People have the idea that because food trucks and trailers are condensed versions of restaurants, that they are somehow simple to start up and run... they are mistaken.
We were now locked in on the idea of starting a food truck. One thing that my husband is, is dedicated to a plan. A lot of that probably stems from his military background, but once he has an idea or plan laid out in his head, he is full throttle. Being with him for the past couple years, that has started to rub off on me. So once he suggested I start getting plans working on the concept of the truck, menu ideas, locations, etc, I started hitting the gas. He had begun looking for the actual trailer (as we knew a full truck was going to be too expensive to start with). He had found some for rent, and we thought this new plan would definitely be doable with not having to fork over a bunch of cash to buy a trailer out right. We would start by renting, with the intent to buy in the future, once we were turning a profit.
I quickly began expanding on the idea of cooking wine influenced foods. Menu ideas were flooding in my head, keeping me awake until I got them all written down most nights and mornings. I have created many menus over the years throughout my career, both in restaurants and with my catering business. It is a whole process for me. I began by jotting down way too many ideas on paper, scratching some out, adding new ones, and so on. Once I felt like I had gotten all the ideas on paper, I started reading through them to figure out what kind of equipment it would take to produce them. The thing about using a mobile food unit, is consolidation. You can only fit so much equipment in the trailer, so the menu needs to be geared around that specific equipment. I settled on needing a grill or griddle, oven, fryers, and sandwich press. Some menu items were then crossed off that couldn't be produced by those means.
Then I started to break down the ingredients of each item. Another main component to a food trailer is storage space. You have to have a "home base" commercial kitchen in the county that you are registered in to store all of your product and cook what cannot be cooked in the trailer, and those kitchens usually have limited space.
I began to see which dishes I could cross utilize product, and eliminated some menu items based on the list of ingredients that could not be used for any other dishes. Lastly, I went through and got rid of dishes that I couldn't figure out a way to incorporate wine. I was very set on our concept being centered around recipes with wine, so if it couldn't fit into a dish, I didn't want it on the initial menu. I had my copy of Wine Folly: the Essential Guide to Wine to help me with pairings in my menu development. I even researched some classic Italian recipes, because it had been a while since I honed in on my roots. Being a mom of two, having to make quick family meals, I have gotten accustomed to taking short cuts when it comes to some classics. I was intrigued to find that a classic bolognese recipe used white wine versus red. Apparently the red wine is too aggressive in the sauce, so a classic bolognese sauce uses a dry white wine. Somehow I had missed that cooking fact over the years. I continued checking through the menu to make sure I was doing justice to my European roots. Lastly, I rewrote the dishes that I finalized on. I make a lot of lists to sort through things in my head and stay organized in my professional and personal career. A weird pet peeve of mine is crossed out things, so once I finish drafting, I make a clean final copy. Granted, I'm sure during the planning phases more changes will come, but I'm at a strong start.
Now that I had a preliminary menu, I needed to get to work on the brand and design of the business. One of my husband's good friends is a very talented artist. I had been following her work on Instagram (Creative Hazel) and loved the style, and had also seen that she had started doing custom artwork for clients. I reached out to her super early in the morning, because my sleeping pattern had been all out of wack, and by the end of the day I had an amazing logo! (We will keep the truck name and final logo under wraps for now until things are more locked in for a grand reveal). At this point I felt that the foundation of the food truck was there. Now I needed to get to work on the legal side and logistics, which is where my head began to hurt.
I knew there was a lot of red tape to go through when it came to mobile food vending. I'm sure many of you have seen the movie, Chef, where a guy that was burnt out from the restaurant industry decides to take a new path and buys a food truck, traveling around with his friend and son. Unfortunately it is not that easy. You can't just drive around and park wherever your heart desires, opening your food window, and start slinging delicious food to customers. There are several different types of licenses, permits, and inspections that must be done first if you don't want to be shut down. The trick was figuring out what order they needed to be done in. I knew you had to secure a shared commercial kitchen as your "home base". I found a few options for that. You can't apply for the kitchen without your business being a business and having your tax ID numbers. You couldn't get a Mobile Food Unit Permit without securing the kitchen. I was starting to get confused as to what needed to be done in what order, so I started doing research. I came across a site for Business Link North Carolina, that had a number to call to speak to a counselor about getting the correct information for what you needed to start up a business in the state. I quickly gave them a call to get some clarification.
Step One: Register your business by getting your Articles of Organization
Step Two: Register with the IRS for your Employee Identification Number (EIN)
Step Three: Register with the NC Department of Revenue for your state tax ID
Step Four: Get your local business permit based on your county of operation
Step Five: Go through the process of getting your DEHEC inspection
So now I finally had my ducks in a row, with what I needed to get done in the correct order. Before I got any of this started, I needed to make sure we could actually secure a trailer. I continued getting all the research I needed done, so that once we were ready, we could knock everything out. What we were trying to avoid was starting a lease on a truck, and it not being ready to hit the road shortly after getting it. We did not want to end up spending a couple months, paying rent on a trailer that was just sitting in a parking lot, while we got all the logistics ironed out.
This is where we started hitting a wall. The trailers that my husband initially found for rent, were no longer listed. I began helping look for some, and was only coming across ones for sale for $15,000-$20,000 and up. We were not trying to start out by having to take out a loan to finance a trailer. In order to start this business venture, we needed to find a rent to own or lease to own program. I put out some feelers on Facebook groups for food trucks nationwide and was contacted by a rep from Rent 2 Own Trailers. He explained to me that unlike most companies, they do not do credit checks and financing. They take a down payment in two installments (half upon contract signing and half when the trailer is delivered). They build out a brand new trailer for you based on the equipment you need, fully up to code with fire suppression systems, water tanks, etc. Once you get the truck, you have thirty days before you start making the first weekly payment. Unlike financing, we would not end up paying an excessive amount of interest. We would make our payments until the balance was taken care of, and then the trailer would be ours. It sounded like a very promising opportunity. The only downfall was the down payment would be higher than we thought it would be. It was doable with tax money coming in and possible stimulus money, but it essentially would wipe out all our extra money. Along with the trailer we had licensing fees, the rental on the kitchen space, a generator and propane tanks to power the trailer, the initial product cost of the food, small wares order to go along with the kitchen equipment, and the permit to operate. The business start up that we were anticipating to be maybe $5,000 to get started had just jumped up to about $15,000, bringing us to where we are now.
We have to seriously decide if this is a risk we want to jump and take. Is it financially doable? Yes. But it would take away all our financial cushion. All the government money we have coming in would be thrown at this project. I would essentially come out of my full time job to run the truck, meaning we would have a one income household if the truck couldn't quickly turn a profit. We could park this trailer and serve 300 customers in a day, or we could only get 20. It is a huge gamble! I have been in very low financial situations as well as very high ones in my life. One thing I have learned is that money will come and go, it does not dictate your happiness. I also was listening to a Instagram live with Erica from Moody Wine and Shayla from Black Girls Wine yesterday and she said something that hit my soul. Shayla was explaining that she was scared to try something new and start her black girls wine society. Erica replied along the lines of "But if you're scared to do it, it means you're doing something worth doing, right?" Yes, this business venture is quite a scary undertaking, but I think that is because something great is on the horizon.