Food Trucks: Not Just A Seasonal Business

4 Nov

FTAs the summer sizzle begins to cool off, restaurateurs look for ways to welcome the coming cold months by incorporating the winter season into their business model. Perhaps they will begin to offer more seasonal items like hearty comfort food to take customer’s minds of the impending winterapocalypse. They may begin to decorate the inside of their comfortably heated restaurants with seasonal selections: pumpkins, spider-webs…the premature Christmas tree may even pop up at the local pub in town. Typically, as the cold hits, restaurants across the country see an increase in business. The warm allure of glowing neon lights and savory smells draws customers in, allowing them to escape the gray landscape outside.

Now, imagine your restaurant has little to no heat, can only attract customers on a mildly cold day, and must serve a limited menu due to your pocket-sized kitchen. You are now in the shoes of a food truck operator faced with the chilling realization that winter is, in fact, coming. Millions of mobile food vendors across the country must come up with inventive ways to combat the cold to secure a profit throughout the winter months.
Columbus’ own Pitabilities, Red Plate Blue Plate truck, and Queen’s Table, along with Kenny’s Meat Wagon, reflect on past winter failures and share some inside knowledge on what it takes to stay both profitable and relevant during the “off-season.”

There’s a chill in the air

“Last winter, I had the grand idea that I was going to ‘man up’ and go all the way through spring without shutting the cart down,” Kenny Donnelly, owner of Kenny’s Meat Wagon says. “By mid-winter, I had completely lost feeling in my toes. This year, needless to say, my cart will be hibernating in December.”

While some food trucks operate for the duration of winter, business becomes much more spotty. The influx of festivals and event inquiries comes to a standstill.

“The cold brings an immediate customer drop off because people just don’t want to wait outside,” Chad Shipman of Pitabilities notes.

Most corporate offices around Central Ohio that offer mobile food vendors as lunch options to their employees discontinue their rotations mid-November, the first glaring sign that the “food truck season” is winding down. Perhaps Donnelly puts it best:

“Just like I don’t want to stand out in 10 degree weather, customers don’t want to come out in 10 degree weather to get food that’s going to get cold before they even get a chance to take a bite.”

How does a business with year-round employees stay afloat when profits freeze up by mid-December?

Budget…budget…budget

“Cash flow in the off-season is the hardest issue,” Thomas Adams, owner of Red Plate Blue Plate Truck says. “You really need to plan (save ahead) and find some other income sources.”

With Red Plate Blue Plate Truck set to close by mid-November, Adams mentions that saving money during the busy season is the best way to continue operating through winter.

“We go year round, only taking two weeks off over the holidays for routine truck maintenance,” Shipman says. “We have full-time employees that are guaranteed shifts in the winter…the only way to pay those employees is to set money aside when you’re in the green.”

It would seem that being fiscally responsible throughout the entire year is truly the only way to combat the profit drop-off mobile food operators face during the winter. However, these operations are recognized and reputable businesses. How does one stay “current” during the winter months while still bringing in revenue?

Get Creative

“My plans for the winter are to develop other sources of income that are too time consuming to start during the busy season,” Elvin Cooper, owner of Queen’s Table notes. “I have a few products, our homemade tartar sauce along with our celery juice, that I plan to get on store shelves this year.”

Keeping retail products on grocery store shelves is a great way to maintain brand recognition year-round. Donnelly agrees:

“I am working on bottling a few of my BBQ sauces…I want to get them bottled, labeled, then hit the local stores to give them samples to see if I can secure some shelf space. We’re really confident that our sauce will do well on store shelves.”

While food retail seems like a logical step for some trucks, Red Plate Blue Plate Truck and Pitabilities have other plans.

“We are developing some great ‘bar food’ plates to sell in local craft breweries and wine rooms,” Adams says. “We have a great summer sausage recipe, a tasty horseradish cheddar spread that has tested well amongst my fellow food truck peers, and some hearty caraway rye whole crackers, all handmade in small batches.”

Pitabilities plans to target large office buildings with their brand new catering service dubbed “The Pita Bar.”

“We are going to bring our food straight to the customer,” Shipman adds. “We set up everything right in your office so you don’t even have to bear the cold and you will have all the options available that we serve on our truck.”
Pitabilities’ “Pita Bar” has already started to secure profitable lunch gigs throughout the winter.

Thinking outside of the box is one way to bring in additional funding. With brands established throughout the spring and summer, it’s also important for mobile food vendors to continue to reach its customers during the winter months.

Staying relevant

“If you decide to close up shop for the winter, stay on top of your social media,” Cooper says. “You are sure to have made some fans of your food…keep your social media presence so people will still see your name.”

Red Plate Blue Plate agrees:

“Maintain your social media presence with updates on what you’re up to, regardless of what it is,” Adams mentions. “People like to hear what it really takes to grow a business.”

Finally, what is the best way to stay sane during those final brisk days of business? Last words of wisdom from Donnelly:

“Put a coat on!”

http://www.themetropreneur.com/columbus/food-trucks-just-seasonal-business/

Columbus Knife Fight’s 2nd Chef Showdown: OH! Burgers VS. That Food Truck!

15 Sep

Brian Thornton took home the culinary bragging rights in Columbus Knife Fight Club’s 2nd Chef Showdown. Thanks to all who came out. Be on the lookout for the next installment coming soon!

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Columbus Knife Fight Club Set To Invade The Food Fort

12 Sep CKF!

This Saturday, eager spectators will pack The Food Fort, located at 737 Parkwood Ave., to witness Columbus Knife Fight Club’s 2nd cooking competition that spotlights the talents of local chefs around Central Ohio.

Brian Thornton of OH! Burgers Food Truck will compete against Dan Krause of That Food Truck in a cooking competition styled after Esquire’s popular “Knife Fight” television series. Thornton and Krause will have one hour to cook dishes that must incorporate three ingredients hand chosen by Catie Randazzo of Challah Food Truck, the winner of CKFC’s first ever Chef Showdown. An esteemed panel that includes Beth Stallings, editor of Columbus Crave Magazine, and other local chefs and food experts will then judge each individual dish and select a winner at the end of the night.

“Columbus Knife Fight is a great way to showcase the vast amount of culinary talent in Columbus,” Kevin Brennan, Food Fort Marketing and Development Manager said. “We received an outpouring of positive feedback from the local “foodie” community about the last Knife Fight that we were more than happy to host the event again.”

For the low cost of $10, with partial proceeds going to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, spectators will receive a first-hand introduction to Columbus’ growing food community. Located at The Food Fort’s commercial kitchen and commissary, Columbus Knife Fight hopes to attract not only workers within the local service industry, but curious, food connoisseurs as well. With beer provided, as well as two food trucks: En Place and Flat Top Pizza Co., serving on-site, attendees will not only get to see a presentation of cooking excellence but will also be able to sample local food and beer from other talented vendors.

CKF!

Food Truck Festival

8 Aug

Come on out to our Food Truck Festival This Saturday, August 9th. Details below:
Food Truck Fest Flyer FINAL

Columbus Knife Fight Invades The Food Fort

28 Jul challah wins!

Columbus Knife Fight Club had their inaugural face-off at The Food Fort over the weekend. Challah! Food Truck challenged Swoop! Food Truck to a cook off that required each chef to use three key ingredients: blueberries, dried ancho chiles, and rabbit. Challah Food Truck won the competition, taking home the coveted WWF belt as well as culinary bragging rights.

 

The Food Fort’s First Ever Food Truck Festival Fast Arriving

25 Jul

QFM FOOd Truc LogoOn Saturday, August 9, The Food Fort, in partnership with premiere Columbus classic rock radio station QFM 96, will hold its first ever Food Truck Festival.

The Food Fort, a cutting-edge, mobile food-based business incubator, is not your typical commissary. By providing their clients access to specialized training in legal, marketing and sales assistance, as well as a fully-functioning kitchen for cooking, baking and prep needs, The Food Fort strives to give its members access to untapped markets and networks that help optimize employment opportunities.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for our members to be introduced to a whole new audience,” says Alicia Grantham, Manager of The Food Fort. “QFM 96 reaches hundreds of thousands of listeners daily. By partnering with such a prominent player in the Central Ohio region, our members have become quite excited.”

The Food Truck Festival will take place at QFM 96’s radio station, just south of Westerville. With plans to feature a prominent line-up of live music throughout the day, promotional give-aways, as well as delectable food from more than 25 of Central Ohio’s most popular mobile “foodie-preneurs,” The Food Truck Festival expects to attract thousands of QFM 96 fans, as well as curious food connoisseurs.

“We are so excited to be partnering with The Food Fort for the first ever QFM 96 Food Truck Fest,” Sue Leighton, QFM 96 Promotions Director says. “I see that as an incredible way to celebrate with our clients and engage our community…and it’s a perfect event for our listeners! I really can’t wait! Bring on the food trucks!”

QFM 96’s Food Truck Festival will be located at QFM 96’s studio, 2400 Corporate Exchange Dr., Columbus, Ohio, 43231, from noon – 7 p.m. Interested foodies can dine on offerings from Pitabilities, Swoop! Food Truck, OH! Burgers, Herb’n Food Truck, Flat Top Pizza, Red Plate Blue Plate, A Cut Above, Dos Hermanos, Culvers of Reynoldsburg, J Pops, Sweet! Mobile Cupcakery, Loops, Challah!, Kinetic, Blu Olive, Lily’s Mini Donuts, Smok’n Cantina, Fun’l Frenzy, Tortilla, Taco Sherpa, Mangia Dolce, Donatos Street Pizza, Kenny’s Meat Wagon, and more.

The Food Fort is an extension of the non-profit, The Economic and Community Development Institute. Located at 737 Parkwood Ave., The Food Fort has been operating since 2011. If interested in becoming a Food Fort member, booking a mobile vendor for your event, or to simply learn more about The Food Fort’s offerings, please call 614-732-0573.

OH! Burgers Set To Open OH! Chips

29 May

OH!Brian Thornton, owner and operator of OH!Burgers, is a food industry vet. Starting in high school at Skyline chili, Brian realized that he loved the atmosphere. “I liked serving people food and just making people happy through food,” he says of that first experience. “I decided to go to culinary arts school with the intention of someday opening my own restaurant.” He wasted no time leaving for the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago). After finishing at CHIC, Brian attended OSU for Business management while working a series of restaurant jobs, including Hyde Park steakhouse and the Refractory.

The a-ha moment came when Brian attended the Food Truck Fest at Columbus Commons, thinking to himself – and I quote – “Well, that’s pretty freakin’ sweet!” Now that he had an idea to work towards, Brian once again put his nose to the grindstone, making a business plan for OH!Burgers while working at 89 Fish & Grill (formerly Michael O’ Tool’s).

There are two real stand out aspects to OH!Burgers- The miniature size of the burgers, and the replacement of the standard-issue side of fries with freshly fried sweet potato chips. “We saw the burger trucks and realized they were running super slow, so we wanted mini burgers. And we didn’t want to have a fryer on during the day so that’s why we chose chips,” Brian told me.

His formula seems to be working: OH!Burgers is running full time, and Brian’s chips started selling out within the first year. He turned to EDCI’s food business incubator, the Food Fort, for help. “I started looking for a new fryer, and started bugging Food Fort about running a fryer here. They allowed me to buy the fryer and put it in and start frying.” It has been a successful relationship. Of the Food Fort, Brian told me “The collaboration between the food truck owners, the food cart owners, different caterers, stuff like that is something that’s helped. Drove my business, I know that for sure.”

The chips are so successful, that Brian has shifted his focus. The potential is such that he is working as fast as he can to get them in stores- “I’ve already had people contact me about [that]… I’m turning people away right now to be honest with you. The chips have a much higher potential than the truck does.”

Future plans for Brian include opening a warehouse to increase production of his sweet potato and kettle chips. He hopes to begin operating from the warehouse in September 2014. You can find OH!Burgers at 4 String Brewing Company Friday nights or at http://www.streetfoodfinder.com. Connect with OH!Burgers on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OHBurgers) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/OH_Burgers).

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