands, the sun was out, and so were the buns.
The vessel, named “Bowlz and Bunz,” has a balance of health and comfort food. Whether it’s a chicken sandwich featuring fried or grilled chicken with a signature sauce created by chef Lorenza Jackson who works on the truck with Forte, or a steak burger with freshly ground sirloin, there are multiple options a customer can choose from.
“On the food truck, we do everything from comfort food, to more health-oriented food, like our ‘Fuelz Bowlz.’ They come with brown rice, broccoli, peppers and all types of awesome things like that,” Forte said Saturday.
Bowlz and Bunz is a project that’s long been in the making for the former player and his family. Forte’s mother Sofia has been in the catering industry in the area since the early 2000s with her service Sofia Forte’s Catering.
“The food truck is something that myself and my family have been working toward for a while,” Forte said. “My mother has notoriously catered in St. Pete since 2001, and after graduating from South Florida … I started to sell food on my own. And then we started a healthy meal prep [named Forte Fuels].”
His mother’s business was started out of necessity for an extra revenue stream, but it quickly grew to the level where Forte needed to give his mother a helping hand running the business.
“She started the catering company in 2001 out of necessity for the extra income. Of course, it started very small, everything was from the bootstraps,” he said. “Me being born in the 90s, I’m 9 10, 11 years old, I’m her first help, I’m the first person to go with her anywhere. Little did I know at that time, I was gaining culinary experience and also entrepreneurial experience.”
Forte’s work on the truck not only benefits him, it’s also positively impacted the community.
“With the launching of Bowlz and Bunz … we’ve been able to do amazing things … We just did an awesome event at Home Depot where we were able to feed 131 of their employees,” Forte said. “We did an awesome event with Bayfront Hospital where we were able to feed over 300 of their employees. So, it’s been just an amazing adventure thus far.”
Forte has long been dedicated to helping people. Before Bowlz and Bunz, he and a friend operated a nonprofit organization called Greater University over a few summers during which he would bring young, high school-aged men to the beach and train them both in football and culinary skills.
One of those young men that attended Greater University is John Waller, a defensive tackle who secured a scholarship early in 2018 from USF to play football later that same year.
“One of my guys that we worked … very closely [with] was John Waller,” Forte said. “He was actually one of our guys in Greater U that we got to work with hand and hand and help him develop and get a USF scholarship for himself.
“That was definitely an awesome benchmark for us in our nonprofit.”
Forte said though he put the organization on the backburner for the time being, he’s looking to restart it this summer or in 2022. Until then, Forte’s been putting his all into the food truck.
“Every single thing on this truck is handmade, and made with love,” Forte said. “From our steak burgers that we personally grind, each and every day from in state. Each and every one of our sauces are made from scratch. We hand-cut potato chips from scratch.
“We literally make everything with love and from scratch down to our smoked gouda mac and cheese that you can get with shrimp, salmon or chicken.”
In addition to the food, the drinks served from the truck are also hand crafted. Forte’s sister, Dominique, provides the truck with freshly squeezed lemonade from her own company named Tight Squeeze Lemonade.
The full menu for Bowlz and Bunz can be found at the company’s website, as well as the locations and dates the truck will be available in the Tampa and St. Petersburg area.
As football returns and Florida summer approaches, Forte’s food truck may be needed more than ever, and he knows it.
“Above all remember, suns out, buns out,” he said.