le truc mock-up

le truc mock-up
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Monday, March 8, 2010

The City of San Francisco "vs." Street Food

Today the City of San Francisco's board of supervisors is gathering to discuss street food and the risk / reward for making it a part of our every day urban fabric. Supervisor Dufty has taken an interest in the process and asked the le truc team to participate in a focus group consisting of city planners, department of public health inspectors, street food entrepreneurs and advocates. The good news: every group involved wants to see street food in San Francisco.

My partner is a very dedicated businessman and chef. Hugh has been working on this project for over a year and has documented 1000s of hours scrutinizing every last detail of our plan. Through this process we have continued to face barriers; some created by the City, some created by fellow merchants and others by neighbors. With all of our good intent why is getting a conditional use permit so hard? Why are there so many barriers? Simple: ignorance.

Through our community outreach we have heard many unfounded concerns. Neighboring merchants yelling about unfair business practice, neighbors concerned about noise and traffic and the city's uncertainty about how to permit and monitor a mobile business. We can address each of these concerns.

Unfair business practice? Did other merchants forget the definition of capitalism? It is true that we have lower overhead due to the cost of building a truck vs. a brick-and-mortar restaurant. However, if you compare the two business models by square foot you will see that the rent we pay on our 200 square feet is upwards of $6.25/foot vs. $4.33/foot for a brick-and-mortar establishment. We have done the math and understand both business models - we just choose to operate on a mobile platform. Any restaurant in our market area could choose to do the same - stop complaining and step-up.

Oh and by the way - what about alcohol sales? The ABC will not allow a mobile catering truck to sell alcohol due to the fact that we would not be able to restrain our patrons to a specific area since our restaurant is on the street. Brick-and-mortar restaurants do not have this problem and can use alcohol sales to prop up their revenue numbers, creating a profit even if their menu fails. This alone should be enough to strike down the "unfair" business practice argument.

le truc wants to support the community in which we operate, not detract. We have designed our bus to be an artistic expression of the community, something that embodies the community’s priority on innovation and tolerance. Noise will not be a problem as we have engineered a creative solution to address this issue - indoor seating. Our bus will contain 16 indoor seats that allow customers to enjoy their meals shielded from the outside by insulated walls and windows.

The city has to redefine its definition of a mobile food business. Permitting is a simple matter of implementing realistic regulations specific to the operators. Just like any restaurant we are governed by laws designed to protect public safety. However, these rules and regs are often lower than what is considered standard at le truc. Bring it on DPH, we're ready for you.

If you love street food come out and support the cause. The board of supervisors is meeting at 10:30 AM at City Hall. Hugh and I will be there representing not only le truc but also the street food industry in general. There is power in numbers and it is up to the people of San Francisco to turn out and be heard on this issue. Come one, come all - together we will make sure that San Francisco continues to be tolerant of a person's right to choose an alternative to the norm.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Secret?

I have found that when you put ideas, good or bad, out there (in the universe) they seem to come back amplified. I have always believed in karma and other golden rules like treat others as you wish to be treated. I have never taken it as far as Rhonda Byrne’s "The Secret" but have found that the more you talk about something the more energy you create towards it.

Since deciding to leave the comfort of corporate America to go off on my own I have had a number of happy coincidences occur in my life. While contemplating whether or not to go to culinary school or start a restaurant I met my current business partner at a local Sunday brunch spot. Coincidence or fate?

As you can see there may be more to success than willing good things to happen.
There is no substitute for sheer hard work and perseverance. The more that my partner and I talk about our business the more unique opportunities present themselves. The problem, if you can call it that, is that all of these fantastic opportunities come with deadlines. If we are going to be able to take advantage we have to move fast.

People always tell me that you can measure a man by how he performs under pressure. I believe this to be true. Based on my calculations we have 30-60 days to raise the rest of the money before a few of these happy coincidences potentially find other ways of becoming reality. So here goes, with fingers crossed, "please bring me qualified investors, please bring me qualified investors, . . . oh yeah, and a winning lottery ticket."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

plan ahead?

I have always envied the so called "prepared." But what does prepared mean when dealing with a start up business? If I have learned anything along my journey thus far it is that you can never have all of the answers all the time. I feel good these days if I have some of the answers most of the time.

Seriously though, one of the highlights of being an entrepreneur is that everyday produces different challenges as well as rewards. One of the challenges to starting any new venture is coming up with a viable plan. Who do I write it for? Where do I get solid information to use in my forecasts? How do I conduct a focus group? Where do I get accurate traffic counts? Should I be worried about merchant groups and neighborhood associations? So many questions, so little time.

In my experience, although limited, I have found that the best way to approach the business plan is to come up with a plan for the plan. Tackle one section at a time and realize that more than likely all of it will change - a lot. Evan Smith, CEO of The Texas Tribune, addressed a group of aspiring young business men, "its ok to have a bad plan - it is just not ok to not have a plan at all." Words to live by.

I have also found it helpful to surround myself with people that have different skill sets than my own. Since I consider myself to be a very extroverted big picture person I needed to find a more introverted detail person. Since I knew that I needed a partner I wanted to make sure that our skill sets complemented each other and that both of us would add value to the business in different ways.

The most fun and least productive partnership I ever had was with one of my best friends right after graduating from USC. We had a great time dreaming of all of the ways that we were going to spend the inevitable wealth that our new venture would bring - girls, cars, boats, vacation homes. However, since we both had similar skill sets neither of us wanted to do the "hard" work. The "hard" work being defined as anything outside of our comfort zones. The problem is that "hard" work also defined half of the necessary business functions (sadly, the profitable half).

I guess you can tell that as it turns out creating wealth is never inevitable. This time around however I am armed with the right team and I have done the "hard" work putting together a well-researched business plan. People say that it is possible to start a business without going through the planning process. Take it from me; these are the people who make up the 90% of businesses that fail in the first five years. My goal is to not be one of them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

and so it begins . . .

Ah, I am finally free from my role as an intermediary in the product driven war waged by large financial firms that only care about the bottom line. Don't get me wrong working for the "man" has taught me many valuable life lessons. The most memorable of these lessons is simple - if you do not have passion for what you do you will not enjoy it.

It is amazing how basic this principle is; however, many people continue to push forward with careers that do not inspire them. I believe that all of us were put on this planet to achieve something great, or at least be a part of something great. How do we accomplish this if every morning we wake up wishing that it were Saturday? If your weeks/months/life flies by with you constantly struggling to remember what you accomplished day-to-day it may be time to get on Monster.

Today I leave the cushy corporate office behind and embark on a life long adventure armed with nothing more than my determination and a well-researched business plan. Today I make it a point to stop and "smell the roses" or in my case the fryer oil. If I achieve nothing else on my journey it will be to develop the self-awareness needed to make everyday count.

I need to raise an additional $80,000 (out of $170,000) in the next 30 days. Luckily I have discovered two words in the English language, that when combined, entices people to believe in something bigger than themselves - "entrepreneurial spirit." Anyone with means, which can be defined as a potential investor, likes to believe that they can see the big picture and are intelligent enough to spot trends before they make someone else rich. My job is to draw this "entrepreneurial spirit" out of everyone that I encounter and inspire them to believe that le truc is the project they have been waiting for.

I meet with a very successful financial advisor today for lunch. If you do not consider financial advisors to be entrepreneurial you’re kidding yourself. Setting client expectations correctly while consistently under promising and over delivering has got to be one of the world's great balancing acts. This FA in particular has mastered his craft. By the end of lunch I would like to think that he has become a believer - stay tuned to see what interesting prospects he sends my way.

Raising money in one of history's most volatile economic climates is no different - you have to balance investor expectations with realistic performance metrics. Still it has to be sexy or why should they take the time to hear your pitch. Every successful entrepreneur needs an elevator pitch. What is that you say? An elevator pitch is 3-5 sentences that you can spit out if you were riding up 10 floors in an elevator with a potential investor.

Here is mine, let me know what you think. le truc is a sustainable street food project that places emphasis on three things: food, customer service and making our investors rich. Catchy huh? I have found that while this sounds ridiculous it always gets a response, as they are shocked by how forward my approach is. Most people will at least give me a chance to clarify how I plan to accomplish making them rich. Hello new opportunity!

The bottom-line is that they are getting off that elevator and will likely disappear forever - if it takes a little shock value to get them to hand over that business card it is well worth it. My new credo: when you get a chance, no matter what it is, make it count. Entrepreneurs’ will continue to find creative solutions to raise money in any economic climate. If I play the number game for long enough the odds have to eventually stack in my favor (right?).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Imagine le truc

(The following excerpt from our business plan was written by Chef Hugh)

There is no law requiring catering trucks to serve unwholesome, careless cuisine. The “roach coach” has traditionally served food that provides instant gratification without much thought to nutrition or health. In fact, San Francisco law prohibits the sale of street food within a quarter mile of any school due to the assumption that all such food is devoid of nutrition, full of fat, and unworthy of children’s lunch dollars.

Enter le truc, which will create a new standard for street food. Imagine healthy, carefully sourced, artfully prepared food, yet served out of the side of a full-sized bus that runs on its own fryer oil. Imagine eating a balanced meal for $10. Imagine going to a concert and eating something besides pizza, hot dogs, or hamburgers. Imagine le truc.

le truc is the brainchild of Chef Hugh Schick, and will be brought to fruition with the help of Blake Tally. As a consultant for start-ups, Chef Hugh has noticed the struggle of brick-and-mortar eateries in the current economic climate. High-profile fine dining establishments continue to open as if nothing has happened, but there is more competition than ever, and value is the only guarantee of success. Many eateries are lowering prices and even retooling to accommodate the change in consumer spending habits.

Simultaneously, interest in street food is booming. Suddenly, taco trucks are just one of many games in town. In San Francisco, we now have crème brulee carts, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, pork-belly-and-jicama sandwiches, creperies, and myriad other options.

My goal for this blog is to share some of my experiences in the hope that people share and support my vision - food, service, fun. My number one priority is to take care of my "believers" and my team. I know that I will not always have all of the answers but I promise that I will tell you how it is, no-matter how ugly it gets. The last fortune cookie I ate said, "your luck is about to change" . . . well here goes . . .