In September 2014, the Thoroughfare Food Truck celebrated its first anniversary! With the memories of the first 365 days operating a restaurant on wheels is still fresh in his mind, we caught up Neil Barley the owner of the Thoroughfare Food Truck to talk about what it’s like to build this type of business from the ground up.
Over here at FoodTruckEmpire.com, we really appreciate Neil taking the time to respond in incredible detail to each of our questions. If you live in the Greenville area and are craving a meatloaf sandwich, fish tacos, or need someone to provide catering for an upcoming event keep Thoroughfare in mind.
Q/A with Neil Barley of Thoroughfare Food Truck
FTE: Tell us about the Thoroughfare Food Truck, including how long you’ve been in operation.
Neil: Sharing a bit about myself is always a challenge because I’m not one to do something like that but I’ll do my best! I grew up in ‘Amish Country’ in Pennsylvania (but I’m not Amish). I worked in a family restaurant down the street, went from dishwasher to short order cook and decided to pursue culinary school after high school. I was fortunate to learn French Classical cooking and how to carve ice, finishing in the top 15% in my class at IUP ACA (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Academy of Culinary Arts). Since then, I’ve worked in fine dining establishments to catering companies, real estate, and even in chalk mines. (long story…:) )
After meeting my wife, Jessica of ADarlingDay.com, discovered she was the one not only that I was going to spend the rest of my life with, but she was going to be the one artistically to push me onto my (our) own business in the food truck/catering industry. I was content with my job at the time but realized we wanted to live in Greenville. In order to accomplish this, we were going to have to make our own income apart from working to someone else. The process began and at the time, there were only two higher quality food trucks in Greenville, SC at the time.
We realized there was more room in the market and decided to take the ‘leap of faith’ into the food truck industry. We started by developing a business plan and theme and then searched for our truck. Multiple places in the area could fabricate a food truck from scratch or we could buy a used fully equipped truck. I actually found one half built in Rhode Island and decided to take that one way ticket in the air to bring back our future truck. Of course the truck had no heat and it was cold enough for me to wear all four layers of clothes I packed. Oh, and did I mention it snowed as I drove through NY!
Fortunately, things began to pan out as the truck finished fabrication and it received its paint job and decals. Permits were a bit tough with new Greenville City regulations but we finally got her rolling and making money. (6 month process.)
We have been operating now in Greenville City and County, SC for about a year and two months.
FTE: How did you learn how to start a food truck in your area in Greenville?
Neil: Hmmm…I did a lot of research and checked on some used trucks for sale while learning about food trucks. My main focus and concern was the inside design and flow of operations during service hours inside the truck. I received prices on outfitting used delivery trucks with a brand new inside. The biggest hiccup was actually dealing with DHEC. How the wanted equipment positioned, water heated, etc. was not very clear.
During fabrication, I had to make a change that cost us some time and money. I have not used them, but the only food truck fabricator that I know of is Ballentine Equipment Company. If someone is starting a food truck from scratch, I would reach out to those who are already up and running. Gather information from the county/city you will be pulling permits from and that will help determine what you will need to do.
FTE: What are some of the pros to operating a food truck in Greenville?
Neil: Unique opportunities are hard to define because I haven’t operated a food truck in another city besides Greenville. We are able to park at most local breweries (Quest, Brewery 85, and Swamp Rabbit Brewery) and a few designated areas for food trucks in the downtown area. Albino Skunk Festival is definitely a unique music festival that happens twice a year that we are able to partner with in the Fall and Spring.
FTE: What are some of the unique challenges of operating a food truck in your city?
Neil: Our challenges are with the City of Greenville and the low foot traffic spots that they allow us to use. Also, we are in a smaller city so it does make it more difficult to generate enough revenue during services hours, especially if other trucks are parked in the same location that you are parked. Tough city regulations do not only apply to the main business district or thoroughfare (pun intended) but they apply to the entire city limits. (which is where most of our business is done) Changing regulation will probably require a food truck alliance and legal team that will be able to put together a plan to challenge current regulation.
FTE: What advice do you have for future food truckers?
Neil: One nugget of advice that I would give to a food truck entrepreneur is to find a ‘partner’ that will be willing to be as committed and work as hard as you do. (It takes more effort as a small business owner than it does to work for the bigger corporations, generally speaking)
Serious about Starting a Food Truck? Check out these Resources.
City of Greenville – If you’re interested in picking up the needed permits and licenses in the city, keep this website handy. You can also reach out to the city by phone at 864-232-2273 for more information about what is needed to operate a food truck legally. Start the permit process early as it can take a few months.
Ballentine Equipment – This is a food truck fabricator that operates in the Greenville, SC, area. Today’s guest Neil hasn’t worked with this fabricator, but mentioned the company as a local option. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of food truck builders, check out our directory.