Mike Kalush was gracious enough to answer every “optional” question I asked him. This creative, dynamic hardworking man has an unbelievable imagination, and he has re-invented himself many times. He’s won awards for his photography & filmmaking, ridden a unicycle across the State to raise awareness for the struggles of single-parenthood, has been a substitute teacher, a Master Gardener for Arapahoe County, previous Board President of the Nathan Yip Foundation, a licensed realtor, and now working very hard on his new venture (which seems perfect for him) Mike’s Coneys. With the recent popularity of the food-trucking business, what an ideal time.
Mike’s friends, family & co-workers say he’s the man with the great ideas, so fun to work with.... with the biggest heart. I thought why not use the rest of this intro to read what the people closest to Mike Kalush have to say about one of the friendliest & real guys around…. And please follow Mike & his food trucking journey on Facebook: MikesConeys; or call hm at: 303-507-9800.
"Mike has become a dear friend, and I'm so thankful to have gotten to know him through the Nathan Yip Foundation. He really went above and beyond as our previous board chair and became so engaged with our rural community partners - building friendships all around the state. He's just someone who "gets it" and is so humble and such a doer…. Very refreshing in the nonprofit world." Tarika Cefkin - Executive Director for The Nathan Yip Foundation.
"At the Nathan Yip Foundation, Mike was the inspiration for focusing on rural Colorado. He had the vision to listen & understand the needs of our own backyard. We sometimes overlook what is right in front of us. Mike has the highest empathetic intelligence. This resonates in ALL that he does even in his new venture, Mike’s Coneys. Mike’s Coneys are a recipe he brought about from listening and providing what he feels consumers want/demand, taste, nostalgia and fun. He does this out of pure joy. Yes, this is hard work, but at the end of the day, he can go home and smile that he is still helping others." David Thomson - Nathan Yip Board President & VP of Private Client Services for Kairoi Residential.
"Mike Kalush & his wife Anne Trujillo of Channel 7 News have been involved with the Nathan Yip Foundation for 17 years with all their hearts. Mike is a great leader and was hands on with every single project which includes our work in China too. Mike did every one of our videos. No one could have done them better than him. When he was the President of the Foundation, he created the new mission of supporting a great education for all in rural China and in rural Colorado; and we are so happy he is still serving on our rural Colorado Committee. We all love him so much & wish him the very best in his new Mike’s Coneys venture!" Linda & Jimmy Yip Founders of the Nathan Yip Foundation.
"My dad is one of those lucky jerks who was born good at everything. He’s lived a million lives already: a photo-journalist, a film maker, an artist, a Master Gardener, a realtor (for a short stint), a welder, a President of a successful non-profit… the only thing he hadn’t done yet was start a coney truck (the natural next step). I admire the way he lives his life with excitement. If he wants to learn something, he learns it! If he wants to try something, he tries it! He truly makes an effort to love the life he creates for himself. It’s inspiring to watch. I’m lucky to have a front-row seat!" Kira Kalush (daughter).
"I’m proud of my dad for being the crazy guy that he is.... I tell everyone that opening the Coney truck was his retirement plan. He shows the world that no matter what phase of life you’re in, you can always make it fun & interesting; there never has to be a dull moment. I think anyone out there trying to follow a dream should take some advice from him." Michael Kalush (son).
"I am so proud of Mike! No matter what he is working on, his heart is always in the right place. He is bold, not afraid to try anything, and knows how to be successful. I have admired his creativity and ability to be a free-spirit. He is someone we can all learn from." Anne Trujillo (wife).
And from a Mike’s Coneys customer: "The best tasting coneys and fries with a smile and superb service!".
Where does the story of Mike Kalush begin? I was born in Flint Michigan. My father was a TV news photographer. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. I also grew up with 7 sisters. I was the only boy. I also have a step-brother & a step-sister. 10 kids total in the family.
What do Anne and the family think of your latest venture? I'm not sure they thought I would really do it! But they have been VERY supportive. My daughter Kira helped me with some equipment investment. Our son Mike helped me with the Biz plan... And Anne comes out and works the truck with me.... A true family affair!
What will you do to make sure you succeed at this? I feel I have succeeded by just launching it! To get better at this, I need to stay at it and learn the best ways to use my time.
How independent, and not responsible to any bosses, do you feel with your new venture? I had a video production company for 35+ years. You always have a boss if you're in the service business. Your customer is always the boss! I do like the fact I can pick my hours, but you have to be true to your customers and be there for them. With my video production business, I was up many nights till 1 am editing. With this food truck, when I shut down, I have two more hours left in my day…. maybe home by midnight. I've never worked so hard for little money! But I love it.
What’s the best life-lesson you have learned? Wow, so many. I've learned that there are no mistakes. Everything happens for a reason. It may not feel right at the moment, but it has a place and a purpose. Trust it.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs? When you first start out, don't calculate your hourly rate! You will always be underpaid! Money will follow passion.
After having such a fruitful career as a filmmaker/videographer; telling so many beautiful stories this way, will you continue to do work in that field?I have spent the majority of my life recording other people's lives. Observing people doing incredible things...doing normal and beautiful things. I'm using this time in my life to live my life, to do what I want to do just because I want to do it. I want to look at something and leave it, not try to figure out a way to take it home or share it with a million people. So, I would have to say no. BUT, I am thinking of doing a Podcast with some of the people I meet at the truck on Colfax. I have a handful of interesting regulars!
What’s special about Mike’s Coneys? It's a simple truck. We wear paper hats and white aprons. We want our customers to have a great experience and have a little fun while at our truck. We're not hipsters with beards and buns (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) we're kind of nerdy :) Also see "Why I started Mike's Coneys" at the end.
With all you have done in your life, what do you consider you greatest accomplishment? Like most parents, Bringing two kids into the world and having them turn out to be good people.
What is your favorite place, outside of the U.S.? I love so many places! I've circled the globe twice. Spain is comfortable even though I don't speak Spanish!
Is there one book you have read that has most inspired you to greater heights?I'm not much of a reader, but I loved reading “The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho.
In your opinion, what is the secret to a successful marriage? Respect! If you lose that…. it's over. And allow each other to have a life of your own. Yes, you're married, but you're still two people.
Any tips to other parents on how to raise great kids? Respect! Listen to them…. No matter how crazy, listen before you react, and be consistent!
What do you hope to leave behind? What will be your legacy? "Talking ain't doin’” I like to do things. I don't talk about it unless I'm going to do it. I think people are sometimes surprised that I follow through with some of the things I talk about.
In my life, I've been a photographer, editor, writer, producer, realtor, entrepreneur, hockey coach, master gardener, welder/sculptor, unicyclist, board president…. and now I'm in the food business, never having worked in a restaurant! I think that's fun.
What do you love the most about Denver? I love how friendly people are. I love how open -minded most people are here. I love serving the people of Denver.
What is something no one might know about you? I'm extremely calculated. I'll never give up my secrets! :)
What is a secret talent you possess? I can tell what someone's personality is like by reading their fingernails.
What’s the best charitable event you have ever been to? I love what There With Care ( a nonprofit for Families and Children Facing Critical Illness) does. And of course, our Nathan Yip Foundation fundraiser parties – the one three years ago was so much fun!
What non-profit organizations are you involved with at this time? Right now just the Nathan Yip Foundation, and I am still close to There With Care.
Besides your family, what or who has played an important part in your life? I take from so many people. I think everyone has something to offer. But, I met a kid John Higby. He is a professional Yo Yo guy! Yes, he Yo Yos for a living! He is much younger than me but his journey, although not without struggles, showed me that you can do what makes you happy and find a way to provide and have a good life.
What is your definition of a good friend? Someone who knows when they can bust your chops, and when to give you a hug. I just got off a 4 day road trip with TV journalist/host, Harry Smith... We had no plan - just 1 car, 2 guys and 4 days. It was no different than hanging out together 30 years ago. That's a good friend. I'm lucky to have a few like that.
What has been your greatest challenge so far? Riding a unicycle across the state of Colorado was one of the toughest things I have done…. Mentally and physically.
What really lifts your spirits? Being with friends and family. Being with my kids ... There's nothing better.
What is your most glorious childhood memory? My parents taking all of us... me and my 7 sisters in our Winnebago all over the country. Yes, 10 people in a Winnebago!! For sometimes 3 weeks at a time, traveling our beautiful country.
What can Americans do to improve our image in the world? Be the country we set out to be. We are a nation created by people who were risk-takers. Our ancestors left everything they knew for a better life here in America. We need to respect that and those dreams that continue today.
Finish this sentence: “I am the luckiest guy on earth because….” The people in my life support and allow me to be who I am.
Why I started Mike's Coneys: Growing up in Michigan, Coney restaurants were everywhere. I used to spend the day at work with my dad (Mike) at WXYZ-TV. He was a news photographer there.... Even though we did some cool stories in the streets of Detroit, what I really looked forward to was going to Lafayette Coney Island for lunch! When I moved away in 1981, whenever I went back home, my dad knew the first thing we needed to do was to get a coney! And we did. In January of this year, my dad died unexpectedly. I was fortunate to have been visiting him in Florida at the time. He dropped me off at the airport, went home, and died an hour later. I was crushed. I was at a point in my life where I was burned out with the career we both shared. I realized how fragile and vulnerable life is. So I decided to leave my production days behind me and start Mike's Coneys.... with my dad’s comforting soul as my guide. My dad didn't have much to leave his 10 kids, but he left me $1000 dollars. With that, I opened my Mike's Coneys bank account. Whenever I open my truck for the day, the first thing out on the counter is a picture of my dad with me. I know he's tickled that I did this and that his name is up in lights. :)
Gardner or Gardener?
Went to Mike's first weekend he was open. Definitely going back.