The Makeshift Guide To Food-Truckery
By Warren Bujol
The Slop Heard 'Round The World
Brett and Derek Stutes; the George Washingtons of the Lake Charles Food Truck Revolution. But like any good revolution, it takes more than a George Washington or two to beat the Redcoats. Don't believe me? Take a look at the painting of George crossing the Delaware; there's at least 11 other George Washingtons in his boat alone. Not to mention all the other visible and implied boats full of powdered wigs.
You see, it takes a village/money/advice/community support to raise a food truck. The Sloppy Taco is no exception and to offer the advice portion of the food truck raising process, they've decided to share with you the cheat codes that have brought them this far on the Oregon Trail of Selling Tacos. I present to you these humble nuggets of knowledge.
Step 1. Have a dream
Pretty self-explanatory; you probably shouldn't invest your time or energy in a food truck if you don't want to own a food truck. If you do want to own a food truck, be passionate. I'm not sure if it is a requirement, but you don't see articles in Exposure Magazine about restaurant owners that aren't passionate to the point of madness, do you?
Step 2. Befriend a Successful, Speedo-Wearing Restauranteur
This step isn't as difficult as you might suspect. All you have to do is swing by Botsky's, damn near anytime of day, and say hello to owner, Michael Krajicek. Michael, as you know, has stirred up the local food scene about as much as one can with a hotdog, and his success isn't a product of chance. Michael has always been a visionary, but the last few years of hot-dogging have made him business savvy. Now he's a business-savvy visionary with an unquenchable desire to see young entrepreneurs stake a claim in the inevitable evolution of our community. Just like Michael, Brett and Derek had limited restaurant-running experience. Experience is not a prerequisite for success, but creativity and ambition alone do not guarantee success in the food industry; arguably one of the hardest industries to enter (second only to the free, local publication industry). Seeking advice from established/credible businessmen and women is an underrated and often overlooked step in the business planning process, but can be one of the most beneficial.
It is easy for passion to convince you that your idea will not face the same constraints and limitations as everyone else's. Having an outside business perspective is invaluable to aspiring entrepreneurs. Do yourself a favor; find a Botsky (or the Botsky equivalent in your industry) and pick his or her brain.
Step 3. Find Money
Luckily for Lake Area taco enthusiasts, this step wasn't too difficult for our Sloppy Taco friends. I assume that the Stuteses and extended family of said Stutes have had the pleasure of eating Brett's Sloppy Tacos before they were called Sloppy Tacos. With this in mind, it is easy to see how investing in this idea wasn't a 'pacing' decision. You may be thinking to yourself, "must be nice to have billionaires in the family", but before you get all bitter, know that Brett probably thinks the same thing. One giant funding source is just as effective as many small, hardworking ones. Keep this in mind when seeking investors; it may complicate things to have several investors, but you don't need all your eggs coming from one golden goose. In fact, major funding sources may be difficult to find because food trucks are like unicorns in this region...even though they were scientifically proven to exist in every other part of the country decades ago. Don't be surprised if some investors cock their heads to the side when you explain to them that your kitchen will have wheels. I can't make any promises, but you may want to look up the Angel Investors group (locally) which hosts business pitch competitions and invests in local start-ups. Or one of the six million banks we have liberally scattered around our city. Don't let funding sources be the reason your dreams die. Get creative, get money. Bring us samples of your food; we'll help get you some attention.
Step 4. Get Official
If you aren't selling bootleg CD's out of the trunk of your 1981 Honda Accord in a dark alley, you're going to need to pay taxes and such, maybe even register a name with the state. Acquiring am LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) is easier than ever now that the Louisiana Secretary of State's website has a pay online option. Just visit sos.la.gov for more information. An LLC is not for everyone, and we do recommend that you seek proper council when considering opening a business. Structure is everything and it's best to start off right than have to redefine your entire business later down the road. Oh yea, don't forget to get insurance; don't want someone to take everything you worked for just because they "allegedly" got diarrhea after eating food from your truck.
Step 5. Define Your Brand
This has several aspects, most of which are obvious; i.e. logo, color schemes, etc. You can figure those out on your own so I'll stick with the lesser-known topics. Menu. What are you going to offer? How many choices does your customer need? Science says not many. I should probably cite my sources, but to work around that, I'll just be vague. Science says when presented with too many options, humans panic, and sometimes, spontaneously combust. You don't want that, do you? Keep your menu possibilities at a fire-retardant level, but don't be afraid to play around with it. The Sloppy Taco team is constantly refining and improving their menu. This includes perfecting existing offerings, but also experimenting with new menu items and finding creative ways to test them with your customers.
Other aspects of the menu include quality. In my experience, people (me) are willing to pay a little more for higher quality food. There is a secret, delicate dance among restaurateurs which gently balances between cost efficiency and not-shitty food. We all want high quality food, but when your debit card is sliding through that convenient little reader on an iPad, you forget that quality costs money. At the Sloppy Taco, they are well aware of this paradox. They ensure that every juicy bite reminds you why you paid just a little more than you would've at Taco Hell. Not to mention, Taco Hell charges much more for diarrhea now, and I'm beginning to think this 'Diablo' sauce is some kind of marketing stunt because they're always 'out' of it when I can't find Sloppy Taco. Like every other industry, you must differentiate yourself from your competition.
Step 6. Patiently wait for city ordinance to join us in the 21st Century
You're going to face some setbacks. Mainly the lack of a 'proper' commissary. The reason you don't see that beautiful sloppy truck of tacos everyday is because they are required to have a state-approved location to store food and dump waste water. The Department of Health and Hospitals, while well-intended, has our taco friends in a choke-hold. We all know that bureaucracy hates tacos, but don't start throwing bricks through windows yet, people like Robin Basone have been an invaluable resource of information and assistance within the food truck fate-deciding department. Also, it's illegal and I'm pretty sure you don't want the jail version of a Sloppy Taco. I'd personally like to thank Robin for doing everything she can to get our friends back on the street. Until that day, we should thank the Boarding House, owned by Molly Jackson and Rosie Tower, for serving as a temporary commissary for the Tacos. Molly and Rosie are going to great lengths to upgrade their plumbing (they are located outside of city limits) so that they can appease DHH and serve as a permanent commissary. They say patience is a virtue, but I'd rather have a Sloppy Taco.
Moral of the story is, if you decide to go against the stream (starting a food truck), expect a little resistance. But with some hard work, a Robin Basone, a Molly Jackson, and a Rose Tower; you too can make all my food truck dreams true. I'd like to thank the Sloppy Taco team for bringing food trucks to Lake Charles...finally.
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