Two years ago, the owners of The Proper Pig, an award-winning food truck, decided it was time to open a brick and mortar. They took their pitch onto the reality business TV show "Cleveland Hustles" and ultimately missed out on $100,000, because the investors were unimpressed with the décor of the hurried restaurant.
But reality TV and real life are far apart, and interior design is a skill that can be outsourced when needed. Owners Shane Vidovic and Ted Dupaski successfully opened a brick and mortar without the show's funding by simply sticking to what gained them a devoted audience: smoking Texas-style barbecue.
Parlaying the success of a food truck into a stationary restaurant isn't a slam dunk, but the example of The Proper Pig is proof that customers will follow food over presentation.
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If you have a successful food truck then there's an elevator pitch that customers use to describe your offerings. More than likely you're known for doing one thing well—barbecue, fusion, the best doughnuts in the world—and that should be the foundation of your brick and mortar business. Not only does it keep the restaurant consistent with your established audience, it minimizes food costs and reduces some of the unknowns when scaling up.
To offset the costs of a larger retail space, kitchen, and staff you may want to expand the menu to include appetizers, sides, or desserts, which tend to have higher profit margins. Just be sure to stay true to what made you want to open the truck in the first place.
The novelty of food trucks wore off years ago, so if you have a thriving one, chances are you’ve adapted and have a sophisticated business plan.
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Do your customers tell you they came out specifically to eat your food? Congrats, you have a loyal following that may be willing to travel to your brick and mortar location too.
If you your food truck's success is based in part on the scarcity of restaurants in the area, that's a great place to start looking for commercial space. First, ask why there isn't more competition and make sure the food truck isn't making all its money at peak times based on commuters or tourists. Restaurants have to stay open longer to stay afloat.
If the truck discovered a new hotspot in the city, it may be worth it to capitalize on the prime real estate if the market suggests continued growth. To help mitigate that risk, consider a small footprint. Real estate is expensive and unlike a new, unfamiliar restaurant, your food truck following is accustomed to sparse seating and waiting in line.
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Setting Up Shop
As referenced in the example with The Proper Pig, there is a time and place for designing the restaurant, and that is long before you open doors (and not done in one week).
As you consider a location, consult with an architect or contractor on the costs, necessities and possibilities for changing a space to fit the needs of your business. Changing the layout of the kitchen and service areas after you’ve opened will cost your business in down time and employees’ wages.
It’s also time to choose a point of sale system to track the increase in business, staff, and inventory. More sophisticated POS systems need to connect to several areas of the restaurant which is best to build into the construction plan rather than later, when you’d have to poke holes in those nice new walls.
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Keep the Truck?
Settling into a stationary restaurant doesn't mean you should mothball the food truck entirely. You may need to take it out of regular circulation to concentrate on the new business, but it can also be exploring new areas to convert new customers. It's still a literal billboard on wheels!
For seasonal demands, the truck has the luxury of only running on historically busy days and serving at festivals or other special events as an extension of the restaurant. During slower times the truck can be reserved for catering. In fact, several food trucks have found success in catering to different businesses a few days a week a great complementary business plan.
Keeping the truck is also a nice insurance policy should the restaurant world take a cruel twist.
Chris Rumpf is a 15-year veteran of managed services, focusing on hospitality, restaurant and retail automation. His company, Flyght, pioneers a proven process to unify the tech inside restaurants, retailers and hotels. Chris speaks at national industry events on hospitality and retail managed services, and his knowledge on retail trends.