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Food Trucks

April 30, 2012

Ride-Along With A Mobile Food Entrepreneur

food truck interviewIf you want a real behind-the-scenes glimpse at what it’s like to start a food truck or food cart, this is the article for you!  As some of you may recall, we first met Ian Thackaberry when he was in the process of building out his food cart and getting his mobile food business started.  Many were curious what happened to Ian so I’m proud to say that today’s Entrepreneur Spotlight features Ian’s own Scratch Deli which has officially been open for business since the beginning of April.

Adding Value Key To Scratch Deli’s Success

Some would say that it’s hard to call a business that’s not yet a month old a success but truth of the matter is that Scratch Deli is ahead financially then where Ian originally anticipated at this point.   Part of this is due to the substantial amount of work Ian put in figuring out exactly what his food product costs were and having a very concrete idea of his daily, weekly, and month fixed and variable costs.  With that information he was able to determine how many sandwiches he needed to serve every day in order to break even.  “Having everything so structured,” Ian told me last week in between filling orders for his all-natural sandwiches made ‘from scratch’ from locally sourced ingredients, “it helped me see what my weeks would be like financially and after my first week I could see what my year should more or less look like.  This enables me to plan for other opportunities and it’s helped keep me sane!”

While the response to his new food trailer has been, in his own words “overwhelming,” Ian believes that’s because he’s worked hard to create a good value for his customers.  Scratch Deli has already gotten substantial local press because of his focus on quality, local ingredients and his background as a butcher at Whole Foods but he says that it’s his ability to offer customers a solid value that’s been most valuable.  “Most people aren’t even that aware of my quality standards,” Ian says.  “People appreciate that I make a big sandwich for a low price so I maintain the value-equation in their mind.”

The New Kid On The Block

Ian admits that, in hindsight, finding a location was the hardest part of getting Scratch Deli up and running.  He had originally hoped to get the business going right after the new year but he ended up spending several week so handing out his business card around town trying to secure a spot for his trailer only to hear “no” over and over again.  “Because I wasn’t established yet finding someone to work with was nearly impossible,” Ian remembers.

As luck would have it – and luck often does play its own role in business! – after a particularly frustrating day of pounding the street Ian called up his girlfriend and told her to meet him at Wine World, a local wine store that offers tastings.  He and his girlfriend were some of the first customers Wine World had when it opened up a little over a year ago and they knew the employees well.  While sipping some wine, one of the employees asked Ian how his mobile food business was going and Ian shared his location frustrations.  Next thing he knows, the employee tells Ian he should park his truck in the Wine World parking lot and by the end of the evening Ian has an agreement with David, the store owner, all worked out!

Getting Rolling

This partnership has proved to be beneficial for both Wine World and Scratch Deli.  Wine World patrons and employees now have a place to grab a delicious, all-natural bite-to-eat (“it certainly helps business to partner with someone who employees 15 people,” Ian said while another employee came by to place his lunch order) and Wine World promotes Scratch Deli to their 20,000+ person listserv.

Outside of working with Wine World, Ian, who at this point is working 14 hour days between prepping all the food, serving and taking orders on the trailer, and cleaning up at the end of the day, devotes what little time he has left to marketing Scratch Deli on Facebook and Twitter.  “I have no traditional paper marketing,” he explains though he did add that when he was featured in a local blog he made sure to be active on the site and be available to answer questions that came up in a timely manner so that people can see that he’s involved with and cares about the neighborhood.

Just as I was getting ready to leave Ian called me back over having just remembered one of the best marketing tactics he’s used to drive business.  “Samples,” he exclaimed!  “My girlfriend walked around and dropped off sandwich samples with local businesses that first week and now every day I can count on consistent orders from owners and employees of the area businesses!”

Just “Scratching” The Surface

Now that his business is up and running, even though it’s only been a matter of weeks, he’s getting approached right and left to bring his trailer to other events/areas and people are asking him about opening up second and third locations around the city.  While he doesn’t want to give away too much of his business plan, Ian does say that this one food trailer is just the beginning of the plans he has for the Scratch Deli brand.  “I feel like I’m part of the community and that’s what I really like,” he explains, “I want to tie into the block, into the neighborhood, and to do that I need multiple locations.”

Ian feels that he’s also part of the mobile food community and is already thinking up ways to bring more food trucks together.  “It could end up being more competition for me personally,” he says, “but I feel like street food draws people and it brings people together so working with other food trucks can only help all of us and help the neighborhoods  we serve.”

If you live in the Seattle area or are planning a trip anytime soon, you can check out Scratch Deli Mondays – Fridays from 11a – 7p.   While you’re there, be sure to check out the extensive selection of wine, soda, and spirits available in independently owned Wine World.

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