‘Rebel Without A Kitchen’ self-made celebrity establishes a following in Toronto

| by Elliot Maras
‘Rebel Without A Kitchen’ self-made celebrity establishes a following in Toronto

Fildel Gastro's bills itself as Toronto's first street food experience company. Photo courtesy of Fidel Gastro's.

Starting a street food business can be an adventure. No one knows it better than Matt Basile. In seven years he rose from one street food kiosk to a business consisting of a food truck, "Fidel Gastro's," and a brick-and-mortar restaurant employing 25 mostly full-time employees.

Matt Basile established himself as a street food celebrity hosting the
TV show, "Rebel Without A Kitchen." 

Where Basile has distinguished himself from many other entrepreneurs is in his ability to dramatize his journey in the form of a TV show. Basile's "Rebel Without A Kitchen" TV series has established the 33-year-old's status as a street food rebel, "Fidel Gastro." The TV series is available on Netflix.

"It really helped in the most crucial days of starting the company," Basile said. "We worked really hard, with not much rest, but it was fun."

Basile was working as an advertising copywriter when he became intrigued with pop-up food kiosks in Toronto. He wrote a business plan for a pop-up kiosk, hoping to be able to quit his day job and devote himself full-time to the venture.

The bank denied him a loan, but that didn't stop him. He quit his job and began cooking food at events around the city.

Success came quickly

Success came quickly for Basile; after operating a street food kiosk for four months, he purchased a used food truck and entered the mobile food arena, which was rapidly becoming popular in Toronto.

He was fortunate in that he was able to secure a downtown location for the truck. At first, he had to pick up his food every day and bring it to the truck to prepare. In time, he was able to find another location that allowed him to have food delivered to him.

He began serving customers in the area around the University of Toronto, and also at some breweries and festivals. While he doesn't wish to reveal financial information, he said he was able to recover his investment within the first year. He said that launching a food truck in Toronto costs between $60,000 to $90,000 in Canadian dollars (approximately $47,000–$70,000 U.S. dollars).

Before the year was out, he opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant, named Lisa Marie, which includes a bar with live music.

Focus on promotion

As an advertising veteran, Basile was aware of the importance of capitalizing on promotional opportunities, particularly social media. In addition to promoting his truck through social media, Basile listed Fidel Gastro on a local mobile app, TorontoFoodTrucks.com, which he said was helpful in gaining initial exposure. 

Two years after starting the business, Basile, with the assistance of his partner, Kyla Zanardi, convinced a film company to produce "Rebel Without A Kitchen." 

Produced by General Purpose Entertainment, the TV episodes follow "Fidel" as he entertains, feeds and engages his fans in Toronto and other North American cities. There were 13 episodes in both 2013 and 2014. The show aired in Canada, on the Cooking Channel in the U.S., on Food Network in Asia, and on Netflix, which acquired the show this year.

Investment in POS system

Early on, Basile learned the importance of having a POS system. He initially wrote his orders by hand and found it cumbersome. He soon invested in a TouchBistro POS system.

"We went a few months without it and we realized how messy it can get," he said. "If I went to a festival, year-over-year I can look at how we did last year, I can look at what my peak times were, I can look at what products sold the best."

Employees now take orders at the window and print them for the chef, and they track the sales. Basile looks at historical sales figures to help forecast his food supply for upcoming events.

He uses Square for his payment processor, which integrates with TouchBistro in Canada.

"It's an iPad POS system, which allows us to expedite not only taking and receiving orders from customers to kitchen, but it also allows us to organize all the sales. It helps us forecast. It gives us a lot of analysis."

The POS has a self-order function available, but Basile has not opted to use it yet. He thinks automation has gone too far in some areas, and he wants to have humans taking orders from customers.

"I'm happy to use technology to improve everyone's experience, but it shouldn't be the experience itself," he said. "I think you get a much better dining experience if you have a really knowledgeable, fun server, or a really energetic person at a food truck window."

Growth continues

Last year, Basile purchased a new truck, which he designed himself. Venture Food Truck, a food truck manufacturer, built the truck to his specifications.

Eighty percent of Basile's business today is catering for private events. He uses some catering booking services, including Roaming Hunger and Platters, a local service, mainly to fill in the schedule during the slower, cold season.

"Every year we see the demand for not only our food, but food trucks in general and catering has just grown," he said.  "We don't do very many public services any more, other than festivals in the summer time."

The biggest thing he would do differently, would be to take greater care about who he hired. He also would have taken some business management courses. 

Those things aside, he still enjoys coming up with new recipes and engaging with customers as they experience his food.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Food & Beverage, Independent Operators, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Purchasing, Systems / Technology

Companies: TouchBistro

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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