On this page, you will get to read our interview with Steffen Zinn of The Red Ember. He’s been operating his food truck in Winnipeg for four years now and business is doing well. If you’re here to look for answers to questions about starting a food truck business in the city, you’re in luck because Steffen was very generous with his responses. Take time to read everything below. It is firsthand experience coming from an entrepreneur who knows what he’s talking about.
FTE: Tell me a bit about yourself and The Red Ember.
TRE: My name is Steffen Zinn, and I’m the president of Flatlander Hospitality that owns The Red Ember wood-fired pizza truck. We are a small business that focuses on local products that we use to create unique pizzas. 2016 will be our fourth year on the road as a food truck and my 20th year in the food service industry. I started my career in high school working and attending vocational school for cooking. After graduating high school, I was accepted into the apprenticeship program in Manitoba. I completed my apprenticeship while working at a private golf club working my way up to Sous Chef. I then had the opportunity to become Executive Chef at another private club and worked there 7 years before starting the food truck.
FTE: Where did you gain the knowledge needed to start your food truck business?
TRE: I educated myself on the food truck industry by doing research on the net and using the skills I had developed over the years as a Chef (I redesigned the kitchen at the second private club). As I was building the truck myself as well (grew up on a farm), I purchased NFPA 96: STANDARD FOR VENTILATION CONTROL AND FIRE PROTECTION OF COMMERCIAL COOKING OPERATIONS. I read and reread the code and made my designs conform to the code. Purchasing an inexpensive CAD program (CadStd, $40), I was able to lay out the truck to maximize work flow and efficiency of space. A local Hutterite colony allowed me access to metal fabrication equipment.
FTE: Conforming to the local laws and taking care of the necessary permits can be quite daunting I’m sure. How did you manage to accomplish all that?
TRE: Entrepreneurs should thoroughly research these aspects before staring their build. Local companies that specialize in building food trucks are a wealth of information. Contact your local health inspection office, and ask to speak to the inspector in charge of food trucks. Manitoba Health has a document published that specifically pertains to food trucks. Fire safety regulations follow the NFPA codes so it’s important to read and know these codes as I have experienced firsthand that they are left open to interpretation from one inspector to the next. You can argue with these people as long as you have educated yourself.
FTE: Parking for food trucks has almost always been a problem from city to city. How is the problem being addressed in Winnipeg?
TRE: Parking is changing this year in Winnipeg. I am currently the President of the Winnipeg Food Truck Alliance, a group of food trucks that came together to discuss and form policy with the Winnipeg Parking Authority. Over the past year, we have been working to establish a parking spot lottery to distribute food truck spots in Winnipeg. 2016 will be a pilot project that will see seniority being recognized by additional ballots for every year on the road (7th year as a food truck=7 ballots, first year=1 ballot). As ballots are drawn, food trucks get to pick from spots available on the map.
FTE: What has been the most challenging aspect of operating a food truck in your city?
TRE: The sort season in Winnipeg is the most significant challenge. The season typically lasts from the end of April to the end of September. The high summer temperatures also almost make the A/C in the truck mandatory.
FTE: Do you want to give some valuable advice to those people out there who are thinking of doing the same?
TRE: If you plan to be a food truck owner, I would highly suggest that you have some sort of culinary back ground. Cooking food is the most important part of the business so you have to know what you are doing.
Thanks a lot for contributing Steffen.
We’ve selected a few links on permits and licenses specific to Winnipeg to make it easier for you. We hope these websites can help you get started.
Permits for Mobile Vendors – This is your starting point.
Mobile Food Service Establishment Guide – Here is another resource that you will find useful.
The Red Ember – Homepage of The Red Ember. Please drop by and take a look around.