Do you dream of opening a food truck? Or maybe you're a food passionista eager to understand the business behind good eats?
If so, meet Sean and McKinze, whose authentic Georgian food truck Kargi Gogo recently ranked among the top 10 new food trucks in Portland, Oregon. The couple opened Kargi Gogo in March after moving to Portland from a Peace Corps tour in the Republic of Georgia. Now their hard work and zeal have translated into food culture clout.
In a rare break from pinching dumplings and pressing flatbread, they reflected on their Kargi Gogo journey, compiling lessons learned into their top five tips for starting a food truck:
1. Be ready to work hard - really hard.
If this has a chance of being a successful business, you need to treat it like a business and not a hobby. Simply "loving to cook" isn't enough; you have to be ready to cook for dozens to hundreds of people, which means an entirely different set of challenges than cooking at home or even for a large dinner party. There are hours of prep and hours of cleaning.
Then outside of the cart, there's shopping, marketing, finances, employee issues, equipment breaking down, etc. It's going to be exhausting: physically, mentally and even emotionally. During the summer, it was commonplace for us to be working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, just to keep up. But on the plus side, you're building a business, and that's very rewarding.
2. Keep it small.
For most carts, pretty much everything on the menu has to be made and ready to go -- every day. So if you have a dozen different dishes, each with different ingredients, you're going to have to prep them -- every day. At the beginning especially, managing this is going to be very challenging. Pick a small menu that you can execute well, day in and day out.
3. Be flexible.
It's really important to be able to adapt to what's going on around you. Make a plan you believe in and stick to that plan... unless the plan starts failing, and then be okay with changing the plan. If a menu item just isn't working, get rid of it. If you need to shift your hours one way or another, do it. Adopt a mindset of continuous improvement. There is more than one way to chop an onion (literally and figuratively), so experiment till you find the way that works best for you.
4. Love your customers.
If you think you're doing this to "work for yourself," you're wrong. You're working for your customers. Hopefully a lot of them. So treat them well. Smile genuinely and often. Engage them in conversation. Build a relationship. Even though something may be burning on the stove, the fridge may be defrosting on the floor, the propane guy is in the back waiting for a check, the meat is being delivered, the phone is ringing, the wind blew the napkins all over the floor and you just ran out of your most popular dish -- all at once -- don't let the customers see you sweat. They didn't come there to be sucked into your problems, they came because they like your food AND the experience of getting it. Treat your customers well and they'll treat you well in return.
5. Don't freak out!
Starting a business can be overwhelming. As much planning as you do, you never really know what you're doing until you're doing it. There's so much you have to figure out on the fly. Sometimes the decisions are clear, but most of the time they're not. Just keep calm, focus on your plan, execute the plan, and take it one day at a time. Cut yourself some slack. There are plenty of people out there who might try to tear you down, so don't do it to yourself.