Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Truck Talk Tuesday

One of the things I have enjoyed most about the food trucks is meeting people, not only the other customers but those who are bringing the trucks to life each day. These men and women are incredibly passionate about what they are doing and the food they are serving. I was also noticing that they all had a story of how their truck came about and how their life evolved in to being a part of one of the fastest growing small business concepts, not only in DFW but in the US. Each week I will share these stories in “Truck Talk Tuesday”.

This week we meet Ashlee Kleinert of Ruthie's Rolling Café.
  1. What did you do before you were a food truck owner? We are also in the special event planning business.  My sister and I have a company named: In Any Event Dallas.  We plan all categories of special events from small dinner parties for 20 guests to large nonprofit fundraisers with 2000 guests - and everything in between.
  2. How did you come up with the name for your truck?  Ruthie's is named after my sweet grandmother Ruth who absolutely loved good old fashioned comfort food.  Grilled Cheese sandwiches were a staple item whenever I'd go to her house to stay the night. 
  3. What made you decide to have a food truck rather than a brick and mortar restaurant?  I've played with the idea of having a little tea room/cafe and gift shop for many years and was waiting for the economy to get stronger.  Then as we heard and learned more about food trucks in our event business, we made several trips to Austin and talked to truck owners there.  I became sold on this idea.  I love the flexibility of being on wheels!  We can be in different locations for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  4. What is your favorite menu item? It's honestly tough to pick a favorite because it changes weekly for me!  My personal Ruthie's favorite at the moment is a turkey and bacon with mozzarella grilled on the Hippie Health Bread...and our special slob sauce!  It's extra good but also extra messy when dripping out of your sandwich, so sometimes I use it as a dipping sauce.
  5. What has been the biggest reward of having a food truck? We love our customers and the just the general food truck culture!  We've met a lot of fun and interesting people the past few months of being open. The friendships developed have definitely been a blessing.
  6. What has been the biggest challenge of having a food truck? This is a new business venture for us, and there have been several challenges along the way but I believe every challenge has also been a great opportunity to learn and grow.   Initially, it was the permitting process in Dallas.  That was a little discouraging to say the least!  Next, it was tough to manage early expectations with customers who might think of us as a fast food joint. We have a small kitchen on wheels and custom grill each sandwich as they're ordered. Currently, our biggest challenge is managing our calendar and scheduling.  We want to do it all!  But, with just one truck and lots of special events, we're having to decline some business or requests to be in a certain part of town because of prior commitments.  We're not alone in this, I know a lot of the other truck owners and managers feel the same way.  The demand for food trucks in the metroplex definitely exceeds the supply.  
  7. Most marketing for food trucks is through social media, do you see that as a benefit or challenge to you and why? Thankfully, because of In Any Event Dallas already being established with a Facebook and Twitter following, we've been able to promote Ruthie's without having to start from scratch. I love the real-time communication we're able to have with our customers!  If we add a location last minute or change locations, we can communicate instantly.  
  8. You spent most days on a food truck, where can we find you when you aren’t on a truck?  When I'm not with Ruthie's Rolling Cafe or in our event office, I love to spend time with the wonderful nonprofit agencies in town. My husband and I founded Executives In Action a few years ago, and we match executives who are temporarily out of work due to the economy with a nonprofit agency needing someone with that executive's specific skills for a short term, high impact project.  We love it.
  9. If you could only cook one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? If I could cook only one thing for the rest of my life it would be: "wonderful!!"  I'd love to eat out every meal and try all the other food trucks in town!!
  10. What would you like to see in the DFW food truck scene in the next two years?  I'd love to see even more collaboration with city officials and be a part of large civic events.  There's so much room in DFW for growth in this industry, and it would be great if we could all partner together!
Thank you Ashlee for the insight!  You can roll with Ruthie on Facebook and Twitter and find out where the next grilled cheese party will be!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Women of DFW Food Trucks

Originally Posted on MobileFoodNews.com

If you were driving by a Starbucks in Euless, TX one night this week, you may have heard the laughter and chatter of eight women; talking about things such as generators, permits and a passion for food. These were the women who own and operate their own food trucks in Dallas Fort Worth.  They represent 15% of the food trucks in DFW and each of them has 100% passion for their product and the career they have chosen. They are doing it all; scouting locations, buying supplies and cooking food; marketing their truck and keeping the truck in operating condition while still taking care of the families at home.

Some of these women have had their trucks out for several months, some are waiting on their trucks to be finished out or to get through the permitting process but together they bring a unique perspective to the food truck industry. It was my pleasure to spend the evening with Gina and Michelle from Crazy Sisters, Leora from Trailercakes (who had to leave her business partner Heather back at the shop to finish out an order), Ashley from Cup Cakin, Megan and Christina from Good Karma Kitchen, and Natalie and Christina from Red Jett Sweets. Sarah from Taco Heads were not able to join us in person but contributed her thoughts by email.

This is a group of women who are enthusiastic about the food they are selling and confident in the career they have chosen. One could easily assume that there would be competition between the truck owners but that is not the case. This is a group who recognizes the idea of strength in numbers and that they are a group who is stepping outside the stereotypes of food truck operators and making their own way. Conversations varied throughout the night but in all the talk there were three themes over which these women, most of whom had never met, seemed to bond.  

1.      Balancing work life with home life: Virtually every working woman has concerns about how to balance work and home life but when you are a truck owner and average 15 hour days, the concerns are increased exponentially. All of these women voiced their concerns about how relationships with their kids, significant others and pets are being affected by their career choice.

Several have their kids visit on the truck as much as possible; several have husbands and boyfriends come to the truck for “date night”. Most have become obsessive about making To Do lists, often to the point of scheduling school pick up time. All admitted to having given up ever having a full night’s sleep in order to have time to keep their household running. Even with the schedules and compulsive planning, many of the women admitted to having guilt when family plans have to change because of a catering event or having to call a friend to take care of their pet because they can’t leave the truck to go home to tend to their pets.

One of the ladies admitted that one of the things that she missed from her previous life is cooking dinner. But, when you are cooking for hundreds of people a day, it’s hard to come home and cook for 3 or 4 more. So, family dinners are often from the truck and families and significant others are learning that when one family member owns a food truck the entire family owns a food truck.

2.      Mechanical issues:  All of the women had multiple storied about learning the technical and physical aspects of running a truck.  All agreed that over time their physical strength has grown in ways they never expected. They are lifting 250 pound generators, hitching trailers to trucks, and standing on their feet for hours at a time, often in trailers that are reaching 110 degrees inside.  The theme of these ladies’ lives seems to be “learning by doing” and the women have learned to make truck repairs and build their strength and stamina to a point greater than many of the men in their lives.  

3.      The Power of Partnerships and Camaraderie: All but of two of the trucks are run by partnerships that own and operate the food trucks. The women find their partnerships bring strength to their truck that benefits them in ways they never expected. Across the trucks, the partners have split responsibilities, based on interest and abilities.  One woman will be responsible for the truck finances, one responsible for scheduling. One responsible for ordering supplies, one responsible for truck maintenance. Perhaps the most important aspect of the partnership is the one that all shared, each group has one partner who is the dreamer, thinking of multiple trucks and business expansion; the other is the voice of reason, reminding everyone not to take on more than they can handle at the time and building the business slowing and deliberately.

These women also have formed bonds with their other food trucks. They look for ways to make everyone’s truck successful. They talk amongst the truck operators and local businesses about route sharing and how to work with local governments. They exchange ideas on where to buy the best produce and where to park their truck in the off hours.   They understand the power of a united group standing together.

Without a doubt, these women are doing it all and doing it well. They have jumped in to what is generally considered a job for a young male and shown that they can roll. They are making a positive impact on the DFW food truck scene and their families and they are serving some darn good food!
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