TFTL Interview: Arielle Henson of Fried & True

IMG_1734

I met Arielle at The Picnic, a new premiere food park in Austin where I worked for Ms P’s Electric Cock fried chicken. She wasn’t there to buy food though; she (like any other smart business owner) was scoping the place out. She came up to our window to ask for a restroom key and mentioned her food trailer. My first impression of her? Magnetic. She’s quite honestly the most bubbly person I’ve ever met. Theatrically so (which I later find out is due to her theater background). I don’t meet a lot of people who can match my enthusiastic energy, but she was one of them. We exchanged business cards (hers has a cartoonish representation of her, and it’s quite fitting) and set up a time to meet at her trailer to talk more about her business.

About a week and several postpones later, I had a sit down with her at one of the picnic tables in front of the trailer. The picnic park we sat in is the same food park she and her husband used to spend date nights before she was a business owner. Her trailer is an itty bitty blue and white thing and a little banged up in the front, which sits in a dirt lot off of east sixth, but I think to myself, “This is way more ‘old school’ Austin” which coincidentally we spend a large portion of our conversation talking about. It has 60′s-ish kitchen which you can see from the ordering window, which of course is part of the appeal – it’s like your mother cooking up naughty treats for you before everyone told you that gluten was the devil. She told me that when she initially set up her trailer at that location, the east side was a much more dangerous place than it used to be, but with all the gentrification of downtown Austin, the east side was also being developed, which may or may not jeopardize her business. The lot across the street from her has been sold, which they intend to turn into a boutique hotel. Even though I’m not native to Austin, nor have I been around for the continual changes everyone is always complaining about, I feel a tinge of sadness at the idea that food parks are being pummeled over by developers. But I digress.

Her demeanor (starting out) is much more serious than I was anticipating based on our initial exchange, and I quickly realize that’s because she’s about to pour her heart and soul out while she tells me not only what it means to run a food trailer, but what it means to be a small business owner without financial backing like most other food trucks in Austin. I learned that she and her husband put everything they had financially into making this business came to fruition, and I have so much admiration for her because of that. And she’s feisty. And I like it. Every minute of it. Towards the middle of the conversation though, she lightened up, and we laughed, A LOT.

This is a woman pouring every ounce of energy she can possibly muster up to run this trailer and provide a service that’s not like the others to Austin. She’s not only the owner of the business, and the face of the business ….. she IS the business. She doesn’t take time off, she doesn’t take vacations. She doesn’t have time for any of that. She’s out there almost everyday, slinging comfort foods. All she has time to do is hustle, hustle, hustle. And she does a great job at it. She let me try her chocolate covered bacon, and it’s legit guys. Our interview is below:

You started Fried & True in November 2012. How long did it take from its opening to start gaining profit? 

  • While our financial information isn’t something we discuss with non-business partners, we can say that this is something most people work on achieving consistently. Being profitable doesn’t happen for most restaurants before 3-4 years of operation, and thankfully it hasn’t taken us that long.

How much time per week are you putting into your food trailer?

  • Between 75-90 hours.

What’s your motto in business?

  • Stay focused and positive, don’t take things personally.

What has been your absolute biggest challenge in running Fried & True?

  • Staying non-judgmental and positive about myself and my work, financial planning and not trying to “keep up” with the other food trucks. I’m doing my own thing and not anyone else’s, and only I can make the best decisions for my business. I also HATE taking the waste water out to our commissary kitchen for disposal. Gross.

And the most rewarding part?

  • The positive feedback I get every day. The awesome Yelp reviews, returning customers who bring their out-of-town guests, people who walk by and say to their friends, “Oh, I ate there and it was GOOD.” The people who call me “The Fry Queen”. Most importantly I feel rewarded every time I unlock the door and get to run my own tiny restaurant for another day.

How do you feel about Austin’s food truck / trailer scene? Do you think it will continue to grow, stay strong, etc.?

  • I think it’s getting over saturated, to be honest. It was pretty big when I got into the game in 2012 and now it’s even bigger. Tiny lots have sprung up all over the city, which could be great or it could cause the big ol’ bubble to burst. I think it could go either way at this point, and it’s up to the people of Austin to support the little guy to keep that from happening.

What makes an excellent patron of a food truck / trailer?

  • Someone who is ready for an unconventional experience! Anyone who wants to interact and make a connection is always fun. Good tippers are very appreciated – we make far less than a server and with twice or three times the work (on my last $750 night, I made $22 in credit card tips, which is how I pay for my gas/food/etc, as I give all the cash tips to my weekend employee. She only made $50). A person who knows what they want off the menu, or if they can’t decide, someone who takes your recommendation. The person who takes the time to come back and thank the trailer if they particularly enjoyed the meal. All my regulars!!

What advice would you give to someone opening a food truck trailer?

  • Get your money in order first. Buy a good solid trailer or truck with a reliable engine. Do not buy if it seems sketchy or too good to be true. Talk to everyone you can find before you get into the biz. Find your niche and do it better than anyone ever thought possible.

Do you have plans to move into a brick and mortar eventually?

  • Eventually, maybe…possibly…maybe. No. Yes. No. I think I would prefer to start a trailer empire instead. I just love them so much.

Besides serving delicious fried treats, what’s another way you give back to the city of Austin with your business?

  • Indeed – We recycle all our used oil with the COA to be used as fuel for the city’s heavy duty vehicles. We compost with the local company “East Side Compost Peddlars” who bike our collected compost scraps away every week. We use LED lights and buy our chocolate from a local baking supply company. We partner with other food trailers to better both our businesses and support our local economy.

If you could give your child self advice or words of wisdom based on the success you have today and how it relates to your child self’s biggest fears / worries, what would it be?

  • As a kid I worried a lot about “doing it right”, so I’d say, relax, you’re doing pretty much exactly what you need to do. Go play and have a good time!

Foodography Friday

A private meal cooked by Louis Singh of Singh's Vietnamese (a food truck in San Antonio)

A private meal cooked by Louis Singh of Singh’s Vietnamese (a food truck in San Antonio)

Food Trailer Tuesday's at the Long Center in Austin

Food Trailer Tuesday’s at the Long Center in Austin

Doing some skate tricks at The Picnic food park while Ms P's was shut down for a few hours.

Doing some skate tricks at The Picnic food park while Ms P’s was shut down for a few hours.

Rebecca The Red, breakfast taco Queen.

Rebecca The Red, breakfast taco Queen.

A patron's foodography of his breakfast taco after 50+ miles of biking around Austin

A patron’s foodography of his breakfast taco after 50+ miles of biking around Austin

Food Truck selfie

Food Truck selfie

Some apps we served for The Peached Tortilla at a private wine pairing party

Some apps we served for The Peached Tortilla at a private wine pairing party

More Peached Tortilla apps - SO delicious!

More Peached Tortilla apps – SO delicious!

Death by gluttony - These bees somehow got into the honey jar on the food truck.

Death by gluttony – These bees somehow got into the honey jar on the food truck.

The Peached Tortilla truck at a ranch wedding in west Austin.

The Peached Tortilla truck at a ranch wedding in west Austin.

Always a great time with The Peached Tortilla crew

Always a great time with The Peached Tortilla crew

My first shot at sign making for the food truck

My first shot at sign making for the food truck

From where I stand...

From where I stand…

 

Foodography Friday

Some dishes from The Seedling Truck

Some dishes from The Seedling Truck

Chef Mary Maragret's take on the Grilled Cheese sammy (with chicken tenders) at Ms P's Electric Cock

Chef Mary Maragret’s take on the Grilled Cheese sammy (with chicken tenders) at Ms P’s Electric Cock

Chef Margarita's delicious breakfast tacos!

Chef Margarita’s delicious breakfast tacos!

Second trailer for Ms P's Electric Cock Fried Chicken now @ The Picnic on 1720 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX

Second trailer for Ms P’s Electric Cock Fried Chicken now @ The Picnic on 1720 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX

Team Mini Peaches

Team Mini Peaches

Always need my morning cup of Jo's before working the truck in the morning.

Always need my morning cup of Jo’s before working the truck in the morning.

TFTL Interview: Eric Silverstein of The Peached Tortilla

IMG_4699 copy

Photo Courtesy of: http://www.atasteofkoko.com

I suppose I met Eric Silverstein in an unconventional way. I had just moved to Austin and knew that SXSW was about a week and a half out. I really wanted to be in the thick of it but I didn’t know anyone in Austin at the time, so I thought if I worked the event, that’d be a good way to experience the madness of it all. The money was just an added bonus, really. So, I hopped onto Craigslist and under the marketing section I typed “SXSW” into the search bar. An array of Brand Ambassador opportunities flooded the first page. I was open to any and all opportunities, although I had secretly hoped I wouldn’t land a gig where I was required to wear booty shorts and pass out shots of lukewarm liquor and beads to already wasted patrons (although admittedly, it’s not beneath me). So, I sent out my tiny crafted write-up with a photo to several of the email addresses listed. I got an email back from Eric the next day regarding a position with King’s Hawaiian who would be debuting their Food Truck at SXSW. We set up a time to connect over the phone two days later.

The moment he answered I could tell he was distracted. I didn’t take it personally because I realized this guy was in the process of building an army for this proverbial war he was about to enter. The war against weather predictions, the war against botched profit (due to the weather predictions), the war against time, and the war against resources (namely, people). I gave him a little back story about me, and he admitted he was still a little reluctant to hire me for the brand ambassador gig but mentioned he had a catering company he might consider me for. I threw out my Hail Mary and asked, “What’s stopping you from hiring me for the gig?” He answered, “Honestly, I just need someone who’s going to be reliable.” He had no idea at the time that he was telling this to a girl who’s middle name is Perpetually Punctual. I explained (although in retrospect probably wasn’t necessary) that I have a 4.0 GPA in college, I was at a company for over three years, and I have both professional and personal references to back up my work ethic. And just like that, he took a chance on me and agreed to hire me. Two days later, he called and asked me if I wanted to work The Peached Tortilla truck for five days in addition to King’s Hawaiian. Of course I agreed, and the rest is history my friends.

Eric Silverstein is without single doubt in my mind, a complete and utter rockstar when it comes to the Austin Food Truck scene. He’s a mover and shaker, and someone blazing a trail through the Lone Star State. He’s totally on top of his game, and just keeps producing quality after quality after quality. You really couldn’t stop this guy if you tried. His brick and mortar location is slated to open in the fall of this year, and if you haven’t tried the Japajam burger yet (arguably the best burger in all of Austin), you’re falling way, way behind. Our interview is below:

 ****

I see you began The Peached Tortilla back in 2010. Obviously it takes a while to build a customer base. About how long from its opening did you feel like it really took off?

  • From a press and publicity standpoint, the business took off immediately.  However, from a business and profitability standpoint it took about 2 and a half years.

What’s your motto in business?

  • Always stay hungry.  When you lose your hunger and you become content, you should get out.

What has been your absolute biggest challenge in running The Peached Tortilla?

  • Understanding how to manage and run a business.  There are no effective classes on how to run a small business.  It is trial by fire.  I have had to become more of a people person and identify with my employees.  My employees are the lifeline of my business.  Without great people, we will not go far.  It’s my job to make sure that our people are passionate, happy and motivated.

And the most rewarding part?

  • There are a lot of rewarding things about owning The Peached Tortilla.  It’s great to see people enjoy our product and to see their passion for our food.  It’s also great to be able to support hard working people in our employees.  I also feel that we’re adding to the fabric of what makes Austin unique and cool, and that’s exciting and rewarding as well.

Was there something you initially had on the menu that you thought would work but for some reason did not?

  • We had these “peach poppers” which were a dessert item on the original menu.  They tasted great but were creating a bottleneck in terms of expo/service.

What prompted you to open a brick and mortar location?

  • It has been a lifelong dream and I believe it is a natural progression from where we are at currently.

Based on some of my research, I noticed the initial look of The Peached Tortilla truck was a little different than it is today. What prompted you to evolve the design of the brand?

  • Brands tend to evolve.  I want to continue to strive to put out the best product and be the best brand.  To do that, you have to be critical of who you are and what you represent.  I just thought we could brand ourselves better.

Your employees clearly play a huge part in The Peached Tortilla’s success – What quality do you look for when hiring new crew members?

  • They have to be passionate about food and our brand.  They also have to have integrity and be willing to work hard.

Have you experienced the Food Truck community in other major cities? If so, how would you compare their community to that of Austin’s?

  • I have not outside of San Francisco and Seattle in a limited capacity.  I am good friends and partners with Josh Henderson, the founder of Skillet, a successful Seattle trailer now turned brick and mortar concept.  He has opened his doors to me.

What’s your best advice to someone who might be thinking of starting a food truck?

  • Be ready to sacrifice a lot. I would advise only those who are single with no kids to do it.  And make sure you have operating capital, because you will bleed through cash early on.  Other than that, godspeed.

If you could give your child self advice or words of wisdom based on the success you have today and how it relates to your child self’s biggest fears / worries, what would it be?

  • Hard work and dedication will take you a long way in life, but you have to be willing to take risks.

Welcome to The Food Truck Life!

134ddc9587395f99470b05342608e50e

{Photo Source: Unknown}

Hello, Food Truck lovers / owners / slingers / enthusiasts! This is my very first blog post, and I’m super excited to share my experiences (past, present, and future) with all of you. I started this blog because I had the pleasure of working on The Peached Tortilla & The King’s Hawaiian Food Truck during SXSW in Austin, Texas this year. I had no idea going into it that those experiences would end up being one of the most rewarding and enjoyable times of my adult working life. Backstory: I come from a corporate background in both the aviation and real estate industry, and even though I had dabbled in food service when I was younger, I never really enjoyed myself. I felt like I had encountered a lot of bad attitudes, passing of the buck, and hazing, none of which I’m a fan of. It wasn’t until I worked on a Food Truck that I realized how different the environment is from an actual brick and mortar (which I’ll go into more depth in some later posts). Needless to say, I completely fell in love with the food truck life!

After SXSW, I got picked up for a gig as an Executive Assistant for Ms P’s Electric Cock food trailer. Since it’s my full-time job now, I thought it would be fun to keep up a blog about my experiences working on the trailer, and other various food trucks as I get deeper into this whole new world. In addition to writing about my perspective (challenges, rewards, mistakes etc), I’m also going to be posting foodography (photography of Food Truck food), as well as interviews with Food Truck owners around the United States. I hope you’ll stay tuned, and thanks again for coming along for this delicious ride!