In any small business venture the way you ‘present’ yourself can be the difference between survival and sure death. Being a proprietor of a food trailer with no marketing funds whatsoever was disheartening. I knew from my own experience as a diner that the way a business ‘looked’ was important. It is a rare breed of person that will go to an unheard of, old, dirty, discombobulated, or strange looking restaurant to try new food and as an ‘ethnic’ food trailer we knew that the way everything ‘looked’ would be more scrutinized.
WE DID WHAT WE COULD AND IT LOOKED ‘OK’
We bought a small pretty green trailer and filled it with good clean equipment. My uncle graciously hand painted our signs and my mother donated two big hibiscus plants in beautiful oversized tangerine colored pots. We pulled some Moroccan lamps from our home to adorn the trailer and I picked flowers from my garden for table arrangements. Every time I lamented the décor or lack thereof I reminded myself that the ‘food’ was what was at the heart of our venture. But then I would regress; how would anyone know to try our food if there was no publicity and no prospects of getting any? Who would come to our sparse little trailer and try our food?
With no real ventilation system and naïve belief that our little trailer air conditioner could compete with a thirty pound deep fryer and 42 inch griddle, we opened. When I look back at those days, I am amazed. No experience in the restaurant business, a strange new food, three year old son, one car, no cell phones, in the dead of the summer, at the VERY BACK of a parking lot. Our trailer was on South Congress but not visible from the street at all. There was no shade and so we sweltered as our trailer sat on top of asphalt in 102 degree weather. For the first month we had no tent or tables so our patrons sat in one of our six chairs under a hot sun to eat their hot food? Wow. Since we had just enough to buy the food and drink to fill the trailer we could not even afford the steps needed to get into the trailer (which is set rather high) for Abdu, (the Paul Bunion of Morocco) this was no problem but for me it was a big problem. My knees will never be the same.
HOW DID WE DO IT?
Ignorance was and still is our friend. We did not know any better.
Brave souls ordered and liked the food, consequently they blogged/twittered/yelped about us.
Friends and family gave of their time, money, skills and worked their social media contacts to the bone to get the word out.
In the end it was not one thing that allowed us to remain. It was a combination of good food, hard work, friend/familial support, social media, and luck. Time passed and it began to cool. We were able to get table and chairs, steps, a tent and even some lights to adorn the trailer. More tools of the trade were purchased, too many to name. Needless to say, our trailer has been a bottomless pit of need.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
It is my personal belief that the Anthony Bordain and his continual rants about the superiority of street food brought about this food revolution we call ‘food trucks’. His sermons on street food were perfectly timed as a burgeoning ‘food as a religion’ culture was being cultivated here in the states. A blogger’s food experience moving him to tears; entire TV networks dedicated to food, celebrity chefs, and supper clubs are all rampant examples of the food religion so prevalent in our culture. Even I am not immune to the romantic, comforting and even sexy scenarios food presents. I sometimes wonder what is more enjoyable for us foodies, the actual food experience or the remembering of it, the sharing it, the writing about it? Regardless, this kind of culture and the people who fuel it, allow us to do business. Without food adventurists and food pontiffs we would have perished within months. Our marketing team was composed of strangers whom had a passion for finding new, different, good, and exciting food. Surprise of all surprises we did not need a marketing budget, a high end outfitted Airstream trailer or slick décor to establish ourselves.
You can open a simple, clean and humble trailer and still run with the big money trailers, IF your food is good enough. Turns out our slow rise behooved our inexperience and ineptitude. Same as it ever was……