So you want to start a food truck in Providence, RI? At the time of writing Jason Vargas and Nina Vongsomphou have been successfully operating Fugo food truck in the area for nearly a year. Both Jason and Nina were kind enough to share their experience getting a mobile food business off the ground and running, along with insights into their backgrounds and the inspiration behind the unique food concept. This should be required reading for anyone interested in starting a food business in the area. If you’re serious about getting started, resources and contact information to help guide you toward the next step in the process are included at the bottom of this post.
And if you live in the Providence area, be sure to check out the Fugo food truck in action. See where the truck will be parked next by following their Twitter account. Enjoy the interview!
FTE: Tell me a bit about yourself, your business, and how long you’ve been operating in Providence?
Jason and Nina: Fugo an acronym for fusion gourmet, is a Providence, RI food truck founded in May 2013 by Jason Vargas and Nina Vongsomphou. The two began dating in September 2002 and ever since then Nina has provoked Jason’s appetite for good food outside of his comfort zone. Jason did not have much cooking experience until he met Nina. She refused to cook his beloved Dominican food, which forced Jason to learn to cook for himself. As years went by the duo often spent weekends in cooking together and playing with new ideas and food combinations. And so it began a fusion relationship evolved into a fusion menu concept. The menu primarily showcases a mix of Asian, Latin, and other global flavors; a new and exciting concept to roll onto the streets of Providence, RI.
Nina graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in Economics and Mathematics and started a finance career in Boston, MA. To explore her passion for food she enrolled at Johnson & Wales University and graduated in 2010 with an A.S. in Culinary Arts, while continuing to work full-time. Nina held cooking positions in the banquet kitchens of Catering on the Charles, the club-level action stations at Gillette Stadium, and more recently as a Sushi Assistant at Amici Bar and Grille.
Jason enrolled at CCRI with the intention of graduating with an accounting degree, however he quickly realized that was not for him. As a result he focused his efforts towards his jobs in hospitality. Jason has over ten years of front of the house operations experience. He worked at some of New England’s extinguished banquet establishments such as the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick, RI, Belle Mer in historic Newport, RI, MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut, the Renaissance Hotel in Providence, RI, Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, and Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots and New England Revolution).
FTE: How did you learn how to start a food truck in your area?
Jason and Nina: We have food industry experience, between the both of us we have both back of the house and front of the house experience. There are also great books and blogs that provide information on how to start food truck businesses. About one year before we started on our business idea, we ate at all the local food trucks. We also travelled to Los Angeles to experience the food truck culture out west where the gourmet food truck revolution began.
FTE: What are some of the unique opportunities of operating a food truck in your city?
Jason and Nina: Providence has a large college student population. Most of the students (especially culinary students from Johnson & Wales University) are open-minded and willing to try new menu ideas.
FTE: What are some of the unique challenges of operating a food truck in your city?
Jason and Nina: Weather in New England is extremely unpredictable, it could be pouring rain early in the morning but then by lunchtime clear and sunny. We plan and prep to open everyday but when we get “rained-out” all of our food goes to waste. It is difficult to run a food truck business in the snow and rain. Most trucks in our area only operate spring through fall. A few lucky trucks in our area have “winterized” trucks and are fortunate enough to operate year-round.
FTE: Where should entrepreneurs go to find information about the local health code and fire safety regulations?
Jason and Nina: We called City Hall and went directly to the department of health. There are also many resources found online, however a phone call directly to the city hall, fire department, and health department was the best option. Talking to other food trucks is also helpful.
FTE: Are there any specific city regulations or requirements that you’ve seen overlooked by other owners in the past or frequently made mistakes?
Jason and Nina: In the city of Providence, parking at meters is illegal however there are several trucks that park there anyways.
FTE: What’s the parking situation like in Providence and do you need a special permit to park or is it a free for all?
Jason and Nina: The parking situation depends on where we are vending. Parking is most certainly not free for all. There are also a few spots in Providence where there is a no vending zone. We are unable to park at meters.
FTE: Finally, if you could give only one piece of advice for new food truck entrepreneurs. What would that nugget of advice be?
Jason and Nina: Try to experience working on a food truck by interning or working at an established food truck business. There are many small aspects of running a food truck that often get overlooked. Most importantly, map out vending locations before opening. Getting a food truck together is important but knowing where you will be making money is more important.
FTE: Anything else newbie food truckers should know about starting a business in Providence?
Jason and Nina: Understand the food industry and know what you’re getting into. There are many pieces to the puzzle to make everything work. Research as much as possible and constantly ask questions.
Helpful Resources for Getting Started
Ultimate Food Truck Case Study – Tag along as Anthony Salvagno starts his first ever food truck business in real-time. Will the business fail? Will it succeed? Follow to find out.
Food Truck Insurance Quote – All food trucks need insurance. Fill out this form to get a no-obligation insurance quote emailed within 24 hours of submission.
Application – Link to the application and instructions for starting a mobile food business from the RI Department of Health.
Department of Health, Office of Food Protection – (401) 222-2749 Call with questions about health requirements.
Providence Fire Department – Contact the local fire department to ensure you’re up to code: (401) 274-3348.
Providence City Hall – Jason and Nina recommended getting in contact with this group to ensure you are compliant with local laws and regulations.
Rocket Fine Street Food – Awesome blog covering the street food scene in Providence. Regularly updated and you’ll find a lot of mobile food reviews here. Great place to begin networking if you plan to start a food truck in the area as well!
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