When you’re about to embark on something so important such as getting into a serious business that requires a lot of money to make it happen, there is bound to be that fear that things might go wrong or you might not do it right. We can understand that. Money does not fall from the sky, so we have to make sure of what we’re getting ourselves into. For this very reason, we got in touch with Cherry of Nitro Burger to find out what she did to get her food truck business up and running in Lincoln. We also asked her for some advice to serve as a guide for newbie food truck entrepreneurs. Please read and learn from her experience.
FTE: Tell me a bit about yourself and a brief history of your business.
NB: My name is Cherry, I am originally from the south but have lived in Lincoln long enough that I think I have to call this my hometown : ). I have an AAS in Business Administration w/ Entrepreneurship Focus. Owning a food truck was never really part of my dream, I had originally wanted to start a wedding planning & banquet facility company, but I happened to meet a very talented chef who had a different dream so then I somehow found myself in the midst of opening a food truck business in July of 2011 in Lincoln, Ne. Nitro Burger began as a tow behind trailer parked on the side of the road in a time when no one locally had any idea what a food truck was or why someone would dare to sell their fare roadside. In 2012, we purchased an ’89 International school bus and began the long road of renovating and remodeling it into what it is now: a fully functional Food Truck & Mobile 50’s Diner. The outside resembles a hot rod and the inside looks like a traditional 50’s diner complete with a jukebox, checkered floor, chrome wrapped table tops, and shiny red booths that can seat up to 16 guests. We knew we wanted to be different when we initially opened our doors in many aspects but when we wrote our plan to remodel a new truck, we wanted it to be something that had never been done before so this is what we dreamed up together. We spent over a year working on the truck (doing everything ourselves), re-branding our business, and getting our food ready to hit the road in a much bolder way.
FTE: The most difficult part I think is getting the right information about the business before you even begin. So how did you do it?
NB: Google is your best friend when starting any business, never forget the power of reading up on those that came before you and learn from their path. I listened to and read tons of articles on food truck management, entrepreneurship, marketing, social media, and etc. Getting a basic education in business gave me a very firm foundation to begin and has helped me tremendously with laying the groundwork along the way but it can never prepare you for everything you will face in the real world. It has been almost 5 years in business and there is still so much more to learn.
My partner and I both came from strong food service backgrounds which is vital when starting your own restaurant. My advice is if you do not have a background in restaurants and catering, get a good amount of experience before you even think of opening your doors. No amount of book work can supplement what you learn from actually working behind the scenes of a restaurant. I would also recommend reaching out to other food truck owners in your city. Creating or joining a private food truck group on Facebook is a good way to connect and communicate (which you will need to do especially in a smaller city where fewer trucks are operating). I would also recommend networking with other business owners (all types of businesses, not just food) in your city, joining your local chamber of commerce, creating an active LinkedIn profile, attending public meetings and so forth. Because food trucks generally rely on private parking lots to sell their goods, establishing solid relationships with other business owners that are complimentary to each other is vital to your bottom line. Cross marketing to each other’s customers in this manner is also a big plus.
Other resources I would recommend are non profit organizations in your area that were founded to help grow small businesses that offer advice and mentoring from retired professionals, free classes, and even financial planning assistance. Local colleges are another good place to start looking for help, many have programs in place that provide student groups that work with local owners to help them get started and grow their businesses. The Small Business Administration website (sba.gov) features a learning center that offers free classes on many aspects of learning the ropes and improving your already established small business alike along with other resources. If you plan to get involved with a school, check to see if that school has a business incubator program on site that could help you get started.
FTE: Talking about licenses, permits, laws and regulations, there are just so many things to take care of. It is especially difficult for startups. What was your approach?
NB: Always start your process by calling your local Health Department and speaking with a health inspector. They can provide you with the information you need to begin building your truck to code and these permits will be the most specific and difficult to attain. Take what they say seriously and always be in compliance, the last entity you want to fall short with is the Health Department. They will also be able to point you in the right direction with other areas that you will need to address regarding other permits and local requirements for your truck.
FTE: In our experience, finding parking spaces for food trucks has never been easy. Is it the same for Lincoln?
NB: The neighboring Omaha, Nebraska has one of the highest number or restaurants per capita in the US, I’m feeling like Lincoln really isn’t that far behind and is definitely a brick ‘n mortar city. It seems like rallying for food truck fairness with the local city administrations has been an unfortunate and never ending battle so I would say adequate parking situations are a constant problem across the board. My advice to alleviate some of the pressure for parking would be to again, network with local business owners that are complimentary to your offerings, start a small food truck park or weekly rally in your area, lease your own vacant lot, or search out reputable high traffic gas stations that don’t already offer food and bargain for parking.
FTE: Can you identify challenges that you have encountered?
NB: I think most challenges that food truck operators face are pretty common but one thing that is unique to Lincoln is that the only code in force for food trucks is extremely out of date, written, I assume, for trucks that operate in a different manner such as the common traveling ice cream trucks. Being the first “traditional” food truck business to open in Lincoln says that food trucks just haven’t been here long enough and the city simply either doesn’t want to address them or doesn’t know what to do with them. Its a shame too, Lincoln is a pretty big city and could offer so much more. There was a new code brewing a couple of years back when we experienced a small food truck boom, but that suddenly disappeared and hasn’t been heard from since to my knowledge.
FTE: Can you leave us with some words of advice based on your experience?
NB: Know what you’re getting yourself into, especially if you are opening in a city where it will be more difficult for you to operate such as Lincoln. Talk to a handful or more of established food truck owners, they will tell you the truth about what it is really like and how much work goes into it.
You’ve been great Cherry. Thank you!
You need more help and so here it is. These links have been specifically chosen to provide more information for you. Please take time to visit each one.
Vendor’s Trucks – This is your starting point. Everything is outlined here for your easy reference.
Sidewalk Vendor Application Information Sheet – This one is self-explanatory.
Nitro Burger – This is the home of Nitro Burger. Check it out!