Live in Hamilton? Then you might already know that the Southern Smoke Truck is the only place you can find authentic wood-fired barbecue in the area. Due to the success of the truck, owner Mike Pitton was able to open up his own fast-casual restaurant called the Southern Smoke Barbecue House. In today’s featured interview, Mike was kind enough to sit down and share his story about getting started and what it takes to launch a food truck in the great city of Hamilton.
If you happen to live in the area, be sure to check out their permanent location open Monday – Saturday at 201 Ottawa St. North. Your taste buds will thank you!
FTE: Tell me a bit about yourself, your business, and how long you’ve been operating?
Mike: Born and raised in Hamilton. True to my heart I’m a gear head. I was a licensed mechanic at age 20, by the time I hit my early 30’s I was the owner operator of a automotive repair garage. After selling the business I was given the opportunity to help teach the automotive classes at a local college. I enjoyed it immensely but was on contract work and needed something more stable. I landed a fantastic job at one of the biggest automotive remanufacturing companies in North America. My job entailed extensive travel in the southern US, being the liaison with the end user (mechanics) and our Quality Control Team to identify any and all problems with our product or user.
So I had a chance to eat in some killer BBQ joints. Fast forward 3 years and in Florida which would be my last trip with the company a friend talked me into the idea of starting a food truck. We both have a passion for cooking and I have been playing with smokers for years. We got back to Hamilton. I drew up a business plan, gave it to a few people to look over. I guess the rest is history. I built the food truck from an old truck destined to the wreckers. In 7 weeks I rebuilt the truck and completely installed the kitchen and headed out on the road!
FTE: How did you go about building your menu?
Mike: My wife has a family cottage up north, from inception we were doing BBQ. So we headed North with all our gear and a bunch of recipes we put together and had one hell of a cook off, inviting everyone from the cottage association to come by through the weekend and try the food. The smokers ran 24/7. Yes plural. We had 4 smokers and 2 BBQ’s going. After the weekend we asked everyone back and to critique all our food. We took what people like the best and ran with it.
FTE: Does business in Hamilton slow down in those cold Canadian winters?
Mike: Of course the winters suck! We tried for 2 years to work the winter. It just wasn’t economically responsible. Also I felt bad putting our customers through that after all the support the gave us. My business plan included the truck being able to pay me a nominal wage through the winter even when it was off the road. Unfortunately with success comes envy. A complaint about our food truck being parked in my driveway landed us in a bad situation resorting to a commercial property which was a devastating blow. I ended up building and repairing food trucks as now I had the space and $3000 rent that wasn’t in the plan. So the winters were just as busy.
FTE: Where should entrepreneurs go to find information about the local health code and fire safety regulations?
Mike: Hamilton is TRYING to be proactive and probably the pioneer in the industry for opening opportunities for food trucks. Honestly, I called each individual party and got the information from the source. Also talking to veteran food truck owners helps a ton too. Sometimes a good contact can go a long way.
FTE: What do you love about being a food truck owner?
Mike: Not being in one place and being outdoors. But the greatest feeling of all is satisfaction. Their is absolutely nothing in this world that makes me happier then when someone is enjoying the food I cooked and prepared. It puts you in front of them which is why our restaurant is open concept. Yes we have to watch our vulgarity lol but I truly believe if you have a passion for cooking then what not better reward then to be able to watch people enjoy your food.
FTE: Finally, if you could give only one piece of advice for new food truck entrepreneurs. What would that nugget of advice be?
Mike: DON’T DO IT!! I’m kidding. Ok here’s the straight answer. It’s a lot of work, and it ain’t Eat Street. Have a business plan, passion doesn’t always equal money and success. This is gruelling 18 hour days 7 days a week from when the weather breaks to when the weather um breaks. Food trucks are not restaurants. The concept needs to have speed in mind. Anything more than 2-3 minutes per order you might as well not even start. As an example myself and my main man pumped over 800 orders in about a 9 hour day and that was 5 menu items. You do the math…..while sipping margaritas on the beach in the winter when your friends are all working!
Southern Smoke Truck & Restaurant – Learn more about Hamilton’s only authentic wood-fired barbecue truck. You can also view popular menu items like Redneck Poutine and the Beefy Brisket Melt. Yum!
Food Truck Alley – This is where the locals go in Hamilton to discover new food trucks along with all their favorites. This food truck installation is located on Aberdeen Ave. and offers plenty of free parking and picnic tables for diners during the summer months.
Top Hamilton Food Truck Locations – Check out this list of the most popular locations you’ll find mobile food in and around the city of Hamilton.
Street Food App – A local app that tracks the location of food trucks in Hamilton on a daily basis. Good resource for finding out who is vending and where on any particular day.
5 FoodTruckr Articles That will Do You Wonders in the Financing Department – Excellent round up post that covers all aspects of acquiring financing for mobile food startups.
Getting Started – Learn the 5-steps Anthony took to start his own food truck business.