How a food truck launched Austin's 'The Peached Tortilla' celebrity chef
Photo courtesy of The Peached Tortilla
Food trucks bring out the entrepreneurial spirit in people from all sorts of backgrounds.
Eric Silverstein had been working for a few years as an attorney in 2009 when he decided to pursue a new career in foodservice. He had grown up in the restaurant business, and he longed to strike out on his own.
| Eric Silverstein found success serving office buildings,|
a college campus and a farmers market.
"I had been surrounded by the restaurant [business] for many years," he said. "I like food, and I like [owning] my own business."
This dual commitment to culinary excellence and management propelled Silverstein to celebrity chef status and a multifaceted foodservice business employing 50 people, 30 of whom are full time.
Living in St. Louis, he was drawn to Austin, Texas, a culture-oriented city with a growing economy and a vibrant restaurant scene.
The journey begins
Silverstein didn't get discouraged when he failed to secure a loan to open a restaurant. He reasoned that by establishing a food truck, he could segue into a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Little did he know how well his experience running a food truck would prepare him for success in both the restaurant and catering businesses.
Silverstein had a couple of other things going for him as well. One was his own culinary skill. The other was his timing: In 2010, food trucks were becoming enormously popular.
That year, he leased a 12-year-old truck with 120,000 miles on it. He began preparing Asian and Southern inspired street food on the truck.
Assisted by one full-time employee and a few part-timers, The Peached Tortilla was well received from the start. Chinese barbecue tacos, Japanese burgers and Pad Thai bowls began to gain notoriety at office buildings, a college campus and a farmers market. Silverstein quickly became a local food celebrity.
|Peached Tortilla employees serve tacos and fries.|
In 2011, Eater Austin named The Peached Tortilla "Food Truck of the Year."
Silverstein's operating costs, including the vehicle lease and the garage fee, ran between $2,700 and $2,800 per month.
That first year, he did about $200,000 in revenue.
Sales nearly doubled in his second year, although his lease fees also jumped — to $3,600 a month.
In 2012, he invested a chunk of his earnings in a pair of trucks from a food truck manufacturer for $65,000 apiece — the trucks themselves cost $10,000 while the appliances ran around $55,000. He bought the trucks from C.R.A.F.T. Mobile Food Units in Austin, which is no longer in business.
That year, Silverstein teamed with Dan Stacy of The Seedling Truck, Trailer Food, and Tiffany Harelik, author of "Trailer Diaries Cookbook," to launch Trailer Food Tuesdays, an event that continues in Austin.
Also around this time, he rented his first commercial kitchen to prepare the food, and hired 12 employees, of which seven or eight were full-time.
Celebrity status grows
Meanwhile, Silverstein's celebrity status continued to grow. In 2012, Food & Wine honored him for having "One of the Best Sliders in the U.S.," while the Austin Food Blogger Alliance recognized him for having the "Best New Food Trailer."
In 2014, he opened a brick-and-mortar location of The Peached Tortilla, investing $750,000 in a leased space, and hiring 16 to 18 full-time employees. Plate named him one of its "Chefs to Watch" in 2014.
Three years later, he expanded into a catering facility, Peached Social House, hiring another 15 employees. The two-level facility features a projection screen, modern design with whitewashed wood panels, a Ketra lighting system for natural, mood-controlled lighting and a kitchen.
The catering facility was able to accommodate all of his offsite catering work, so he no longer had to use the restaurant for catering.
Dual focus: catering and restaurant
Silverstein is now focusing on expanding his catering and restaurant businesses.
While he doesn't plan to add any more food trucks, his success has won him several consulting jobs helping food truck newbies.
Dr. and Mrs. Steve Hutto hired Silverstein to help them when they started their food truck, Melted, four years ago. Silverstein advised the Huttos on developing a menu, purchasing and outfitting a truck, hiring a manager and lining up food suppliers.
"What's most interesting is that he is a lawyer by training and education, and just decided to get in the business out of passion for it," said Nanette Hutto. "He is self-taught and did it the hard way, which is just a lot of hard work and long hours."
The food truck business has become considerably more competitive since Silverstein got into the business.
"You've got to understand it's a marathon and not a sprint," he said. If he were starting out again, he would not push himself as hard as he did in his first year.
Clearly, Silverstein's passion and his expertise have formed the basis of his success. He continues to write about his personal favorite restaurants and some of his favorite recipes on Chefsfeed, a website for food lovers.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.