Each month, Insure My Food shines the spotlight on a featured client doing big things in the mobile food industry. For September, we introduce Twisted Mike’s from Springfield, MO, where Mike creates delicious comfort foods with a twist! Are you a current client interested in contributing to our blog? Send an email and let us know!
Tell us a little about your truck and how you began…
I have always wanted to own and operate a restaurant, but never had enough money to open one. I had worked in the restaurant industry since I was 16, and had been blessed enough to travel the country opening restaurants, being General Managers, and a Multi-Unit General Manager. Great experiences, but I wanted to do something a little more fun. Like a lot of people, the “Great American Food Truck Race” on the Food network got my attention on a new possibility of opening a restaurant on wheels.
I started my research and after much thought, decided that having a truck built was the best option. I also found that it was cheaper than buying a used one and then refurbishing and fixing it. Now like most things new, it ran eleven weeks behind being completed. At first, I was a little angry, but with this business you learn to roll with the punches, and it actually ended up being a very good thing. It allowed me to work on my menu. I had no concept of what kind of menu to do when I ordered the truck. I changed my mind over and over again, and to be honest my menu is always fluctuating. I am constantly adding and deleting items, rotating items, to keep the menu fresh. My friend who does our signs laughed at me when I told them I wanted a professional sign done. She couldn’t believe that I had actually settled on a menu. Truth is, that’s my regular menu, I am constantly adding stuff on a chalk board menu. I made the mistake when I first opened of creating a menu that I thought would “sell.” I didn’t really enjoy creating it, and after a while i found out that was a mistake. I needed to make food that I enjoyed to cook and that I thought was fun. Our menu focuses on home cut fries. We offer a large variety of fry topping, such as crack fries, cashew chicken fries, duck confit fries, general chicken fries, sushi fries, etc. We also offer a variety of sandwiches and tacos to help balance out the menu. Now, we kinda break the rules to what I read about what a food truck menu should be. We offer over 24 menu items, sometimes as many as 30 at one time. Now the key to this is making sure our those items can all be prepared within 3 minutes and we only prep 13 items. The menu is just a combination of those items, and we could actually do many more, but we have to stop at some point! We opened in Springfield, MO on September 19, 2015. We operate the truck within Southwest Missouri, but are beginning to venture out a little further.
How did you first go about finding spaces and events to sell around? Any tips for first timers? (Sidenote – We LOVE this answer!)
Finding a good location can be extremely hard, and it really depends on the rules for your city. We started out renting a location in front of a shopping center. In Springfield, the city has a list of approved spaces that we can rent from. From that location, we can move anywhere to do events, we just need to have a home base. After a couple of months, we decided that location was a mistake (granted, it was winter), and we moved to the Food Truck Park. We find it as a great home base, but we find that we do a lot more sales when we roam to various businesses and festivals.
We are constantly looking online to see what events we can find. We look everywhere, from local event pages, Facebook, news papers, to anywhere where they list the festivals for Southwest Missouri.
The majority of the businesses that we travel to on a weekly bases actually contacted us. It is really important to develop a great reputation right off the bat. We really focus on quality food at a reasonable price. (a little higher than Wendy’s, but not by much).
You also need to keep your promise. If an event asks you to do an event for a certain price in a certain amount of time, you need to make it happen. One of our events wanted us to serve 150 people in 90 minutes. They wanted 15 menu choices, and we made it to order. We accomplished it, word spread, then another company ask us to serve 82 people within 30 minutes, and we were to do this at the top of each hour. We made it happen, word spread.
Your reputation is as important, if not more important, than the location you choose. You can always change location, not reputation.
Describe one of the major successes or memorable moments you’ve had since opening your truck.
Our opening weekend was a doozy. Our first day open was Sept 19. It was the first ever food truck festival in Springfield, MO, and we had a wedding the next afternoon an hour away for 250 guest. There were 10 food trucks for that event, over 8000 people showed up. Guest waited 2 hours in line to eat our food, and we were dishing it out fast, we were exhausted. I got the truck home around 9 pm that evening, bed by 10, and was at Walmart at 1 am to shop and start working on the food for the wedding. That was a crazy weekend. A hugely successful weekend. Like I said before, do it right. We gave away a ton of business cards at that wedding and have had done several other weddings because of it! Your reputation is super important!
What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve either been given or can give to people looking to start in this industry?
Like I have mentioned before, your number one priority is your reputation. If you can’t do a event right, don’t do it. If you sign up to do it, do it better than everyone else. Plan, plan, and plan some more. Besides reputation, you gotta love what you do. It’s not just about the money, granted that is why we do it, but you have to love doing it. There are good days and bad days, and sometimes more bad days than good, but that is ok. Even when I am tired, and sales have been low for a few days, I can walk onto the truck and I get all excited. The possibilities for the day, I feel like a little kid living his dream.
What are some challenges you have as a food truck owner in your area?
There are always challenges to operating your food truck. I think our biggest challenge is opening the doors to new businesses and of course those “waiting list”. We have found that there are many businesses that would love to have us come out and serve their staff, but once they start to look at their lease agreements, they find that they are not allowed to do that. Many festivals have a waiting list for food vendors, sometimes as long as five years until you can get in. Getting a good reputation has helped us break down some of those walls, but some of them we can’t (lease agreements). We are also a fairly new industry in the city and all the food trucks are working hard to educate the community about our business. Challenges are just that, challenges, and challenges are new opportunities.
I think it is also important to understand that a food truck is like any other business. We also have the challenges of a brick and mortar location. We have to market and sell ourselves, we can’t expect people to just show up. It can be a challenge to decide what marketing and advertising you want to do, and yes, you have to it.
Networking within your territory can sometimes be a challenge – what are some of the best ways you’ve found to connect with people in your area?
Don’t be a snob. You are not better than anyone else. It is important that you develop a great relationship with other trucks. We all find ways of helping each other. If we are booked and we hear of an opportunity, we tell the other trucks, so if one of them are not booked, they can do the event, and they do the same with us. It is about us all helping each other grow.
Events, we take as many as we can in our local community, even if that means turning down a larger event out of town. I know that if i can make that local event awesome, my name gets out there more and we get more events.
The booking agent for each client, we treat to free food. Not just once, but every time we go to there business, as a thank you. We help support their charities by giving back, we become a part of the community. We are working now on using locally grown and produced items on our truck, again, it helps to network.
There are many local events that the “who’s who” attends, that is why it is important to impress every single time you do something. If you do, they will contact you. We did an event not long ago. It was a two day festival, and we had a blast. We were suppose to open at 5 pm the first night, but we sold our first order at 11:32 am. People at the event had heard of our reputation and came to see and try our food. We opened just for them and ended up serving almost as many people before the official opening time as we did after. These people were impressed that we made the effort to make their staff happy, which has lead to a ton of new business events. Never complain, find a way of making it happen, and impress when you do. Best networking advice to remember is that is not about you, it is about them, and when they see that, your business will grow.
Let’s talk about social media presence – where can we find you online?
I cannot stress how important your online presence can be. Fun fact: Over 95% of our business luncheons, weddings, festivals, and events are booked via email and Facebook. We don’t even meet most of these guest until the day of the event. (which surprises me, especially when we consider weddings). We have our website, twistedmikesfoodtruck.com, we use twitter, (twistedmikes1), Instagram (twistedmikestruck), and Facebook (Twistedmikestruck). We get the most response from placing pictures of our food online and when we post pictures of our clients. The pictures that we use online are actual guest orders, every order going out should look like the picture!