Targeting 500 customers a day: How one San Francisco food trucker does it (Part 1)
Rich Mainzer, left, gets help from his son, Hunter, with the The Boneyard. Photo courtesy of The Boneyard.
Rich Mainzer was working as a general contractor building commercial kitchens in the San Francisco area when he decided to start a food truck. He had no background in the foodservice business, and he didn't realize the extent of the challenges that awaited him when he took the plunge in 2013 to launch The Boneyard, offering meats smoked daily, with seasonal sides and fresh baked breads.
|The truck parks at street locations in San Francisco in addition to serving special events.|
What he had going for him was a long-time love for barbecuing, experience in the building trades, a supportive family and a strong work ethic.
In just three years, he has expanded to a second truck and a catering facility, a business that employs 16 people during peak season and targets 500 customers per day – in one of the nation's most competitive food truck markets.
For the love of BBQ
Driving Mainzer forward in addition to his love of barbecuing was his attraction to the food truck business model. He had always wanted to own a business he could some day leave to his sons, and the food truck business struck him as the right business to be in.
"Mobile food trucking is the way of the future," he told Food Truck Operator. "A food truck can offer the same quality food as a restaurant at a fraction of the cost."
This is especially true in a market like San Francisco, where brick-and-mortar leases run as high as $16,000 per month.
Mainzer also liked the fact that a food truck prepares the food in close proximity to the customer.
"With a food truck, it's the ultimate transparency," he said. "We want to see the joy on their face."
A fortuitous beginning
Mainzer's journey began with a lucky start. He found a fully equipped, 1983 GMC former taco truck for $10,000 at a junk yard. The name for his food truck, "The Boneyard", was inspired by the junkyard.
"It was a diamond in the rough," he said. He invested between $15,000 and $20,000 to refurbish the vehicle, restoring the body and replacing the transmission, brakes and suspension. He also hired a blacksmith to make eye-catching, custom forged metal fittings, including the truck's exterior sign. He painted the truck black and replaced the plexiglass.
In three months, the truck was ready for a health department inspection.
While off to a promising start, Mainzer's food truck education was just starting.
He brought business experience from his former role as a contractor, but he soon learned that a food truck requires familiarity with truck maintenance. Being adept at both cooking and troubleshooting the truck – in addition to running a business – is a challenging balancing act.
The support from family members has been crucial as he devotes countless hours to the business. His wife, Aleah, helps out, as do his two sons, Hunter and Callahan, on a part-time basis, and his mother-in-law, who handles the bookkeeping.
|The truck serves smoked cooked meats along with seasonal sides.|
A focus on economics
An environmental engineer by trade, Mainzer paid close attention to how long it took to prepare the food and serve customers. He realized it didn't make sense to cook everything from scratch on the truck. In addition, there are many slow cooked meats that cannot easily be prepared on the truck.
Local law required him to keep the truck in a "commissary" garage when not in use. So, he decided to use this "commissary" to prepare meat using an electric powered wood burning smoker oven. The meat was then placed in a holding oven on the truck each morning.
Most of the equipment on the truck is for holding as opposed to cooking the food: there is a steam table, a refrigerated sandwich station and a dry heat holding oven that allows orders to be served quickly.
There is also a flat top grill that creates smoke and gives customers the impression that the barbecuing is taking place on the truck when in fact it is simply searing the meat.
"All the food has been barbecued before it ever got there," he said.
Some items are made on the truck – a barbecue pork sandwich with a fried egg requires the egg to be fried on the truck, for instance.
Step two: truck births a commercial kitchen
After the first year and a half, Mainzer decided to invest in a commercial kitchen for preparing the food. A kitchen would also enable him to host catering events.
Again, he managed to find a good deal. He found a building housing cooking equipment to lease for $2,000 a month. He spent another $18,000 on additional equipment, including shelving and a large smoker for catering events.
The building also boasts a 25-seat serving area.
"We converted all the seating with stainless steel tables with metal stools around them," he said. There are now two full-time cooks, a general manager and an assistant in the kitchen.
The kitchen's main benefit, however, is that it enables the truck to serve customers faster, as Mainzer's target customer serving time is four minutes or less.
Stay tuned to the next part of this two-part series about The Boneyard, which will explore Mainzer's careful attention to serving speed and other business metrics.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.