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Interview with Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine Founder Shawn Wenner

Learn more about Entrepreneurial Chef Founder Shawn Wenner.

It’s a stark reality that you’ll need more than “good food” to start a thriving restaurant or food truck. You’ll also need to develop business and marketing chops to keep your business open for the long haul. Unfortunately, these important skills aren’t usually taught in culinary school.

Enter Shawn Wenner, who after almost 10-years of working at a culinary arts school chose to start the Entrepreneurial Chef, a magazine and educational platform created to help close the gap between food and entrepreneurship. In today’s exclusive Q/A interview, we learn why Wenner set out to start the Forbes of the culinary industry and help a new generation of food entrepreneurs.

 

M&R: Tell us about yourself and the Entrepreneurial Chef.
Shawn: After close to a decade of working for Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, the campus closed and I was forced to find a new path. A few sleepless nights and slight identity crisis later, I had a flash of insight. Knowing most culinary students started school with entrepreneurial ambitions, coupled with the fact I saw many struggle from a business and entrepreneurial standpoint post graduation, I conceptualized an educational platform focused on food entrepreneurship.
All in all, the platform was originally intended to be a website where successful food entrepreneurs shared actionable advice. Truthfully, I had no idea if icons of the industry would even be interested in talking about the business and entrepreneurial side of things, but quickly realized we hit a nerve and they’ve not only been willing, but extremely eager and supportive. It was never intended to become a national magazine, have a collaborative podcast, launch contests, and engage in the many things happening today.

Digital Cover of Entrepreneurial Chef.

 

M&R: Entrepreneur and chef… Those are two distinct career paths that people usually don’t put together. How did you come up with this concept why did you feel like there was a need in the market for this content?
Shawn: There were honestly about 10 different factors, and each played a part. However, at it’s core, having the ability to speak with hundreds and thousands of budding chefs through the years, it was apparent most had entrepreneurial ambitions. Couple that with entrepreneurship being a core interest with future generations, food being a staple in our society, and the restaurant industry going through challenges, I began seeing where budding chefs would have to find ways to diversify their talents and/or enhance their business knowledge if they truly wanted to live their passion full-time and not struggle financially.
M&R: What’s the mission of Entrepreneurial Chef? 
Shawn: It has always been, and will continue to be, an educational platform to bring ideas, inspiration, and actionable advice to those who possess cooking or baking skills and aspire to live off their art. It’s not just about “how to make money,” though a core of our content planning is around that topic. It’s about helping someone with a passion for food and serving others to monetize their passion and live on their terms – as cliche as it sounds.
And it’s not just for chefs like the title may indicate. Truly, if anyone possesses the unique ability to cook or bake well, we want to help them find a way to monetize their passion. The ultimate goal is our readers and community members take away enough information and inspiration that they reach their entrepreneurial ambitions.

 

M&R: In your opinion, what is one or two of the most interesting pieces you’ve published in the magazine and why?
Shawn: Jokingly, it’s like asking which kid you love best. What I learned early on is everyone has a unique start, angle, struggle, inflexion point, etc., and it’s been incredible hearing about them all. Everything from how the iconic Daniel Boulud was just an eager young man in America and decided to sell truffles on the side one holiday season, but didn’t know he was technically operating illegally due to his legal status at the time. Just imagine an icon like that way back when getting his hand slapped by diplomats and the confusion it caused – yet, he jokingly shared that he sold all his truffles amidst the confusion.
There are people like Chris Hill who became frustrated and wrote his “Dear Chefs” letter that went viral and catapulted his personal brand. Follow that by a powerhouse like Maneet Chauhan who shared the story of giving birth to her child 3 months early on the day her restaurant opened, and then worked in the restaurant with her husband while her child was in NICU – can you imagine? Maneet shared the raw reality of why timing is never perfect from an entrepreneurial standpoint, and you just have to adapt and overcome.
Every person we connect with has yet another story that inspires the next generation and I’m so blessed we have the opportunity to capture them and share.

 

M&R: What’s your longterm goal (say 5 years) for this publication? 
Shawn: It’s funny, someone once said, “Shawn, are you trying to be like the Forbes for the culinary industry,” and without skipping a beat I said, “You bet!” It’s a crazy thought, and pie in the sky vision, but we’re driving to become the go-to resource for food entrepreneurship as a whole.
There are super niche platforms who do incredible jobs creating awesome content that is very focused to a sub niche in food entrepreneurship, like FoodTruckEmpire for instance who goes super deep with Food Trucks. However, what I saw was a lack of platforms that bridged all types of food entrepreneurs together – food truck operators, personal chefs, caterers, restaurant owners, pastry entrepreneurs, specialty food product creators, food bloggers, cookbook authors, food stylists, etc. – so everyone can glean practical advice from one another. We’re driving to become that bridge in various ways from a media standpoint.

 

M&R: Where can people go to subscribe or learn more?

Shawn: For the magazine, under the name Entrepreneurial Chef, we have native apps in Apple Store, Google Play, and are listed on Amazon for Kindle devices. Our website is simply Entrepreneurial Chef and has a ton of info about the site, magazine, and more. Also, our collaborative podcast with Chef Chris Hill called Making the Cut is on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Can’t Take a Vacation from Your Food Business? This is the One Thing You Need.

Taking a vacation when you run a business can be difficult.

If you own a food business such as a restaurant it can be difficult (some may say impossible) to find the time to take a single day off, much less an entire week of vacation. When owners finally pull themselves away from work, they find themselves thinking about their business, what needs to be done, and everything that might be slipping through the cracks without their supervision. Longterm this is not a healthy way to run a business or run your personal life.

Today’s post outlines how one food entrepreneur was able to finally get his time back and be able to finally take a proper vacation after two years of 12+ hour days operating a food truck / restaurant.  Staking a claim on time won’t be easy and there will be numerous problems that will pop up in an effort to steal days set aside for yourself. Still if you are able to give yourself a break and relax every once and while, it will benefits your overall health and allow you to avoid business burnout.

Can You Take a Vacation?

“I’m going on vacation outside the country for 3 weeks with my wife,” I told my friend Case.

Case, who also owns a restaurant, looked at me like I was from outer space.

Case started his restaurant more than 3 years ago and had yet to take more than a day off at a time. If Case isn’t at his restaurant every day things would quickly go off the rails.

Supplies don’t get reordered. Catering doesn’t get booked. Things begin to be missed.

Of course, I found myself in the exact same situation just a couple years prior with my own business.

Back when I had only one food truck, I worked 16 hour days / 6 days per week for two years straight…

Here’s what my typical day looked like during that time…

Emails and calls in the early morning. On the truck in the afternoon until evening for service, and closed out the books late into the night.

Then I went to sleep and started it all over again the next day.

Even if you’re making good money, I think you’ll agree that putting in 16 hours a day, 6 days a week is not sustainable forever.

You need some help!

It wasn’t until my mentor Josh showed me why and how to build a team that everything changed in my business for the better…  

A team allowed me to:

  • Attend multiple catering events at the same time and generate more revenue.
  • Focus my effort on growing the business instead of cooking food, serving customers, driving a food truck.
  • Go on vacations with my wife and take a much needed break!

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re just starting out you’ll need to wear a lot of different hats in those early days. But you don’t wear these hats forever!

You need to build your business with the mindset that eventually you’ll passing the daily responsibilities to team members.

Building a team is the only way you can transition from being a solo profitable operator to owning an asset that you can pass along to someone else.

One of the areas we will be focus inside my mentoring program is team building. It’s a critical skill you need to learn whether you plan to start a restaurant, food truck, or catering business.

Hiring team members is critical for your success.

What Team Member You Should Hire First

Even if you’re still in the early stages of planning your business this is the right time to start identify who to hire and when to hire team members first if you want to grow.

There is debate among the business community who the first hire first for your business should be. Being a restaurant owner, I understand the heavy expense business owners pay and the mental challenges of making that first critical hire. As a result, I don’t recommend hiring an expensive manager or highly trained chef first.

Hire someone that’s a good worker that can be trained to complete low-level and routine tasks that you do not want to spend your time doing. This goal of this role is to complete routine tasks on your behalf like prepping food in the morning, washing dishes, or sanitizing the kitchen.

The Dreaded First Hire.

This first hire is important for a couple reasons. First, you’ll get some routine but time consuming tasks taken off your plate. Second, you’ll learn to delegate tasks, provide clear instructions, and be a leader. All important skills for a restaurant owner!

After you’ve successfully hired your first set of lower-wage employees, it’s time to find 1 – 2 rockstar managers that will be able to oversee your business while you’re gone. You’ll need these managers to have a high-level understanding of all aspects of your restaurant operation so they can direct other employees.

If you’re fortunate, you may discover someone with leadership abilities that you can train and promote from within your restaurant. While this can be a great way to incentivize and encourage other employees to excel, it’s wise to also look for external hires with experience if you’re hiring a first manager.

Bottom line, you need to work hard to be successful in the food truck, restaurant or catering business. But you should be able to take a vacation every once and awhile too!  Building a team by hiring is the only way to accomplish this goal.

If you’re able to take some time off you’ll feel better, but it will also allow your business to finally grow. Don’t be the bottle-neck in your business by trying to do everything yourself. Focusing on building a team and reaping the benefits of your hard work.

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Would You Accept Bitcoin on Your Food Truck?

Would you accept Bitcoin for your food truck?

Bitcoin… You may have seen it reported in the news or heard relatives discussing it at the holiday dinner table. In the second half of 2017 to the beginning of 2018, the topic seems almost inescapable if you pay any attention to financial news reports.

Some experts believe cryptocurrencies  like Bitcoin are the future of money and a more efficient way to store value than in banks. Others like investing legend Warren Buffet, believe these new forms of money will “certainly end badly” and this is nothing more than a hyped-up bubble that will surely burst.

While it’s not yet clear how things will shake out for this new currency, it’s making plenty of headlines right now. Which led us to wonder… Would you accept Bitcoins or other forms of cryptocurrency on your food truck if you had the opportunity?

What’s the Potential?

Before you get too excited about the potential opportunity, one thing that would need to happen is wider adoption of this new form of money to get consistent sales. This estimate says well under half a precent of the total world population owns even a fractional percentage of a single Bitcoin. There simply isn’t enough people to get consistent transactions from.

Still… There could be some PR advantages to accepting bitcoin. For example, Subways in Bueno’s Aires now accept Bitcoin payments, although it’s unclear how many transactions have actually occured from customers ultilizing the currency.  There are some other large companies that have begun to accept the form of payment too like Microsoft and Expedia.com. For the companies that elect to accept Bitcoin, they’ve been able to garner some free press as a result.

Bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrencies

If you’re not familiar with Bitcoin, an extremely simple explaination it’s a digital currency. You can use these “coins” in the same way that you use a dollar to purchase goods, services (assuming the business accepts them as payment), or even a way to store wealth.

Unlike United States dollars, these Bitcoins are not backed by the United States government. There are no  real life dollars or coins that you can hold in your hand either. All transactions are recorded online by a group of computers that documents all transactions on a large digital ledger. The concept of Bitcoin and other digital currencies such as this go much, much deeper, but you can watch this video if you’d like to learn more. Reader beware… You can go very far down this rabbit hole.

Bottom line, it’s unlikely that you’ll be accepting Bitcoin payments anytime soon on your food truck. Still, if you had the opportunity would you accept it as payment? At the time of writing a single Bitcoin is being valued at around $12,000 USD.

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John Stossel and the Fight For Fair Food Truck Regulations (Video)

Investigative journalist and broadcaster John Stossel and ReasonTV, published a new story titled “The Fight Against Food Trucks” earlier this month. The goal of the report was to find out if food trucks really are “bad” for restaurants as some politicians have claimed.

Are food trucks just part of healthy competition or are they rouge businesses that aren’t playing by the rules? Stossel aims to find the answer to this question in the video below that runs approximately 5 and a half minutes. So far this report has received over 20,000 views on YouTube alone.

The Advantages of Food Trucks for Entrepreneurs

As many of our readers may already know, food trucks are a lower cost way to start a food business than a restaurant. Many restaurant ideas will take $500,000 – $750,000 to start. A food truck often requires less than $100,000 all-in and doesn’t have overhead like monthly rent payments.

One of the food trucks featured in this story is Cupcakes for Courage based out of Chicago. The owner of Cupcakes for Courage Laura Pekarik says her reasons for starting a mobile cupcake business were due to not needing to rent a restaurant space or hire a team of people in the beginning. “Everything was under my control to get my feet wet in the business,” explains Pekarik in the early days.

Another food truck owner featured is Joey Vanoni of Pizza di Joey out of Baltimore, Maryland. In the program, Vanoni shares that he got the idea to start a pizza truck when he couldn’t find a good job after serving in the military. Instead of giving up on financial success, Vanoni decided to take matters into his own hands by starting brick-oven pizza business.

Bottom line, food trucks level the playing field by giving almost anyone from any economic background to start a food businesses with the opportunity to grow into a thriving brand. But do mobile units create unfair advantages for people that already invested half a million dollars or more to own a restaurant?

Food Truck Regulations

As Stossel points out, the rules for food trucks vary significantly depending on the city you want to operate. Some cities restrict serving time periods to only two hours. Others do not allow a food truck vendor to park within a certain number of feet of a restaurant.

These regulations can make generating sales on a food truck much more difficult. As Pekarik from Cupcakes for Courage points out it can be difficult to find a legal location to park in her city. Many of Pekarik’s regular customers have had difficulty even getting the opportunity to purchase her cupcakes for this reason.

Joey Vanoni also shares how difficult regulations have made operating his business in Baltimore. In Baltimore you are not allowed to sell the same product within 300 feet of another restaurant. In Vanoni’s case, the product is pizza making it nearly impossible to vend in the downtown area of his city where pizza joints are plentiful.

These regulations make generating revenue more difficult and begs an interesting conversation about why rules would favor one type of business versus another type of business? According to the video, it all comes down to who is lobbying local politicians.

More established businesses like restaurants have more broader networks. They know who is who in local government. They know other business owners that have been operating in the same area for decades. They’ve also got more money to contribute to lobbying local government. In short, restauranteurs have a lot of the resources that scrappy food vendors do not.

Leveling The Playing Field.

So how do small businesses compete against better funded and well established entities? One of the organizations cited in the Stossel piece is The Institute for Justice (IJ), an organization that has been helping ensure fair mobile vending laws are being established across the United States. IJ helps mobile food vendors and other The Institute for Justice is a 501(c)(3) organization that helps a variety of people and businesses as described below on their website:

Since 1991, IJ has come to the aid of individuals who want to do the simple things every American has the right to do—including own property, start and grow a business, speak freely about commerce or politics, and provide their children with a good education—but can’t because they find the government in their way.

As recently as December, 20th, IJ played a pivotal role in getting an important lifting the 300-foot serving ban for food trucks in Baltimore. This means that in the near future food trucks will be able to serve their food within a 300 foot radius of other restaurants with similar menu items in Baltimore.

In conclusion, the great restaurant versus food truck debate will likely continue for years to come. One positive aspect of this debate that we’ve seen in recent years is that more restaurants are investing in food trucks and more food trucks are building their own restaurants. Our hope is that in the future both types of businesses will have a better understanding and appreciation for one another.

Gary Vaynerchuck’s Business and Marketing Advice for Food Truck Owners

Gary Vaynerchuck is arguably the most well-known entrepreneur and social media thought-leader on the planet. Throughout the year you can watch daily tidbits of him running his business his YouTube Channel that’s rapidly approaching a million subscribers or Instagram. Vaynerchuck’s company, VaynerMedia, provides marketing consulting from Fortune 500 companies to the biggest athletes in the world. But while attending a recent marketing conference, Vaynerchuck took some time out of his speaking schedule to offer some specific advice to a small business owner… specifically a food truck owner.

online reviews

If you’re someone that’s never heard of Gary Vaynerchuck don’t worry! As background Vaynerchuck has a regular YouTube / Podcast called “Ask GaryVee” where people call or email a variety of business, social media, and even life choice questions to Gary. Gary takes these questions and gives his no-holds barred perspective on questions that are asked.

As Vaynerchuck describes in the video below, he met this food truck owner at a conference / book signing. The woman that owns the food truck received a signed book, but came back to Vaynerchuck to ask for seek specific advice about the operations of her food truck. Vaynerchuck gives her major praise for coming back to speak with him personally about her business and shared the mini consulting session below through his vlog.

The Scenario

The reason this woman sought Gary’s advice was to get his opinion on why her food truck was struggling. The woman had started an all-American BBQ food truck. Her first food truck was a huge success, profitable, and gained a following quickly. But… after adding a second and third food truck she found the growth difficult to manage and the new trucks to not be as profitable as the first. She then asked Gary what his thoughts were and admitted she wasn’t able to pinpoint where things started to go wrong.

Gary starts by asking the woman what changed after growing to three food trucks. This was a terrific question after all the day-to-day work of a food truck owner with one truck is very different than someone that owns three. With a single truck, you can have your hands in every aspect of the operations from the business from front-of-house and greeting customers to cooking meals and everything in between. But when you scale to multiple locations, your role needs to change. You will be doing more management of people and securing business for the trucks. It’s a completely different position!

Gary asks the entrepreneur to work back and think about all the different aspects of her business that changed after expanding to three trucks. The woman mentions that she used to take orders from the window. Now other employees accept the orders. The recipes and portion sizes may have changed… even slightly after this expansion as well. Vaynerchuck then explains to the woman how she needs to work backwards and figure out all the things that changed with her business operations initially and see what could be done to build more process into her business and make the total experience closer to what she had when there was only one truck.

Social Media Marketing  

Gary Vaynerchuck first became well-known in the marketing space for being an expert on the topic of social media. Gary then offers the business owner a tactic on Instagram that could work extremely well for a food truck business.

The idea is to find 20 social media influencers that are nearby the city you operate in. Gary then recommended reaching out to 20 people per day, saying you like their profile and then offering them free lunch at the truck. By consistently applying this tactic over time, Gary believes that you could become an extremely popular truck in the area assuming your food is of high-quality.

Gary also clarifies that it’s important to implement this strategy on Instagram specifically. Why? Because it has more organic reach than other social media websites like Facebook. Organic reach is a description of the number of people that see your post for free online and don’t have to pay for it with advertising.

The conversation is pretty in-depth considering that this advice was given at a marketing event where Gary was likely being approached to speak with many high-level marketers or business people.  So major props to Gary for taking the time to consult with a small food business owner. The owner walked away with some very specific takeaways that she said would be implemented in her business.

Whether you’re currently operating a concession business or just thinking about it, we recommend watching this video to anyone. It demonstrates just how challenging operating any type of business, including a food truck can be.

 

Food Trucks often Double as Disaster Relief Vehicles

When emergencies happen, you need teams of highly-skilled people that can mobilize quickly and travel to a distressed area to help. In critical situations like this people like first responders, fire fighters, nurses, and law enforcement usually come to mind. These people are the first at the scene of a catastrophic event.

But in recent months, seemingly unlikely food trucks have also been called upon to serve their communities after natural disasters. Food trucks answered this call by moving to support emergency workers and victims of storms like Hurricane Irma. When the power goes out and fresh water becomes non-existent these mobile food units are able to travel to the hardest hit areas to offer hot food, water, and in some cases shelter for individuals that have lost everything.

Van D’s Dutch Delights Desert Trailer.

Disaster Relief Vehicle Requirements

Although food trucks and concession trailers were not built with the intent to rush into disaster areas, they are well-equipped and prepared to handle many of these emergency situations. Below are four key reasons mobile food units are often called into action:

Speed: When disaster strikes, you need help that can be mobilized quickly today… Not sometime next week. Food trucks have the ability to spring into action with little notice. Often the only preparation needed is getting the right supplies (water, coffee, food) loaded up onto the truck and taking off.

Mobility: After a natural disaster, a cities electrical grid can be decimated and offline for days or in some instances weeks. This means not only homeowners are without power, but local services like restaurants and gas stations are offline too. Food truck have the ability to drive directly into the most distressed areas and offer services like cold water and a warm meal.

Equipment: Food trailers are already equipped with the right tools to serve emergency victims. There are ovens to heat meals. There are tables to prepare warm meals and refrigeration to keep perishable food cool. There’s also generators already installed so that these units can operate off-the-grid and without any electrical source.

Skilled: Finally, food truck owners have a unique skill set that often goes unnoticed. Food truck owners are accustomed traveling and setting up at events with few amenities. They are also comfortable preparing and distributing food quickly to large groups of people. These are critical skills to have in these scenarios.

SMART Trailer Left Side

Ideally local organizations like fire departments and hospitals will also have mobile medical vehicles on hand with additional specialized equipment for health care purposes. Many hospitals now have mobile clinics to help provide first aid and other emergency services in these events.

Recent Ways Food Trucks Have Served as Disaster Relief Units

According to reports, an average of 844,239 people are impacted by a natural disaster each year in the United States. A disaster could take the form of a flood, wildfire, drought, or hurricane depending on where you live. Here are a few specific ways food trucks have been called into action in recent months:

Napa and Sonoma Counties: Hat tip to Off The Grid that has helped mobilize Bay Area food trucks to serve areas impacted by wild fires within these counties. Food trucks are helping to ensure food donated is distributed to the right areas where people need help the most in these areas.

Las Vegas, Nevada: After the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, restaurants and food trucks banded together to help serve hot meals to first responders and victims of the this event.

South Florida – Pembroke Park and Monroe County have been aided by over 100 total food trucks to distribute free meals to residents. This is an incredible effort by the food truck community and other companies like JetBlue that helped sponsor these important events.

Although disaster relief was never the original intent for these food truck owners, they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve their communities when they needed help most. This is just another example of why we love this industry so much.

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Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show 2017 Exhibitor Review

This week you’ll find M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks at the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show running from October 11th – 13th, 2017. This annual event is being held at the Orange County Convention Center and brings together over 8,000 professionals from across the culinary and food service industry. Whether you’re looking for cutting-edge flavor combinations for your menu or looking to grow your existing restaurant franchise this Florida’s premier event to accomplish these goals.

If you plan to be in attendance, we encourage you to head on over to booth 1301 to say hi and check out our display.  Our booth is located on the South end of the convention center near the Costco and Panama Jack Outdoor and Sunroom Skyline Design booths. You can view photos from our exhibitor booth below.

Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show

Our Booth at the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show

On display at this year’s event is Tony’s Clam Chowder concession unit built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.  Tony’s Clam Chowder is the fastest growing clam chowder brand in the United States. If you live in Florida, you might already be familiar with enjoying their brand from Albertson’s or Safeway locations or perhaps enjoyed the chowder at an area ma-and-pa restaurant.

Tony’s Clam Chowder uses their concession van as a mobile promotion vehicle that helps introduce their award winning chowder flavors to new customers and also to serve hungry fans at popular events like the Cedar Key Seafood Festival being held from October 21st – 22nd. Some nifty elements of this concession unit include an external television to display a menu or marketing program, an illuminating display case for showing off product, and a serving window built right into the sliding door. Click here for full video tour of Tony’s Clam Chowder. If you happen to be in attendance, come and take a tour of the vehicle yourself!

clam chowder van

Tony’s Clam Chowder

 

interior

Interior kitchen view.

 

Interior view.

Special Events

The conference concludes tomorrow (October 13th, 2017), but there’s still plenty of valuable sessions we look forward to attending. The presentations for this event are broken into different tracks that are critical to any growth-minded restauranteur like operational excellence, hot trends, building a winning team, and increasing customer loyalty. Below is a small sample of the sessions we’re looking forward to seeing including tracks and times:

Menu Design Jedi Mind Tricks 10/13/2017 12:00 PM 12:45 PM Operational Excellence
“It’s All on Me” 10/13/2017 2:00 PM 2:45 PM Build a Winning Team
Culinary Demonstration by Chef DeJuan Roy 10/13/2017 1:00 PM 1:45 PM Culinary Demo

We’ve enjoyed all the people we’ve met at the event so far and look forward to hopefully meeting you at the final day of the event.

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Food Trucks Continue Serving Communities After Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey has devastated the Texas coastline from Corpus Christi to Houston while uprooting thousands of families in between the two cities. For many residents, their businesses and homes have been completely destroyed. Some areas were hit hard by the hurricane winds. Others had walls torn down by rising and rushing water. According to this article from Fortune.com, the financial impact of Hurricane Harvey could top $180 billion.

While there has been a level of destruction and damage the likes we haven’t seen in the United States since Hurricane Katrina there are always examples of the resilience of the human spirit that go on display when events like this happen. Times like these remind us everyone is in this thing together and that we share more similarities than differences.

Hurricane Harvey & Food Trucks

One such example that’s come out of Hurricane Harvey is the story of local food Texas trucks that have donated their time and equipment to serve the residents of their community. Instead of closing up shop these small business owners have mobilized their eateries to deliver much needed meals to areas that have been impacted the most. It’s important to point out as well that these are not Fortune 500 funded companies, but sole proprietors that are operating without the help of multi-million dollar advertising budgets. Their contributions are literally coming out of their own pockets. More often than not they are already donating their time, money, and equipment without any compensation or media attention for their important work.

Texas resident Joel Paprocki of InsureMyFood.com saw first-hand how local food trucks were helping their communities and mobilized a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to help local food trucks serve even more people impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Below is a description of this initiative published on the You Caring page:

As we all know, Hurricane Harvey struck the coast of Texas earlier this week leaving many without food and water.  Several Texas based food trucks and trailers have graciously volunteered to donate their time and vehicles to provide food for those desperately in need in the small coastal towns that are still in the process of being evacuated. 

Monies raised will go directly to the cost of food and drinks that will be served to evacuees and first responders from the trucks and trailers that have volunteered their time.  These individuals need our help and this is a great, tangible way to contribute from all parts of the country.  The trucks will deploy to several different smaller cities along the coast that may not be receiving the national attention but are still in need of help. Thank you so much for your support, a donation as small as $5 will feed someone and make a difference!

In addition to the crowd funding campaign organizations like InsureMyFood.com, 5000 Burnett, and Cincinnati Food Truck Association, and U.S. Food Truck Fest have all made significant financial contributions to the cause. As the crowdfunding campaign states, it only takes a contribution of $5 to feed someone and any additional shares on social media makes an impact as well.

Could Negative Yelp Reviews Be Hurting Your Food Truck Business?

online reviewsWe live in a world where customers read reviews and view food photos well before they ever step foot into a restaurant or dine at your food truck. That means that for many prospective customers, if you’re online reputation isn’t pristine you probably won’t get their business.

There was recently published article of MarketPlace.org that says negative Yelp reviews could actually be helping to put some restaurants out of business. The punch line of the article is that a restaurant with only two or three stars will be 14% more likely to go out of business in the event of minimum wage hikes. Restaurants on the other end of the spectrum and receiving mostly four or five star reviews, you are not likely to be impacted by wage increases. Although this article didn’t reference mobile food businesses specifically, it’s easy to see how food trucks could be impacted in a similar way by wages or reviews.

The thought process behind this report is that lower ranked restaurants are less profitable and operating on the edge already. Anything that increases the restaurants costs, like an increase in wages could put them out of business. You can listen to the full story below:

What Can You Even Do About Yelp Reviews?

Even if you are a concession vendor with a stellar online reputation, monitoring your reviews on popular review sites like Yelp.com, Facebook, or Google is a smart idea. Even if you don’t have any negative reviews at the moment, one bad customer experience or misunderstanding could completely change that. The goal of this article is to provide you with some concrete action steps you can take to improve your reviews online.

But before you can take action to improve something, you need to know what your working with. We recommend checking online reviews monthly and building this process into your regular routine. Most months, you will likely discover that you don’t need to do much assuming your business already receives mostly positive reviews.

  • Encourage Feedback: If you’ve been operating successfully a few years, you’ve probably formed relationships with your customers. Maybe you have some regulars that you see every week or every couple of weeks that you know by name and continue to return to your business. If the opportunity presents itself, mention that you would appreciate if they shared their opinion of your restaurant online and how their feedback can really help your business. Most customers that you’ve built a rapport with will be more than happy to help you out. According to this article 70% of customers will leave a review when asked making this a very effective way to generate more reviews.
  • Make Providing an Online Review Easier: Believe it or not, most of your customers will not be publishing reviews of your food online even if they had the best experience ever. While a lot of individuals like to read reviews, many people don’t think to leave their own. Part of the reason is that there can be technology challenges. Some of your customers may not know how to log into Yelp and then find out how to leave a review. A website called Grade.us can make it easier for your customers to leave reviews online. Another benefit using Grade.us is that it can help you filter out negative reviews by having any negative feedback emailed to you instead of published online for the world to see.
  • Be Consistent With Responses: It’s natural to want to have a slight freak out when you see a bad review. It’s also normal for a lot of business owners to focus on and respond only to negative reviews. If you do decide to respond to reviews directly, make sure you respond to both negative and positive reviews of your food. This will demonstrate that you value everyone’s opinions and make the negative ones stand out less.
  • Take control of your profiles: While you can’t control reviews on your website there are a lot of things you can control on websites like Yelp.com and others. Typically the owner of the restaurant can upload their own food photos, make sure the telephone number and hours of operate are all accurate. While these updates don’t impact the reviews, they will help improve the overall perception to prospective customers.

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that a single bad review isn’t the end of the world. An occasional poor or average review will happen to even the best rated restaurants in your city. If you are already a restaurant or food truck that receives positive reviews on a regular basis continue providing excellent food and service to your customer base.

Will Automation Technology Replace Food Truck Employees by 2025?

According to this study from McKinsey & Company, a whopping 73% of foodservice activities have the potential to be automated. This report comes at the same time automation efforts in the transportation sector are in full-swing as well. Ten years ago, the average person may have felt driverless cars was something only dreamed up for sci-fi movies. Today, driverless cars are actively being tested by companies like Google and Tesla on real city streets. Some analysts have predicted that you will be able to buy a driverless car as soon as 2025.

Even the pizza business is encountering further automation from a partnership between Ford and Domino’s. This partnership will allow Domino’s to deliver pipping hot pizza pie in a driverless car. When your pizza arrives at your home, you receive a text to you cell phone alerting you that the car is just outside. Then you simply go outside, grab your pizza, and enjoy. Best of all for budget minded customers, you won’t need to tip! Even though you won’t need to tip there will likely be some added fee for delivery.

Van D’s Dutch Delights Desert Trailer. Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Due to all these major automation developments in the food and transportation space, it is inevitable that the food truck industry will also face opportunities and challenges depending on how you look at it. In this post, we offer our thoughts on how mobile food industry could be impacted by these changes.

What Will Food Trucks Look Like in 2025?

Let’s tackle the big one first. Are food truck jobs safe or will you be placing your order with a cyborg five years from now? First of all, the majority of food truck businesses are owner operated. As a result this is going to be a decision on whether or not a machine makes sense for their particular business. Some machines could help business owners cut out routine tasks, but the investment also needs to make sense from a business perspective. If it’s more cost effective to hire a part-time employee that’s the path most food truck owners will stick to the status quo.

Here’s an example of restaurant automation in action from the Pasadena based burger joint CaliBurger. The robot shown below is able to work side-by-side with a human and cook burgers that are made to order. According to reports, the robot named “Flippy” can cook well done, medium, toast buns and remove food from the grill when ready. As you can see though the machine still needs assistance of living, breathing employee to assemble a burger.

It’s easy to see how this type of technology could help reduce the amount of labor and make the job of running a food truck easier for employees, but we are still very far away from a employee-less food truck.

The part of food truck automation that is likely much closer is driving from point A to point B. If the operator of a food truck didn’t need to drive, they could potentially be doing other administrative and sales type work with this downtime. Operating a food truck requires a lot of coordination to make the business work. Most vendors are regularly staying in contact with catering customers or ordering supplies for weekend service.

Once the vehicle arrives at it’s destination, however, there are still tasks that will be more complex to automate at the food truck level. For example, supplies and ingredients must be loaded onto the truck daily. This could be a complex task to instruct the machine on how much product is needed to place on the vehicle, where certain ingredients should be stored, and of course all the prep work that goes into preparing a truck for service.

How Close Is This Reality?

At the end of the day, automation will impact the food truck industry employment in some ways. But any major staffing reductions are likely more than 10 years away. Further, the cost of automating a food truck is unclear at this time. Automating foodservice work with machines only makes sense as long as it is economically beneficial for the owner of the business. Similar to the personal computer industry in the 80s these machines will likely be costly and potentially become obsolete quickly. Many small business owners will want to sit on the sidelines for the first few years the technology is available.

For the time being, jobs in the food truck industry are safe and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Still, it will be fascinating to see how the food truck industry changes in the future due to it’s position sitting in the middle of two sectors that are becoming more automated: transportation and foodservice.

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