For decades, Chris Manzano put his culinary dreams on hold to lessen the burden on others.
Now, Manzano, an Ocoee-area resident, is pursuing his passions with the opening of his food truck: Cluckerz Chicken.
Although known for its crispy chicken tenders, Cluckerz takes pride in not just its food but also its ability to help those who need it the most in the community.
“My family has always been really big about helping out,” Manzano said. “I want to make sure that my staff is taken care of, and I want to give back to the community as much as possible. … My favorite part about this whole journey has been seeing the excitement in my son, Parker. I know he doesn’t quite understand everything because he’s only 3, but he always tells me when he gets big that he wants to help me on the food truck. ... Stuff like that melts my heart.”
Manzano, originally from a small farm town outside Indianapolis, moved to Port Charlotte when he was about 6 years old and grew up there.
From a young age, he always had an interest in culinary arts.
One of Manzano’s first jobs in a restaurant was washing dishes at a yacht club when he was 15 years old.
With his quick ability to connect with people, he worked his way up to front of the house positions such as serving and bartending. He served in high-end restaurants for the majority of his years.
In high school, Manzano participated in a vocational culinary arts program through which he won a competition and was awarded a small scholarship to attend Johnson & Wales University in Miami.
To cover the incredibly expensive tuition costs, Manzano’s mother, who worked as a nurse, offered to pick up a second job.
“I lied to her and told her that I had lost interest in attending,” he said. “I didn’t want her to have to work any harder than what she was already doing as a single mother to support us.”
Instead, Manzano eventually moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in legal studies and law.
His plan was to attend law school at the University of Florida, but he decided to take a short break to work in the service industry to pay off his student loans.
While bartending at Cabana Bay at Universal Studios, Manzano met his girlfriend at the time, and the couple had a son.
Instead of going back to attend law school, Manzano’s focus shifted to supporting his family. He took a job at Huey Magoo’s, working a couple of days a week to help out with bills. He was quickly offered a supervisor position, and he shot up in management.
Manzano also served as the chamber representative for Huey Magoo’s and got involved with the West Orange Chamber of Commerce.
FLYING THE COOP
Although Manzano said Huey Magoo’s did a lot of community outreach, he craved doing more.
That’s when the idea for Cluckerz was formed. The concept is co-owned by Manzano, his sister, Samantha Orand, who lives in Colorado, and his mother, Kimberly McCormick, who lives in Weeki Wachee.
Manzano said he was searching for a unique food truck concept that would cater to children and families.
When Manzano’s stepfather died in December 2021, his mother had an interest in giving back to him and his sister in a way that was meaningful.
“She didn’t want to just give us cash,” he said. “It definitely would have just been easier to franchise out with Huey Magoo’s, but my mother, sister, son and girlfriend (Sarah Pickett) encouraged me to follow my own passions. ... They always had this unwavering belief in me.”
Manzano had a trailer custom-built by Concession Nation in Deerfield Beach.
The menu includes items such as mozzarella sticks, tender meals, sandwiches, wraps, fries, garlic toast and Italian ice.
Manzano believes in quality products, so he spends the extra money for ingredients while still keeping the meals affordable for his customers.
The first place Manzano set up was July 19 at the ARIUM Lakeview in Ocoee. Three days later, he attended a car show in Ocoee. Then, a week later, Cluckerz fed its largest event to date — 250 teachers at Mater Brighton Lakes Academy in Kissimmee.
Manzano is pushing forward with the the business to accomplish his main goal: helping the community.
“I’ve always wanted to give back and help,” he said. “I grew up extremely poor. If you need a meal, you can always come to Cluckerz and get a meal. If you can’t afford it, we’ll find a way to get you fed.”
By giving back 10% of his proceeds on an event-by-event basis, the business is able to help more organizations per month. Manzano also is planning community give-back days where the food truck can set up around town and feed people for free.
Cluckerz was a vendor at Matthew’s Hope’s Acoustic Sunset charity event in September and has an event scheduled in December in Apopka to feed less-fortunate families for the holidays.
Although Manzano hasn’t yet taken a paycheck for himself, he always takes care of his staff.
“A lot of people say the customers come first, but I don’t believe that,” he said. “I believe your employees come first, because they’re creating the experience, and they’re going to take care of the customers.”
Manzano’s other goal is to make his son proud and teach him that if he works hard enough, he can accomplish any dream.
News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.