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Catering, Vending and Cooking For The Masses. this forum is OnTopic. A resource to help with catering, vending and just cooking for large parties. Topics to include Getting Started, Ethics, Marketing, Catering resources, Formulas and recipes for cooking for large groups.


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Old 05-26-2019, 08:05 PM   #1
BrandonBBQ
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Default Opening a BBQ trailer - advice, tips, warnings, give me your best!

Over the past year and a half, I have done probably 100+ cooks on the WSM and due to the lack of good restaurants, I'm seriously considering opening a food trailer. I live in a small town in the midwest with alot of really good supply of beef, pork, chicken, and duck farms with really good prices. There is also actually quite a bit of $$$ here and a real lack of places to eat lunch.

Little backstory, I know nothing about a restaurant, but my best friend is a restaurant manager and chef that is going to help lay out the trailer & prep stations, and work with me on the first few weeks to get it going and in a rhythm. I am an all around tech nerd and handy-man that is going to setup all of our web/social/tech and physically build the trailer.

My wife's family owns a manufacturing company and steel/welding/trailer modification I can get done for free or at cost so the trailer itself won't cost me a TON. I figure a trailer will be alot cheaper & easier to maintain than a truck, and they also own a spot of land in town with high visibility that is just sitting there doing nothing. Obviously, I will have some zoning to deal with, but I won't have to pay for a place to park the trailer. They're pretty well connected in town and on a first name basis with the health inspector.

I know it's ALOT and most people will say don't open a restaurant, but honestly, other than writing code or my son I've never found something that brings me this much joy and I've never made so much food that people were like "Holy **** that's really good" or there was none left-over.

I've been fortunate to have a really good job and make some good financial decisions so I have a little $$$ to invest into a 1-2 man operation. Definitely starting small, and I figured I can start a trailer for less than $30-40k and have a couple parties interested in a silent partnership.

So please help me. With any links/resources/horror or success stories you can. I read constantly and am always trying to learn something.

If you knew what you know now, what would you do differently or what mistakes can I avoid?

Any response gets a free plate at my trailer if you're in town :D
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Old 05-27-2019, 04:55 AM   #2
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Just go slow and keep doing your research. I'm not fond of outside investors in a business myself but that's for you to decide. Cooking on a larger scale is going to be a challenge but not insurmountable. I once owned a restaurant, never worked so hard to lose so much money. My circumstances were completely different though so don't let that deter you. It's a tough business that you'll either love or hate after a couple of months.

Hadoop is my specialty, almost as much stress as running a restaurant.
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Old 05-27-2019, 05:52 AM   #3
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Just go slow and keep doing your research. I'm not fond of outside investors in a business myself but that's for you to decide. Cooking on a larger scale is going to be a challenge but not insurmountable. I once owned a restaurant, never worked so hard to lose so much money. My circumstances were completely different though so don't let that deter you. It's a tough business that you'll either love or hate after a couple of months.

Hadoop is my specialty, almost as much stress as running a restaurant.
I usually don't deal with investors either, but they're really just family providing a low interest loan to help cover startup costs.

Definitely starting with a trailer to keep those costs down and if it fails, it's not going to absolutely wreck us like a quarter million on a brick and mortar restaurant failing. A big problem with restaurants and places around here is that there is a real shortage of workers because of all the fairly high paying jobs in the area. So the hospitality & service industry is really lacking.

There are a ton of opportunities as well to hawk the product with wineries and bars that don't serve food and a few of the owners have eaten my stuff. There is one guy that pulls his trailer smoker into the parking lot of an old grocery store and slangs BBQ only on Saturdays. It's PACKED until he runs out. Nothing special IMO, just good Q and a good dude.

I appreciate the advice and definitely will take my time.

Just like my BBQ, I'm in no rush.




ps...... If you can deal with Hadoop, you can deal with anything
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Old 05-27-2019, 10:28 AM   #4
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https://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/s...d.php?t=268264

$45,000 and you'd have everything you need to be up and running except for the truck to pull it. All the catering equipment, smoker, power cords, cambros, an Alto-Shaam warmer, etc. And Warsaw isn't too far from me. Relatively.
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Old 05-27-2019, 11:15 AM   #5
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Now that the shameless plug is over...

First and foremost, invest in a good pair of shoes with good arch support and cushion. I honestly can't stress this enough.

Cooking for business is different than cooking for yourself. You're locked in to producing a good consistent result over and over and over again so your chances to experiment with different flavors and ideas get stunted somewhat. Have you ever gone somewhere that you've been patronizing for years and suddenly your favorite item tastes different? It throws you off and even if it's good you're going to miss the old way it was done. Once you've got the process nailed down, changing it can be a challenge. So make sure you're perfectly happy with your recipes and methods. If you decide down the road your rubs are too expensive or time-consuming, it can be tough to change it up.

Don't undervalue your product. Realizing you're not charging enough and raising prices will not win you any friends or customers. Figure out what everything costs. Maybe you're barbecue sauce costs you 25 cents per two ounces, but don't forget to factor in the cost of the containers and the prep time, right down to the amount of gas the stove uses. It's hard to control overhead when you forget small things that add up.

Social media is your friend! I do virtually no advertising whatsoever outside of Facebook and Instagram. As soon as you have your plan in place start a Facebook and Instagram page. Use lots of pictures, add a video here and there, and use the "Boost" feature on Facebook. You can create a huge buzz of anticipation in your area. A couple of free food tastings where you hand out samples before you open can also help a lot.

Talk to other restaurant managers/owners in the area. There will probably be a couple that won't talk to you, but you'll be surprised at how helpful they can be.

I see you have a fair amount of manufacturing in Warsaw. Every single plant should have a stack of menus dropped off in their break rooms along with lunch specials, especially an "on the go" menu that they can pick up quickly on a short lunch. Also emphasize the catering with them. Catering staff meetings and other functions with those places can send your business into the stratosphere.

Be ready to work harder than you ever have in your life. I've done everything from the military to being a paramedic to working in factories and I've never worked as hard as I have these last couple of years. Cooking for the public is a huge undertaking that shouldn't be taken lightly. I did and it made the learning curve extremely steep.

Study your processes constantly. You should always be looking at ways you can do things more efficiently, faster, and for less cost and more profit. Do that without sacrificing quality and you'll be in good shape.

People are going to invite you to set up at festivals and fairs. Personally, I wouldn't do it your first year. It costs to reserve a spot and without name recognition you'll sit there and watch places with inferior food make a killing just because they've been there for years and you don't have enough of a reputation established.

That's about it for now. I'm sure I'll think of 200 other things as soon as I post this. If you want to pm me, I'll be glad to share my phone number and talk to you about it any time.
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Old 05-27-2019, 03:02 PM   #6
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Brandon there are reasons why you don't already have someone doing what you propose that align with the lack of good restaurants in Warsaw and Kosciusko county in general.

Medic did a great job outlining much of what's needed to do business but have you ever stopped to wonder why someone else isn't already successfully doing it?

Your target demographic is horrible there and you'll likely lose money like rainwater chasing a downspout in that market the only people making money are the chains with low dollar menu's the mom and pops that serve a huge breakfast cooked to order on paper thin margins and the lunch trucks that have already greased the right palms at the manufacturing stops.

There are a few exceptions near the Lakes but that's a market for serious investors that can note their own real estate and run with almost zero debt load over the winter months and keep the lights on.

You'd have a far better chance of making it if you targeted event's and catering as a sustainable way of paying the bills over the course of a year's time and trying your hand at the truck or trailer in town a few days a week to see how much of a bath your taking to get that established.

For what it's worth I'm only a county away and I wouldn't invest a nickle in that market the way your proposing to do it and I already have the equipment, credentials, experienced personnel, proven products and menu's people come back time and time again for and seriously wouldn't touch it.

I've been in this business for a very long time and seen countless people lose their shirt trying to break into it.

If you wan't to have lunch some time come on up and I'll highlight for you a dozen or so venues you can attend every year that will easily cover your operating costs and make you some money if you offer a good product, have the right rig and operating capital as those are all pay to play events.

There's room in those markets for start up's and money to be made if you know what your doing and are committed 100% to being in business to succeed.
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Old 05-28-2019, 07:44 AM   #7
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I totally appreciate both of your takes and advice, medic and InThePitBBQ. This is totally the reason I asked the pros!

There is definitely a lot to think about! Warsaw and Kosciusko county in general are weird places to live. I have been in some capacity planning a food truck for about a year already, my original was just different food.

New restaurants have opened up here in the past few years and they are working just fine. The one thing people in Indiana will get behind more than anything is food so I'm really not overly concerned. Unfortunately most people work in orthopedics, on the farms, or in the factories, so there aren't many other workers available. My wife's family are very good friends a few of the prominent restaurant and bar owners here in town and the serious lack of service industry personnel like waiters/waitresses, bartenders, cooks, and chefs is a common theme between them. This is irrelevant to me with it being me & my wife, or me and 1 other person helping only a couple hours a week.

There was already a decent BBQ restaurant here that went from some guy smoking out of his backyard to a full-blown brick & mortar in 3 years, but they just closed due to the 2 co-owners not being able to agree on whether or not they wanted to be a brewery or a restaurant (they were "both" when they opened the brick & mortar). I'm not going to have this problem. It's me making the decisions, with a low interest structured loan to pay back.

Definitely going to take advantage of the lakes and honestly I won't open a restaurant for YEARS if I ever decide to. I don't really even want to own a restaurant truthfully. I'm too much of a control freak and wouldn't trust anyone enough to do everything except myself. I'm definitely going to be offering some catering as well, and will have a "menu/order&pickup app" I'm developing.

I've started getting events together and would love any leads you have on other ones within an hour or so of here if you have them InThePit!

I've been planning some sort of food truck for a couple years and have no plan on quitting my "day job". I'm in a very fortunate spot where my day job is working whenever I want from wherever I want. So a dank little BBQ trailer on the weekends or a pop-up during the week isn't going to bankrupt me or my family. It's also going to be something hopefully my son will be into and I can pass along to him in the years to come. I've got a pretty cool marketing plan to go along with it so I'm not worried about getting enough $$$ to stay afloat. I've done social media marketing campaigns for my web clients. I have a 9 to 5, run a web/tech consulting company on the side, and make BBQ.

This isn't a "Should I cash out my 401k, sell everything I own, and go all-in on a BBQ joint?" ... This is a "I make some pretty dank BBQ and am in a position I could do a little something on the weekends for fun with my family and make a little extra $$$" Even if I do 20-30 people in a day -- 50 in an entire weekend, I would 100% count that as a success.

Sorry for the long reply, I just wanted to make sure you all understand that it's not a make or break situation. I already have a place to slang the product, and a locked/climate controlled place to store it during the week/bad weather.
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Old 05-28-2019, 07:51 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by medic92 View Post
https://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/s...d.php?t=268264

$45,000 and you'd have everything you need to be up and running except for the truck to pull it. All the catering equipment, smoker, power cords, cambros, an Alto-Shaam warmer, etc. And Warsaw isn't too far from me. Relatively.



and I really hope you get to feeling better! I would love to chat sometime about your experiences.
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Old 05-28-2019, 09:43 AM   #9
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Aside from the county fair there are absolutely zero events within an hour or so of you that will pay you and your spouse / family members anything that resembles a living wage and contributes enough back against your investment or debt load to run on the weekends.

You have to target venues with enough gate attendance and the right demographic that have and plan to spend sufficient disposable income for you to show up and vend BBQ that's good enough they talk about it for days and like it well enough to commit what you sell them to the gray matter for next years visit.

This is one of the realities of trying to break into the business and not go broke in the first 90 days.

You need to target events such as the Bean Blossom Festival in Jackson, Circus City Festival in Peru etc. to make money and those aren't weekend 2 person crew gigs.
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:07 PM   #10
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Owned and operated a trailer/catering biz part time for threeish years and just sold it a few months ago....

Medic is spot on. Man, I killed my feet. Plantar faciatis sucks. Its a crap ton of hard work and long hours, especially doing it on a stickburner like we were doing. There are great parts that I loved - cooking, seeing the huge lines out the window, etc... and awful parts like time away from family, taxes/etc, cleaning... Margins are thin so charge what you need to charge. If you have good stuff and good marketing people will pay it. Find a niche if you can. We got in with the local craft beer community and got a lot of really cool events from that. Did wedding catering which is super stressful but paid great. Ended up winning a food truck of the year award before we hung it up when it got to the point of having to go all in or move on. Decided I wanted more time with family. Wasn't worth the risk with young kids at home, plus I got a job offer I coudn't refuse. Anyway, it is super fun, stressful, demanding, painful and rewarding all at the same time. PM me if you have specific questions or anything. best of luck!
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Old 06-10-2019, 02:36 PM   #11
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Owned and operated a trailer/catering biz part time for threeish years and just sold it a few months ago....

Medic is spot on. Man, I killed my feet. Plantar faciatis sucks. Its a crap ton of hard work and long hours, especially doing it on a stickburner like we were doing. There are great parts that I loved - cooking, seeing the huge lines out the window, etc... and awful parts like time away from family, taxes/etc, cleaning... Margins are thin so charge what you need to charge. If you have good stuff and good marketing people will pay it. Find a niche if you can. We got in with the local craft beer community and got a lot of really cool events from that. Did wedding catering which is super stressful but paid great. Ended up winning a food truck of the year award before we hung it up when it got to the point of having to go all in or move on. Decided I wanted more time with family. Wasn't worth the risk with young kids at home, plus I got a job offer I coudn't refuse. Anyway, it is super fun, stressful, demanding, painful and rewarding all at the same time. PM me if you have specific questions or anything. best of luck!
I'm still a little mad that you never set up on 38th St. on a Saturday afternoon just so I could stop by. Come on, isn't the customer always right???
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Old 06-10-2019, 06:19 PM   #12
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Brandon, if you haven't cooked for a large group of people, you definitely should first. Find a church or a VFW and volunteer to cook on a Saturday or Sunday. It will give you a small taste of the hassle and work involved. You will have to make sides and serve the food, as well as, just cook the Q. It may change your mind or it may be a blast. But you should try it before spending $$$ on equipment.
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Old 06-11-2019, 08:51 AM   #13
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I'm still a little mad that you never set up on 38th St. on a Saturday afternoon just so I could stop by. Come on, isn't the customer always right???
LOL! man, I would think of that on occasion! sorry bud! You're right! hahah!
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Old 06-13-2019, 09:37 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidparker View Post
Brandon, if you haven't cooked for a large group of people, you definitely should first. Find a church or a VFW and volunteer to cook on a Saturday or Sunday. It will give you a small taste of the hassle and work involved. You will have to make sides and serve the food, as well as, just cook the Q. It may change your mind or it may be a blast. But you should try it before spending $$$ on equipment.
Today I started cooking for a 30 people party on Friday. 2 pork butts and 1 brisket on the WSM (guessing about 15lbs after cooking). Pit beans in the Electric with some of the pork juices. So this will be the first time for more than 15 people.

I'm not really in any hurry and definitely plan on doing more. I'm getting asked to cook more and more by people that have tried my BBQ. If I can get my stickburner built by the fall I'm going to be doing smoked Turkeys for a Thanksgiving feast to homeless/needy my father-in-law organizes every year.

I can promise I won't be rushing into something and am taking my time and doing everything by the book (legality wise). Again, we have connections around here to do something for at least 1/2" the cost of something you would purchase from a dealer/custom builder and we have the resources to do it. I would totally just buy one already done, but I'd rather DIY it myself because that's the type of person I am. Tell me I can't and I'm going to try even harder to figure it out.




NACHOS!


Thank you for the heads up! I have had a standup desk for a couple years now and am used to working while standing up, I'm fortunate to be young(er), in good health, and in a good place to be doing something like this.


I will definitely let you know if I have any questions. I appreciate it!
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Old 06-13-2019, 08:49 PM   #15
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Not trying to discourage you, but cooking on a regular basis for large groups can turn into a grind. You have to consistently cook everything the same way, time and time again. All the fun of tweaking recipes and trying new things gives way to providing a consistent product over and over and over again until it just becomes a task. You have to be ready for that to happen, where you look at a big pile of briskets and realize you have to trim and season all of them. Again. And if you see one more pork butt that needs trimming or one more rack of ribs that needs the membrane pulled, you'll lose your mind.

You don't lose the ability to experiment or do new things, you can always have specials and do things differently. But you'll also find your desire to cook even more in addition to your standards will dwindle under the weight of your regular workload.

Keep your eyes open and don't fall for the "I get to cook barbecue for a living!" ideal we all have in our mind without the reality.
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