By Mary Sisk
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Inside a shiny silver food truck decorated with plants and greenery at Rockford City Market, Tracey Vukalovich and her sons greet customers with a smile, artisanal coffee and a distinct accent.
Vukalovich, 66, and her family are from Australia, living there up until seven years ago when they moved to Orange County, California. Now, a year and a half later, she’s running a business in Rockford, bringing her love for coffee and cafe culture to Rockford City Market and other local spots.
“I think for me, what excites me is watching that cafe culture of people enjoying conversations and enjoying that sense of community, and doing it over beverages,” Vukalovich said.
From Australia to Rockford
Seven years ago her husband, Douglas, who was previously an airline pilot, found himself involved with ministry, which contributed to her family making the move to the United States.
“It was supporting him and for the adventure,” Vukalovich said. “The opportunity for my children and the excitement of coming to a new place, it was exciting for me.”
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Vukalovich, her husband and their three children moved to Orange County in California and lived there for nearly five and a half years.
She quickly moved into the California food scene, getting involved in the food industry for many years.
Her experience is extensive, beginning with studying nutrition and food technology at the University of Sydney, working for airlines as a first-class air chef, and numerous other jobs in her field.
After her arrival in California circa 2015, she took on the role of assistant director of the culinary arts program at Orange County School of the Arts.
Shifting from beachy to vintage
It was during her time in Orange County that the idea for a mobile cafe came to Vukalovich and her family.
“We’re very passionate coffee drinkers and appreciate good coffee ourselves,” Vukalovich said. “It was a combination of all of those things, so we were living in California and decided this was something we were going to do.”
The search for a suitable vehicle to host the cafe led them to a retired man in San Diego who restored vintage Airstreams, an American brand of camper known for its shiny and rounded exterior.
“There was a resurgence of this desire to have vintage,” Vukalovich said. “This repurposing of old things and not being so disposable and wanting new all the time.”
They then bought what would be the future home of Vintage Goose, a 1964 Globetrotter Airstream.
It was an expensive ordeal to repurpose the Airstream, but after the refurbishing work was finished, Vukalovich and her family began to envision their new business.
“We originally were starting it in California,” she said. “Her name was Gidget after the 1965 ‘Gidget’ series.”
The theme of the cafe was first a southern California, retro beachy aesthetic, but that would change after her husband felt a calling to work for ministry in Rockford.
After moving to Rockford just over a year ago, integrating into the community for her family was slow at first due to the pandemic.
“People weren’t really socializing a lot,” Vukalovich said. “But over the last 12 months, the warmth of the people has been fantastic and we just love it here now.”
To match Rockford’s industrial, historic downtown ambience and taking inspiration from the large local geese population, Vintage Goose Cafe was born.
After registering their business in Illinois, rigorous testing from the Winnebago County Health Department was needed to officially begin work.
“It took us a long time, but I’m really glad that was the case because I take comfort in knowing that a legal body is seriously considering how hygienic things have to be,” Vukalovich said.
About two and a half months ago, all testing was cleared and they were given the proper license to open business.
Their first day open was at Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens just over a month ago and they also joined Rockford City Market’s vendor list in May.
Vintage Goose is a family-run business as Vukalovich is often seen with her sons, Matthew and Nicholas, making orders in the Airstream, while her daughter, Natarsha, helps with social media marketing while away for college in Australia.
Being at Rockford City Market and Nicholas Conservatory weekly has introduced Vukalovich to numerous locals, allowing her to study the Rockford coffee palate and enjoy the socialization after health regulations from the pandemic.
“For me, I love seeing people get out,” Vukalovich said. “I really enjoy seeing life being breathed back into the community.”
Vukalovich also recently gained citizenship at the largest naturalization ceremony held in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in March at the Coronado Performing Arts Center.
“It was just lovely and to look around that room and see all of those people from every country and every walk of life, joining in and creating this diverse community,” Vukalovich said. “It was really moving and really significant.”
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Vintage Goose’s services are available to rent and Vukalovich plans on developing their menu with their roaster, Grace Coffee Roasters, to better suit Rockford. For now its a traveling cafe focused on encouraging community over a cup of coffee.
How to find Vintage Goose Cafe
Checking their Instagram @vintagegoosecafe is the best way to stay up to date, but their typical schedule is Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Nicholas Conservatory and Friday at Rockford City Market.