No Food, No FEMA: Hurricane Michael’s Survivors Are Furious

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PANAMA CITY, Florida—Hurricane Michael’s sudden transformation into a storm that is unprecedented for the Florida Panhandle haunts everyone who lived through it. “It was raw power,” says Panama City resident Walter McAlster, “you felt you were in it, not outside and didn’t know if you would live through it. You knew that everything was going to change the landscape forever.”

And it did, in the span of three hours.

The destruction is everywhere, at every corner for as far as the eye can see. Mexico Beach, where the hurricane’s eyewall slammed into Florida with 140 mph winds, is flattened. Panama City, gem of the Emerald Coast, looks like a bomb had been dropped on it. Is now a desolate landscape of countless toppled power poles, transformers, electical lines, severed trees, and metal roofings, twisted and tangled into a sea of debris covering every road. Nearly all homes, businesses, stores, banks, schools are severely damaged or destroyed, skeletal remains with blown out windows or crushed facades. To residents, it is unrecognizable.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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Hungry to Start a Food Truck? Get Your Business Road Ready with This Guide

For food lovers with the Midas Touch in the kitchen and ambitions of being their own boss, opening a restaurant would be a dream.

A really, really expensive dream. But there is an option that is slightly less pricy: running a food truck business.

While operating your own food truck will obviously still be a major investment, they’re typically cheaper than brick-and-mortar restaurants for a couple of reasons, including not having to sign a lease or employ a large staff.

But what exactly does it take to open and maintain your own food truck? I went to a seminar hosted by Tampa Bay Food Trucks to find out.

The company doesn’t actually own or operate any of its own food trucks. Instead, the it serves as a source of information and resources for local food truck owners.

Its network consists of over 170 food trucks and aims to help them generate as much revenue as possible by organizing events and alerting them to locations and catering opportunities. They also assist with the buying, selling and modification of food trucks.

Michael Blasco, TBFT’s chief eating officer and speaker at the seminar, wants to help potential food truck owners avoid making the same mistakes over and over, à la “Groundhog Day.”

While I can’t possibly impart everything I learned during the TBFT seminar, I can share some of the major tips, tricks and information I learned from Blasco.

Startup Costs

Michael Blasco poses for a portrait.
Michael Blasco, Tampa Bay Food Truck’s chief eating officer, teaches a seminar on the food truck business. He is pictured during a dinner break at a seminar in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, September 23, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for determining startup costs in the food truck business, but let’s go over some of the major costs and decisions you’ll face in the beginning.

Truck vs. Trailer

Obviously, if you want to start a food truck business, this will be one of your first major startup costs. But do you want to go for a full-blown truck or a trailer? Your budget will play a major role in this decision.

You can find used food trucks with price tags between $ 15,000 and $ 60,000. But remember, you get what you pay for. You might be able to snag a truck on the low end, but if it’s in bad condition you could end up forking out double what you paid for it in repairs.

When shopping for used trucks, consider how much it will have to be modified to fit your needs and meet local health and fire regulations. The food truck is, after all, a vehicle, and your business will suffer if it can’t reliably get you from point A to point B. And if the truck is in the shop, that means your business isn’t making money.

If you’re willing and able to splurge, brand new food trucks will typically cost between $ 80-$ 100K, including equipment. Forking over that kind of money is a hard pill to swallow, but it means you’d be getting a truck that is definitely up to code and customized to fit your needs.

On the other hand, you could spring for a trailer. Trailers are generally more affordable than food trucks, but keep in mind that you’re going to need a vehicle capable of towing them. You have to factor that into costs.

Wraps vs. Paint

People order food at the Lakeland Food Truck Rally.
People order food at the Lakeland Food Truck Rally. Chris Zuppa/The Penny

Regardless of whether you choose a truck or a trailer, you have to brand it. And your design can make or break you. We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest — a really good design will naturally draw us in.

Painting your food truck will be the cheaper option, probably in the $ 1,000 range.

Your other option is a wrap, which is printed vinyl that will be adhered to your truck. These are considerably more expensive, running between $ 2,500 and $ 5,000.

You might balk at the price, but Blasco insists that wrapping a truck is the way to go. It can impact your sales upwards of 50%, he says.

Wraps are durable and will give your truck a clean design, which looks more professional to the consumer’s eye.

Remember, your food truck is literally a moving advertisement for your business. You have limited space, so carefully consider a design that will get your brand and name across clearly.

Blasco offers a few tips when it comes to placement.

Trailers typically ride pretty low to the ground, so your branding needs to be high enough that cars driving next to you can clearly see who you are. But for trucks, don’t put your name and information too high up, and definitely don’t put it on your serving window.

Generator

Brace yourself, because generator prices are a bit shocking: A proper food truck generator can set you back anywhere between $ 3,000 and $ 10,000. Yikes.

“Wraps and generators are like band-aids,” says Blasco. “It’s hard to accept how much they cost, but you just gotta rip it off.”

The type of food you’re serving and the amount of appliances you have will determine how many watts you’ll need to run on a regular basis. Do you need a refrigerator, freezer, fryer, stove, lights and an exhaust system? Oh, and don’t forget air conditioning.

Blasco suggests running propane when possible to avoid using too much electricity.

Don’t just consider the amount of wattage you need when generator shopping — consider also how loud the model is. Blasco warns that loud generators will deter customers and suggests they shouldn’t be louder than 68 decibels.

POS System

Sara Harper and Martin Restrepo order food at the Lakeland Food Truck Rally
Sara Harper and Martin Restrepo order food at the Lakeland Food Truck Rally. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

The whole point of your food truck is to sell your delectables to hungry customers, right? In order to do that, you’re going to need some form of POS, or a point-of-sale system.

Oh, you say you want to run a cash-only food truck? Blasco encourages potential food truck owners to rethink that plan.

Sure, cash-only is the cheapest option — all you need to do is buy a lockbox and you’re ready to go. But we are living in an increasingly paperless world, and people are less likely to be carrying cash. You could be missing out on potential customers by not offering card or mobile payment options.

Plus, a cash-only business means you won’t have anything to track your sales or inventory.  

Luckily for food truck owners, payment processing systems have come a long way, so you don’t have to sacrifice precious space with a clunky cash register. With some services like Square, all you need is an iPad.

This is another cost that can be considered both startup and ongoing. Depending on the service you choose, some costs you may end up paying include a monthly POS fee, card processing fees and mobile data fees.

Initial Product Inventory

Madison Bray eats nachos smothered in cheese sauce, guacamole, pico de Gallo and sour cream.
Madison Bray eats nachos smothered in cheese sauce, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

This category goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway.

Some of your startup funds will have to go toward food, kitchen utensils, pots, pans, napkins, plates — the works.

Shop for products in bulk to save a penny or two, and consider potential food cost percentage when making purchases. You should aim to keep your food cost between 18% and 25% of overall cost.

A high food cost means low profit. But if your food cost percentage is super low, that probably means your prices are too high.

Operating Costs

Propane powers the Spontaneous Consumption food truck. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

We’ve already touched on a couple of ongoing costs that you’ll be facing as a food truck operator, such as inventory and card processing fees. Let’s go over some more, shall we?

Unless you’re going to be running a one man/woman show, you’ll have to pay for labor, aka employees. And consider some hidden labor fees, like travel time to and from location.

Some cities and states have health codes that prohibit food preparation within a truck, which means you have to use a commissary. A commissary is a licensed, commercial kitchen where you can prepare and store food; maybe you can even park your truck there overnight. But commissary use means paying monthly rent.

Some other recurring costs to keep in mind include:

  • Fuel — both propane and gas
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Event fees
  • Marketing and advertising

Branding Is Key

Business cards sit at the window for Vanchetta Rolling Rotisserie during a Tampa Bay Food Trucks seminar in Tampa on September 23, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder
Business cards sit at the window for Vanchetta Rolling Rotisserie during a Tampa Bay Food Trucks seminar in Tampa on September 23, 2018. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Blasco stresses that in the early process of opening a food truck business, branding is everything. It’s even more important than the food.

“No one knows what or who you are, so presentation is everything,” he says.

One major tip: Don’t pick a name you have to explain.

Sure, you might have your heart set on “The Awesome Possum” as your food truck name, but if a customer sees your truck, what will they think you sell? That’s right. Their brain will automatically think you sell possum. And no one wants that.

On top of picking a clear name, Blasco stresses to all of the seminar attendees that you should pick a food theme and stick to it.

One food type means a smaller menu. A smaller menu means faster output, which results in more customers. As a rule of thumb, food trucks should aim to have about five main menu items.

When Joe Dodd first attended the Tampa Bay Food Trucks seminar, Blasco told him that his food truck would fail. His range of menu items was broad and the name, Taste Buddz, didn’t convey a clear theme.

Eventually, Dodd took the seminar’s advice and rebranded his business as Soul Food Street Kitchen, commiting to a clear name and one type of food. It paid off — his sales went up 30%.

A Day In the Life

Jacquelyn Hayes (right), and her daughter, Miranda Hayes, 14, serve customers
Jacquelyn Hayes (right), and her daughter, Miranda Hayes, 14, serve customers. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

We’ve covered a lot of the technical aspects of running your own food truck business; now let’s talk about the day-to-day life.

Consider yourself warned: Food truckers put in long hours, operate on a sporadic schedule and do it all inside of a sweltering truck full of cooking equipment.

On average, food truckers will shoot for 20 to 25 shifts a month, working double shifts three days a week.

When you’re working doubles, that means being up by 7 or 8 a.m. to get prepped and on site by 11 a.m. for a lunch shift, which will usually end around 3 p.m. Then you have to get everything cleaned and packed up, and head to your next location for a dinner shift. By the end of dinner and cleaning for the night, you probably won’t be home until 10 p.m.

Blasco says that the long hours and the heat are some of the hardest parts of working as a food trucker — that, and securing spots.

You could work with a company like Tampa Bay Food Trucks that helps you find locations and gigs. But if you’re operating solo, finding lucrative spots that you are legally allowed to sell at will be more difficult.

Let’s Wrap It Up

Cheerleaders hang out at a food truck rally.
Kassidy Lehner (center) hangs out with friends. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Get it? Like a food truck wrap? Please, hold the applause.

We covered a lot of information, but trust me when I say there’s a lot more to be learned about running a food truck business. We didn’t even touch on insurance, permits or any legal costs you might incur! But here’s a pro tip or two: Permits and regulations vary state to state, and your personal car insurance will not cover a food truck.

Hopefully, this information can at least serve as a starting point for any potential food truckers out there.

Ultimately, running a food truck is just like running any other business, even a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Preparing yourself with as much information as possible can only help you.

Kaitlyn Blount is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. If she ran a food truck, it would specialize in grits, and would be called Let’s Talk About Grits, Baby.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.


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BE Modern Man: ‘We Dat’s’ Chicken and Shrimp Food Entrepreneur

BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.

BE MODERN MAN GREG TILLERY

Name: Gregoire Tillery 

Age: 31 years old

Profession: CEO of WeDat’s Chicken and Shrimp 

One Word That Describes You: Passionate 

Social Media handles: Instagram: @Wedatfoodtruck_ Facebook: @Wedatfoodtruckllc

What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?

Being recognized as one of the 100 BEMM Man of Distinction feels amazing to me. Being a part of this platform is huge and I feel humbled to be chosen. I appreciate the acknowledgment.  For me to stand with other men that are dedicated to be the difference in their community and industries is an absolute honor.

What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?

My early life was filled with struggle. I was raised in the 7th Ward of New Orleans and it often times feels as if I’ve been continually backed into a corner for most of my life. Being in poverty and having grown up with a single mother, who worked two jobs to support our family, helped me understand that I had to work hard to support my family. I took the approach that wasn’t traditional for how I grew up. I decided to attend Tuskegee University, and went on to work in corporate America.  I was inspired to start a food truck after watching “Food Truck Wars” on Food Network and received confirmation from God to take the leap of faith. I took all the money I had and invested it in that food truck and had countless setbacks. I often worked on the food truck with no AC and it often broke down. Sometimes I didn’t have anyone in line at my food truck, but alongside me the longest lines would form for other food trucks. I often felt crazy for starting the food truck, but something in me told me to keep going and stay the course. I eventually started to gain a following in the city and via social media through people in my city like Supa Cent shouting me out and my food truck being featured in Tokyo Vanity’s “Best Friend” video. It was a pivotal moment in my entrepreneurial journey, and as more people started to support I became known best for my wings, but most importantly for providing top notch customer service to every single customer. I’m grateful for the struggle and the journey to now having three physical locations for my restaurant, We Dat’s Chicken & Shrimp in New Orleans.  

food entrepreneur

Greg Tillery, Owner of We Dat’s

What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?

The closest people to me must display integrity, loyalty, honesty, and last but certainly not least be God fearing. 

What are some immediate projects you are working on?

At the moment, some of my immediate projects include opening my third restaurant location, WeDat’s, that’s going to be located at 4905 Westbank Expressway Marrero, LA 70072.  We recently launched our seasoning line that’s available at select stores and online through our website.  So make sure you guys get that!  We are also relaunching our YouTube show, “Cooking with We Dat’s,” and a host of other things.

What is the best advice you ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received is pray through all situations. No matter what trials and tribulations, prayer will get you through. 

What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?

Don’t just talk about it, be about it! “Just do it” and lead by example. Stand for something and be a man of your word.

food entrepreneur

(Yelp)

What is your “Extraordinary Impact”? (Describe how you are making a major difference for others, in a way that distinguishes you as extraordinary in your profession and/or day-to-day life).

I love my city and wake up daily with one goal and that’s “How to make my city better and be an advocate for my great people.” Some of the most important things to me are providing jobs, feeding the homeless, community outreach, and just being an example by working hard and showing others you can also do this with hard work. 

 

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