Thinking about starting a mobile food business along the always sunny beaches of San Diego? There’s no one better individual to learn from than Dan Hart, Co-Founder of Nana’s Heavenly Hot Dogs and Nana’s Heavenly Ice Cream Truck. Dan and his brother Jeff got their start in the mobile food business nearly a decade ago and never looked back…. continuing to steadily grow their business each year since 2010.
We want to this moment to thank Dan for taking the time to share his story with us and share entrepreneurial insights with our community. Enjoy the interview!
FTE: Tell me a bit about yourself, your business, and how long you’ve been operating?
Dan Hart: My name is Dan Hart and along with my brother Jeff we own and operate Nana’s Heavenly Hot Dogs and Nana’s Heavenly Ice Cream Truck. We offer a full line of specialty hot dogs from a hot dog cart. We also have a classic ice cream truck. We not only sell a quality product, we create an experience.
We started nana’s Heavenly Hot Dogs in 2010. I had recently moved back to San Diego. The housing market was still a mess and the job market wasn’t much better. Over a couple of beers my brother and I started a business. 8 years later we have 2 carts, an ice cream truck and ice cream cart with plans of opening a brick and mortar.
FTE: How did you go about creating your menu?
Dan Hart: Our Hot Dog menu has evolved over the years. Our first menu back in 2010 had something like 13 hot dogs. We have since stream lined that down to 8. We also offer “Special Dogs” when the ingredients are in season. Our signature Dog is the Nana Dog. It’s an all Beef Hebrew National Hot Dog with a thick layer of Cream Cheese on the Bun and then topped with Chili. It’s something our mom Liz used to make us as kids.
We started the business a year after her passing. When we were trying to come up with a name the grand kids said call it Nana’s. The name stuck and the signature Dog was named after her. The Nana Dog is our top seller. We have folks that look for us on social media just to see where we are serving to get a fix for the day. This year we also added a veggie option to the menu.
FTE: How did you learn how to start a food truck in San Diego?
Dan Hart: We started out in the beginning years of the food truck craze. There were not nearly as many resources as there are today. We found our first cart online. It required a lot of cleaning and a some updates to get it up to code. We went online to the department of health site to see what the requirements were for hot dogs. We out fitted our cart according the what we thought was required. The Health Department Rules leave a great deal of “gray” area so we were not certain we would pass.
We got a commissary which is a commercial kitchen for storage and prep. The commissary is where we get fresh water and dump waste water. We also do our dishes there daily. We got our Serv Safe , a test ensuring you know the rules for safe handling of food. We also needed a business license and insurance. We made an appointment with the Department of Health and passed. In 2010 we were just given a sticker they placed on the cart. These days we get a sticker and a letter grade A just like the local restaurants.
If I were starting out today I would join online groups on social media sites like Facebook. Sites such as FoodTruckEmpire.com are a great place to get knowledge and resources. Other truckers are an invaluable resource, and most are more than willing to lend a hand.
FTE: What are some of the unique challenges of operating a food truck in San Diego? Is it a competitive market, traffic challenges, etc.?
Dan Hart: San diego is a great city to vend it. We have great weather almost year round. The requirements for passing your health inspection are pretty tough. If I were just starting out I would buy a truck or cart that has previously been certified in San Diego. San Diego has some great groups for truckers. Make friends with other trucks, especially trucks with similar menus and price points to yours. We often pass catering or event leads on to others when we are booked or unavailable.
FTE: Where should entrepreneurs go to find information about the local health code and fire safety regulations?
Dan Hart: Starting out I would Google your city name and department of health. Contact them and let them know your plans and they will point you in the right direction. They are there to help even though it may not seem like it at times. Often I see truckers online complaining about the health department. They are just doing their job, keeping the public safe. Treat them with respect and understanding and you will get it in return.
FTE: What do you love about being a food truck owner?
Dan Hart: There are many things I love about trucking. My favorite thing is everyday is completely different. A different location, different time, different people. As an owner I get to pick where and when I want to work. Sometimes that’s 6 days a week 14 hours a day and sometimes that’s lunch service a few days a week.
FTE: What advice do you have for new mobile business owners?
Dan Hart: Be prepared to work long hours and make a bunch of mistakes at first. Once you get your system down trucking is fun and rewarding. Food trucking is so much more than just putting great food out the window. Its repairs, taxes, cleaning, accounting, shopping, customer service, booking and most of all rewarding!
Ready to take the next step in your entrepreneurial journey? Here are some more valuable resources when considering a mobile food business in the city or county of San Diego.
Custom Concessions USA – Nation’s leading custom food truck and trailer manufacturer. They have lots of experience delivering custom food units across Southern California, including San Diego County.
County of San Diego Mobile Requirements – Documentation from the County of San Diego’s Department of Environmental Health Food and Housing Division detailing the requirements to start a mobile food facility. The requirements for pushcarts are included in this PDF file.
Frequently Asked Questions – This document from the County of San Diego answers frequently asked questions about starting a mobile food business in an easy to understand format. This FAQ piece answers a lot of questions about how to submit food truck / trailer build-out plans to the county and what to look for before purchasing a used vehicle from a permit standpoint.
Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association – Joining a local food truck association is almost always worth it. This is literally the best way to make more business connections, discover catering gigs / vending locations, and connect with like-minded business professionals. This is the association for Southern California vendors.
My Foodie Kitchen – If you operate a mobile food business in San Diego, you need to park your vehicle at commissary overnight. This is one of the best commercial kitchens located in Chula Vista.
SD Food Trucks – Looking for where and when food trucks will be vending in San Diego? This website keeps you up-to-date on when and where food trucks will be vending. The administrators have kept this website updated with accurate information for years!