View Full Version : Joining Austin food trailer scene
03-08-2012, 09:00 PM
I got the first steps out of the way..aside from a lot of reading and thinking for the last 6 years...
I have done some preliminary marketing, My wife works at a call center for GM with 500 employees and have sent mass quantities of samples with her.
Went to the health dept and fire marshal to get information on what is required to operate. Also have my EIN now. I have got the business plan started. I have start up costs and and most of the daily/weekly/monthly operating costs figured out. I am trying to figure conservatively on how much product to make daily and what can be expected for sales (I think). I am definitely attempting to err on the side of caution.
Next is getting local business license and food manager's certificate. I am also scheduling in some SCORE business workshop's and mentoring. I am a long ways from ordering a trailer and smoker yet, but moving towards the starting gate. I figure this will be months and months to get going, but I want to cover all the bases that I can before giving up the day job, which I am already putting in 10-16 hours a day, six days a week for little money and I don't get to play with fire and dead animal.
03-08-2012, 09:34 PM
Good luck, it sounds like you are following the right plan, slow but sure.
03-08-2012, 09:42 PM
The way you a looking at this with a good bussiness plan is the only way to go. Good luck and remember that you don"t always need new when real good used equipment is there also. GOOD LUCK.
03-09-2012, 07:36 AM
The only thing new I will be looking at is the trailer and smoker. What I need for the health dept and the layout to optimize efficiency in cooking will be much easier to just get new, unless I get lucky..I am keeping an eye in several places. I did see a trailer on ebay for a 28' trailer fully equipped with a 8' stick burner on a screened in porch, with new range, fryer and fridge for $26k. The trouble is that, without even getting the details on the smoker, that price seems way low compared to competitors and the ebay ratings seem contrived, so I am more than skeptical. Seems like a scam.
Anyway, The smoker I will find used and we have 2 big used restaurant supply places here as well as craigslist, so I will be utilizing those. I have asked for advise in a few forums on what type of smoker and the consensus is that a stick burner is the only way to go in central TX. I didn't think that the showmanship of a stick burner vs a commercial gas assist would make that much of a difference, but it seems I was wrong in that thinking.
I have some cooking to do on my gator in the meantime to figure out the best way to retherm brisket and pork and keep the integrity of it.
03-11-2012, 07:53 AM
a couple thoughts -
1 - have you ever cooked on a stick burner for any length of time? It about killed me. Getting up all hours of the morning, splitting and lugging firewood, tending that fire every 45 minutes - I was dead by the time the meat was ready. I know Texans are picky, but are you physically able to do this week after week? I was not.
2 - I am a business man - which is why I question my BBQ bug, but that's another topic - you got the bug, you need to do it. In any business, starting out small is the key. Unless you have unlimited capital and can go out and buy whatever you want and need, I would start out small - and used - and advance from there. If you do have unlimited capital, then I assume you are a smart businessman - and know that small bites and chewing is better than choking.
3 - the Health Dept will tell you sinks and water heater, etc - but and this is a direct quote from Mike Mills, "I don't know a Health Dept anywhere in this country who will not approve 3 = 5 gal buckets". Ask - that right there will save you many thousands to see if you like this, can make money and can do it for years.
4 - Food trailer and trucks are a cool thing - just make sure the people come. As more trucks come on scene, it waters down the dollars that are spent that evening, weekend, etc. We know. Big festivals seem to be a hit when you get in to the right festival. you can bring in many tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a weekend or two weekends (9 or 10 day deals). My buddy Jack does a Music Fest in PA - 90-100k over two weekends. Now the markup on BBQ isn't anywhere near as good as ice cream or hot dogs or butterfly fries or funnel cakes, but we don't love those, do we?
Follow your dream, just remember - a little rain is good, but a Tsunami will drown you. Slow and small, then get bigger as you need to. You may not look the coolest, but it is the right business move for sustainability.
Hope this helps.
03-11-2012, 10:10 AM
Some good points there and much appreciated. I did some catering and concessions with a stick burner, I have had my gator pit for 6 years now. If I had just got my pit built a little bigger I would just use that. It is a 24x30 main chamber and a 24x24x36 upright.
Starting out small. I am keeping to a small menu. Brisket (chopped for sammies and slice for plates), pulled pork for the influx of transplants which very few in Austin offer on their menus, chicken, ribs and sausage. Tater salad, slaw and bbq beans, the beans are a chile pinto bean, not so sweet as traditional southern bbq beans, chips, soda, fresh made lemonade and sweet tea. I will run one weekly special of a bbq fusion item to offer something to the trendy foodies (there are a lot here).
The health dept is very particular here. Holding tank must be 15% greater than the fresh water and ice supply combined. Both tanks must be permanently mounted. waste water connections must be below the fresh water inlet. The regs for propane are limiting to trailer configuration as the cylinders must be secured from tampering. Non metallic hose is prohibited, cylinders must be at least 3' from any opening (doors or windows) or appliance intake/exhaust vents. piping must be tested annually and any appliance converted from NG to LP must be done by a master plumber certified by the TX railroad commission.
There are several "trailer parks" and more keep popping up. The majority is asian/texmex fusion, just texmex and mex food. There are only a half dozen places doing bbq and of those, mostly fusion. There has been requests for bbq trailers by property owners looking for a food truck/trailer.
The biggest (about the only) competition after 3 years couldn't keep up with the demand and moved into a brick and mortar joint. There are only a couple places in Austin that have a reputation for good bbq. Otherwise you have to drive to places like Lockhart, Luling, Elgin, etc. We have found a niche that needs to be filled and going on that premise as opposed to "if you build it, they will come" which in my book spells failure.
I am with you 100%, keep it simple and be as frugal as possible.
03-11-2012, 12:50 PM
I would say don't base your business plan off of vending barbecue 6-7 days per week. For me that would be impossible. I do it on Saturdays and it is 40 plus hours of planning, prep, cooking, vending and clean up to vend one day. At best I would offer the advice of seeing if your plan would work if you were able to vend say 3 to 4 days per week. Trying to vend 6-7 days a week will most likely kill you. I know it would me, it is fun and worth doing but it is way more work than I anticipated to do to sell on Saturdays. Just being real here, would hate to see you set up and be required to sell that many days to a week to make it and be forced to do it.
03-13-2012, 02:56 PM
Bearbonez, I applaud all the thought and effort you are putting into this dream. I do believe hard work (smart as well) and good food will be rewarded. As far as your choice of smoker, have you considered getting something that is insulated? I think you can use lump and oak chunks and still get a smoky enough flavor to satisfy us Texans. Like Kentucky says, fire tending is a chore and considering you will be so busy doing other things like sides, prepping and sleeping an insulated pit can you help you out. Will you be doing this solo or do you have a partner? Does the health department have any rules about cooking overnight or unattended? Keep us in the loop on your progress. I'll be more than happy to make the trip to Austin to try out your Q.
03-17-2012, 06:38 PM
I have been re-thinking the advice that the only way to sell bbq in Texas is with a giant offset. I really don't see how the dog and pony show will hurt business if the product is good. To the masses, even the bbq savvy in Austin will be impressed enough with a big ol SP or OH with a stack of split wood next to it that is going into the pit. I don't see how having propane assist will hurt...my Gator pit has a gas assist log lighter. Even if cooking overnight unattended isn't a possibility, just having the extra time, not constantly baby sitting the fire will be worth while. Every little bit helps for cranking out the prep, sides, sauces and rubs (will eventually be looking into a co packer to make these for me as a time saver for service, selling out of the trailer and marketing to retailers...but 1 thing at a time..that is a long way off before I devote any thought into it.) Essentially I don't see how a dog and pony show can outweigh the consistency of a giant insulated smoker with a temp control system that is basically on stoker or guru on steroids with the basting action and capacity of rotating racks, not to mention a 80% oak 20% pecan will make great smoke rings and flavor.
I will have to hire a helper as my wife will be keeping her day job. So again point well taken. So I wont have a second shift. At some point if ZI find the right person who has worked with me for a long time and proven to be trustworthy it could be considered at that point. So with a traditional stick burner, I would be heading for burn out. Right now I am a cable tech and work 10-16 hour days, 6 days a week for very little reward, and it is a far cry from bbq and I can handle that. The outlook of being able to entertain folks with great food, a smile and maybe a joke will make those kind of hours even easier, but limitations have to be realistic. So your advise was welcomed and received.
03-17-2012, 06:50 PM
The next part of the story. Some good friends of mine, Mickey and Sonya,have been getting together with us periodically for private cooking classes. Basically I tell them to pick a protein and an ethnicity or region and make up the menu and I have them hands on with either some knife skills learning working at the heat source so they learn how to sear, saute, fry, grill, or what have you. Anyway they have been hinting about investing in my cooking. They came over for Superbowl, which I made a full bbq spread, and since I worked on Saturday, it was pretty well half arsed and thrown together. Since then they went to visit his family and they talked extensively with his dad and both want to invest. They are getting married in September and will be throwing a pre wedding party a couple nights before and asked that I cater it, since some of his dad's friends who are also investors will be there. So unknown to me he has already sown up funds and looking to entice more. Although, what is offered seems to be plenty for a start up, so that allows me 6 months to continue to work on my business plan, gather advise and info here, from SCORE, and get every detail from the HD and fire marshal.
03-17-2012, 08:43 PM
BAH..I am still on the fence about the cookers. I own a backyard Gator that I love and it is no frills. I am still contemplating a large offset with an insulated firebox and a stoker or guru, or possibly a couple of insulated cabinet smokers. Any experiences or advise on these types would be greatly appreciated.
03-18-2012, 01:27 AM
Can you even see you pit that is mounted to your trailer? Are there any rules that say it must be enclosed or anything. If you can't see it then it doesn't matter much what the public thinks so long as it's good food. Personally I'd go with insulated cabinet smokers. My bubba kegs you see are insulated and the hours I can get with just a few pounds of lump is awesome.
In regards to investors, I'd be really cautious going that route. What are their expectations?
03-18-2012, 09:16 AM
Travis county requires that the smoker be at least screened in. We are working on time frame for return on investment. An instant turn around is out of the question, we are working on what can be reasonable expectations. I will be paying an attorney to take of a contract. Prior to that I am utilizing the mentorship from SCORE as well as some of the business workshops. I have been in business and worked in a restaurant as a sous chef, but it doesn't hurt to go through the motions to uncover what you haven't learned yet.
03-18-2012, 09:28 AM
Great to see you making progress Bear
03-18-2012, 09:46 AM
Not to question your research, but are you totally sure the smoker needs to be screened in? That's true here (in TN) only if the smoker has an opening large enough for flies to enter. Not questioning your knowledge, just trying to save you some $$$! Oh, and I would look into a large Backwoods smoker. You can dial in the temp after you learn the smoker, and get yourself some sleep! Best of luck to you, Bear!:thumb:
03-18-2012, 09:56 AM
Thanks Thom. We really miss you and your family. A big hug from me and Cindy.
03-18-2012, 10:06 AM
I have been told that the cooker must be enclosed from other vendors. I am working on a layout and list of specs to review with HD and fire marshal to make sure what I have in mind will pass inspection.
BBQ Sauce Works
03-18-2012, 02:04 PM
Was just wandering if there were in BBQ Food Carts in Chicago area. I've never seen one.
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