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!