Ronicca Whaley was never professionally trained to prepare Japanese dishes. However, with her creative skill set, she has mastered creating dumplings, or gyoza, from her Shiso Crispy food truck – a business that’s not only a local favorite, it’s receiving national attention.
Starting today (Wednesday, July 6) viewers can catch Whaley competing on the Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games. The show, hosted by Guy Fieri, features four chefs competing against each other by creating dishes using ingredients found in Fieri’s Flavortown Market. This was Whaley’s second time being featured on the show, as this season’s contestants were all previous winners.
“Originally, they cast me when my food truck business was only three months old,” Whaley said. She explained they were initially interested in her business as it is entirely female-owned and operated, and for her notorious handmade dumplings.
“This season was very different with all of the winners from previous episodes so we all knew the layout of the store and had confidence, but there’s no way to plan for the wrenches Guy may throw at you,” Whaley said about the surprise added challenges in the competition. The new season was filmed in April.
A new episode from the show will air every Wednesday in July, with the finale airing on Aug. 3.
She couldn’t comment on what other shows she may be on in the future, but said Food Network reps, and Fieri, said this wouldn’t be her last appearance.
Whaley, who settled in St. Pete in 2016 when she worked as the executive chef at The Oyster Bar, started her food truck business after working with the Prime Minister of Malaysia and others who were starting a 250-food truck franchise.
“When I returned home, I realized no one knew how to make handmade dumplings. I started making gyoza for Buya Ramen [a Japanese restaurant in St. Pete],” she said.
She slowly started to build out the food truck and develop the menu for Shiso Crispy, named after the Japanese word for “mint.” Her truck officially opened its windows for business in late 2019.
Two months after parking in her first lot, the Covid pandemic began, shuttering restaurants across the city; food trucks, however, were allowed to keep operating. Although she didn’t face the same impact as other operators did, Whaley saw the prices of onions skyrocket and now has planted her own garden to harvest the vegetable used in nearly every dish.
Today, she has a total of three food trucks – one located at Par Bar (which may change soon), one in Tampa and another that travels to events. Whaley is consistently changing the menu as return customers make up 50% of her business. Her menu items also include bao buns with jackfruit and ahi tuna to her dirty rice, which is sticky rice with gyoza sauce, Gochujang sauce, fried onions, scallions, sesame and a topping.
Whaley was slated to be one of several restaurateurs opening a location inside the new food hall at Fusion 1560, an apartment building in the Edge District; however, the space was too confining for her operations.
Whaley plans to instead open a brick-and-mortar location on Central Avenue. She couldn’t disclose the exact address but said she is in the process of inking a lease for the 2,300-square-foot space.
Over the next several years, she envisions opening more brick-and-mortar locations throughout the U.S., which will continue to be all-female operated.
She is also currently forming an agreement with Sysco, the food distribution company, to drop ship her dumplings and said she’s received interest from wholesalers wanting to put her dumplings and sauces on their shelves.