Students and Faculty gathered on Tuesday October 11th to hear the startup stories from the famous food trucks of Athens. The event started off with a brief introduction of each food truck present, given by Dr. Luke Pittaway. After the introduction, the event was turned over to the owners of the food trucks, each of them taking turns to describe their individual journeys to get to the place they all are now. Each owner had their own experiences that shaped not only how their business grew, but also gave them differing opinions on the key parts of the food truck industry.
Marla Rutter, current owner of the Burrito Buggy, was the first to speak. She described to the audience of how she had been a freshmen at Ohio University when the original Burrito Buggy opened. She explained that her and her husband always used to imagine what it would be like to own a food business. She finally got her opportunity to find out when the Buggy closed in 2010. Rutter originally stepped in to help her daughter buy the Buggy but then later took it up as her own. Now, Rutter has greatly expanded upon the original. She now has a second Burrito Buggy for those larger events held around Athens.
The next people to speak were the owners of Ali Baba, Nisar and Brenda Shaikh. The two met at Hocking College, originally called Hocking Tech, and then later moved to Athens. They both had a very hard time finding jobs and contemplated on starting a food truck. The Paul Bunyon Show held in Nelsonville, Ohio was the very first event that they took their food truck to. The very first food sold out of the truck was not a gyro, but a burger with an egg on top of it. This didn’t receive very good reviews with the customers. Then they took the buggy to the Ohio State Fair and got the idea from another vendor to start selling gyros and falafels. The Shaikh’s now have three buggies parked around Athens and have focused more on the sale of Mediterranean cuisine.
Nisar Shaikh believes that,”It’s best to be a unique business, one that will stand out from the others.” He also said, “If you work hard and put your mind into the business, you will succeed.”
The owner of Petru, Stacy Peters, was next to speak. Petru, which opened in February of 2016, is a chocolate truck that specializes in the sale of truffles. Originally, Peters was just making truffles for fun. She then got an idea from her friend to start marketing her truffles at the Athens Farmers Market. When she first started going to the market, she couldn’t get a table so she had to sell them from her friend’s table. When she did sell her truffles, it was only a few at a time. After some time, she opened up her own table, which become known as O’Chocolate. After the success of O’Chocolate, Peters wanted to expand her business. She thought the best way to do this was buy a food truck.
Peters said,” My favorite part of business is creating new products or inventing new ways to solve problems.” Although she loves to come up with new ideas, she also realizes that,”There are limits what you can do. There is nothing wrong with that, you can still work your very hardest and keep coming up with new products, but just know there will always be a physical limit to what one person can actually do.”
The fourth speaker of the event was Evelyn Nagy, one of the owners of Holy Guacamole. She is the wife of Rudy Nagy and together the two have had a success story in the food truck industry. They started out in Guatemala working 12 hours a day for 6 days straight to provide for their son. With Rudy having a background in the cuisine of various countries, such as Mexico, Italy, China, and Japan, it became apparent that selling food was the way to go. They received help from a friend to buy a trailer shell, in which they sold shoes out of to fund their new business. Over time they would accumulate enough money to buy new appliances or parts that their trailer needed.
Nagy said,” If you do what you know, you will be successful. Find something you are very good at and then find a way to make money doing it. The other thing is whatever you want to do, just go for it and be okay will failure. You will always learn from your mistakes and you can then improve on them to become better.”
The final speaker for the evening was Elizabeth Dahlen, Assistant Manager of Catering at Ohio University. Her mother, sister, and brother-in-law all were very successful with their own food trucks, which inspired Dahlen to work in a food truck during her summer breaks. Although she had a passion for food truck, she chose to take a different path with her life and focus on Interior Design. After working all across the United States, she decided it was time to settle down and finally come back to her childhood passion, food.
Her initial plan was to run a small business in Columbus, Ohio. After only a year of being open, she had to close her business because the landlord sold the building. Dahlen was then contacted by Schmidt’s, a popular restaurant in Columbus, with a proposal for her to help them expand upon their current business. The best part, they wanted her to run a food truck. Dahlen successfully helped Schmidt’s and since then they have purchased a second truck and are currently in production of a third.
The main things Dahlen finds important are,” Don’t ever give up. It’s not going to be easy and you will hear a lot of no’s but you must persevere.” She also believes that it is important for you to find a partner to help balance the work load of owning a small business. She said,”You become the owner, the salesperson, and the worker. A partner will greatly help you because it will make it easier to balance the workload instead of taking it all on yourself.”
These owners are a great example of what it really takes to own your own business. Their stories really show the struggles that you might have to go through if you decide to go down this path. It’s not going to be easy, but do not get discouraged. If you put your mind to something and really put in the effort it takes, much like the owners of these trucks, you will be successful.