By LOIS KINDLE
When Debbie Jasmer moved to Ruskin in 1982, she had no idea she would one day own a business. The Seattle resident had married her first husband at age 15 and never even held a job.
“This was as far as I could go and still be in the continental United States,” she said of the move. “I had been married 10 years, was newly divorced and had two small kids. I had no diploma and no job skills, so I started working in fast foods.
Today she owns and operates the WHYMAMA’S Finger, Fist and Fork food truck stationed on the parking lot of Mango Jo’s, 2626 E. College Ave., Ruskin.
Her journey had a bumpy start.
The year after she came to Ruskin she married her second husband, who had a teenage daughter. The following May the girl was killed in a hit-and-run accident on S.R. 674 while she was riding a bicycle to go buy Mother’s Day cards.
At the time, Jasmer was working in real estate, but the pace was slow and gave her “too much time to think,” she said. “I needed more physical activity.”
So she began working as a kitchen manager at Saint’s Landing, a three-story restaurant in Apollo Beach, which closed in the early ’90s and burned down shortly after. She worked at the restaurant for almost six years.
“That job changed my life,” Jasmer said. “I learned everything I know about restaurants and running them in that building.”
From the time she left Saint’s Landing until 2015, Jasmer gained additional food industry experience at Shoney’s and other area restaurants; owned and operated a ceramic business with her mother for 12 years; handled customer complaints at Home Depot’s corporate office in Brandon; and worked as a flooring specialist at the Ruskin Home Depot. While working at Home Depot, she took a second job doing contract work for a marketing company to earn money to pay property taxes on land she inherited after her mom died. There she set up meat and seafood displays at Winn Dixie, Save-A-Lot and Walmart and marketed the products.
A place of her own
Two years ago, Jasmer got the idea to operate a food truck. She bought an old Coca Cola trailer, which she remodeled a bit at a time and completed last September.
While awaiting permits, she learned about getting the mobile eatery up and running from other area food truck operators. WHYMAMA’S Finger, Fist & Fork opened in November 2016.
Jasmer’s menu is varied for a place that sells homemade fast food.
Its Finger foods include six different flavors of fried raviolis, mac and cheese balls, dog bites, hand-cut French fries and mozzarella pearls.
The Fist foods, include quarter-pound, freshly hand-ground burgers that can be customized any way her customers want and Italian beef, BBQ pork, Spanish pork, chicken, pork chop and Cuban sandwiches. All items are made to order.
The Fork foods include five different salads.
Jasmer’s menu selections and pricing are the same for both lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Everything is a la carte. She offers a Friday special that could include chicken sliders and a special sauce, Philly cheese sandwich or breaded fish sandwich.
“Everything I serve is made from scratch, except for the salad dressings,” she said.
Lee Walkley, of Ruskin, said he eats her food often.
“It’s very good. That’s why I keep coming back,” he said, walking away with a cheeseburger and fries. “I like the selection. A lot of food comes out of that truck.”
June Wallace, of Sun City Center, has been to WHYMAMA’S at least a half-dozen times.
“She has the world’s best hamburgers,” she said, reviewing the menu with a friend. “I love them so much that’s all I’ve ordered. Everything else is tempting but…”
Giving something back
In addition to serving food, Jasmer volunteers for the Sun City Center Emergency Squad. Normally one who shies away from the spotlight, she recently was in the news for being a Good Samaritan after a tragic accident that occurred Feb. 1 on College Avenue.
While interacting with a customer at her food truck, Debbie heard a horrendous crash and turned to see a vehicle carrying two adults and five children roll over several times.
A drunk driver had hit the vehicle, and debris had flown everywhere.
“I was talking with my customer when it happened, and I just instinctively ran to help,” said Jasmer, an emergency medical technician whose training was sponsored by the squad. “I went victim to victim to assess each one’s condition, and the last person I found was a 3-year-old child who had no pulse or respirations.”
Although she was unable to save the child’s life, Jasmer performed CPR on the boy for about 12 minutes until an off-duty firefighter arrived.
“I knew there was little hope at the time, but I had to try,” she said. “Sadly, he didn’t make it.”
“Debbie is the kind of person you know will be there for you if you need help,” said Robin Watt, asst. chief/communications for the emergency squad. “She’s a wonderful volunteer, who assists on other teams whenever she’s available. Both the squad and the community are fortunate to have someone like her in our midst.
“And on top of that, she makes a great burger,” Watt said.
For more information on WHYMAMA’S Finger, Fist & Fork, visit www.whymamas.com, e-mail email@example.com or call 813-469-3504. Call-ahead orders and takeout are available.