Dain Pool and Jon Wagner really should have known better. They both come from families in the food industry. Pool's father runs the Georgia-based Pool's Restaurant Group and Wagner's grandfather founded Johnsonville Sausage. So, a lot of people would argue that they should have known better then to stay in such a difficult business. Particularly after months of research and studying the food truck industries in other cities, they should have known that if they liked sleep at all, then they're in the wrong business.
Yet, together to two friends started Two Trucks LLC in October of 2011 and launched Gandolfo's New York Deli and The Butcher's Son food trucks, both of which have become mainstays in the Dallas food truck scene. They're about to roll out another truck in Spring of 2013, which will be their fifth local truck.
Here's my chat with Dain Pool about the daily schedule and life of a food truck operator.
What's a typical day like for a food truck operator? 5:00 a.m. Arrive at the commissary to begin day Review numbers from previous day Manage cash flow Handle business side of things, including payouts
6:00 to 9:00 a.m. Shop for fresh produce and ingredients Prep truck Prep food items for lunch Go through truck checklist to make sure everything is working Check gas, oil and propane Wash truck
10:00 am Arrive at lunch service Continue to prep truck Begin cooking some items Go through on-site checklist
11:00 am to 2:00 p.m. Begin lunch service. (They say this is the easy part.)
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Go through all pre-meal checklist again Make sure all the food for dinner is fresh Purchase any last minute produce or ingredients On-site checklist to make sure everything in the truck is loaded and ready to go
5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Dinner service
9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Get ready for late-night dinner Check all ingredients and supplies Prep for late night
11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Late-night dinner service
3:00 a.m. Crew and truck go night-night
How many people work on a truck? Some stops require two people and others require four. Sometimes it's just John and myself and that's just because we're the owners and sometimes we have to. If I'm going to put anyone else through that hell, I'm going to do it myself also.
How hard is it to keep employees? Keeping them isn't hard. Finding them is the tough part. We always do a 30-day trial and any time during that period people can come up to us and say, "Hey, thanks for the opportunity, but it's just not for me." With that in mind, the employees that we do have stay around for a while because they truly love the adrenaline rush.
What's the adrenaline rush? The fast pace of service. Every time we open our doors we know we're going to busy. Sometimes we have people lined-up and waiting.
Another element of working in a food truck is that people are always watching us. That kind of adds to it too.
How is running a restaurant different then a food truck? You have to manage your time and employees different. You also have to really watch supply and demand; in a food truck you only have a certain amount of space. So, there has to be constant communication on what you do have and don't have.
Also, with brick and mortars, you typically know what your utilities are going to be. With a truck, you have to get gas and propane, which can fluctuate.
Let's say a dear friend tells you they're going to steal some money and start a food truck business. What's your advice? Don't do it. Stay away. Don't you like to sleep? It's just a different world. Because of the amount of hours we put in, we always joke that it's a young man's game. But, honestly, if someone has to background and think they can do it, then go for it because I'm still a fan of the American dream. But be prepared for you business plan to change day-by-day and hour-by-hour.
What are the three greatest challenges of running a food truck? 1. Location. The food is easy. The location and route are the hard part. You have to be familiar with all legal aspects in Dallas and understand all the health codes and permits. Are there loopholes? Also, if you spend two days at a location where you don't get any business, then you have to rethink everything. 2. Weather. People don't come out in 106 degree weather. And that affects your staffing and food. 3. Time management. It's so hectic you have to find a system that works for you otherwise you'll shut down.
What happens when you go somewhere, say an event, and there's no one there? Find a fantastic late-night location. We're actually lucky that we've had really good luck in this market. Before we do go to places, we ask questions about what they're doing to promote it and it has to fit us. When we first started, we'd take anything that was thrown at us, but not really anymore.
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How has the Dallas food truck scene changed over the past year? Consumers have definitely become more educated about food trucks. The trucks that serve good food really attract a lot attention. I wouldn't say there's a boom, but a steady incline.
What are some of the things that can go wrong in a day? • The event organizer doesn't know what permit to get and an hour before we're suppose to start, we don't even know if we can open the doors. • Rain. • No propane at the commissary, so we have to go somewhere else to get it, but they don't open until 10 a.m. and we're suppose to have doors open by 11 a.m. and there's no way we can get there in time. • Rain. • Being on location and something like the fryer going out. And everyone ordering something that has to be fried. • A dead battery and jumping it with a four-door car. • Being late to a stop and trying to prep food while en route. • Rain. • Trying not to fall asleep while sitting the rain at a late-night service. • Talking to Jon and telling him how bad my day was and him saying, "I can beat that."
Jon's worst day: • The door getting broken while en route because of a wind tunnel from a semi. • Only being able to serve out of one window because of said wind tunnel. • Running out of propane in the middle of an event. • Being surrounded by a thousand people at an event, which means you can't leave to get more propane. • Having to throw away warm food because you ran out of propane. • Being late and missing a time-slot for an event.
What's the most rewarding part of the day? Definitely service time and when all four trucks have left the commissary on time and are out at service and just knowing that all the chaos is gone, everything went right and they're at service.