I've been traveling for much of the past eight weeks, and lovin' it! For me visiting food trucks has become more than part of my job; it's become part of my lifestyle. Yes, I do enjoy getting out and checking new cities and meeting as many food truck operators as I can, but after quite a hectic and wonderful 8 weeks I will admit it is good to get back to my own backyard.
When I am home in Providence I tend to visit the local food trucks as often as four times a week and probably not less than twice a week. I make the rounds and visit all of the area trucks. One of the trucks that I visited often and is easy to locate, (they use the FoodTrucksIn.com “Serving Now” feature, each and every time they are out serving lunch or dinner) is Rocket Fine Street Food. I am likely to visit them this week since it has been over a week since I have eaten at a local Providence truck.
Joe and Patricia, the husband and wife team who own Rocket, have been married for 21 years and can always be found on the truck working happily together. I first met them, not at their truck, but at a local coffee shop. In fact, later, I had one of my first conversations with them when my partner and I began researching the idea for a food truck website. During our entire process of researching, testing and launching FoodTrucksIn.com, Joe and Patricia have been strong supporters and early adopters (and they were the very first truck in the country to proudly wear the FoodTrucksIn.com decal!).
It is a pleasure to a share a little bit of what I've learned about Joe and Patricia over the past 18 months with you.
Eric: How did you and Patricia meet?
Joe: My sister set us up on a blind date.
Eric: Before owning a food truck had you ever worked together in the past?
Joe: We worked together in my family’s printing company in Connecticut for five years before moving to Miami.
Eric: Often I hear about the struggles of couples or families that go into business together. How has working together been for the two of you?
Joe: We’re fortunate that we get along so well. I couldn’t imagine doing this without Patricia. We are perfectly matched in that we have extremely high tolerance levels of each other’s idiosyncrasies, i.e., bullshit.
Eric: How thoughtful were you about choosing the name of your food truck?
Joe: A lot of thought went into the name and it eluded us for an uncomfortable amount of time. Then it came in a dream, really, like a big bang. Rocket Fine Street Food!
Eric: You moved from Florida and started a food truck in New England. Have the last couple of winters made you wish you were operating your truck back in sunny Florida?
Joe: Not a chance, Florida was not for us.
Eric: You started your food truck in CT but now operate in RI. Was that the plan?
Joe: We came back to Northwest Connecticut after nine years in Miami in order to start the Food truck. Being a startup, we knew cash flow would be a challenge and my mother graciously allowed us to move in with her in order to give us a fighting chance. We lasted a year and a half, all the while getting our Food Truck legs under us, until we determined that Northwest Connecticut just did not have enough of a market to support us. We lost money the entire time and had to find a city which possessed the elements we thought crucial to success. Providence fit the bill and we couldn’t be happier with our decision.
Eric: You make every attempt to use local and organic ingredients. Can you briefly describe why you are so passionate about where your ingredients come from?
Joe: It is very scary and depressing when you educate yourself as to what is being put into our food supply, mostly in an effort to increase profits for leviathan corporations. We prefer to know personally our suppliers and keep our money in the local economy.
Eric: You have a lot of great menu items but you specialize in sliders (small burgers) Which slider is the most popular?
Joe: The Parisienne with caramelized onion, gruyere cheese and roasted garlic aioli has always been the top seller, but the Vulcan, Space Cowboy and Ron Swanson have been gaining ground.
Eric: There are very few trucks that keep up with their blogging and social media as well as you do. How hard is it to make that commitment, and can you easily measure the benefit?
Joe: It’s just another of the endless challenges that a small business faces. In order to thrive, you just have to get it done. We measure our social media effectiveness by two criteria, engagement and sales. Both are trending in positive directions.
Eric: What percentage of time does your truck do street service, catering, and public events?
Joe: I would say 70% on the street, 25% catering and 5% at public events.
Eric: Do you see the percentage of public events increasing?
Joe: We are happy with our current mix. We intentionally do more street service and catering than public events. Many event organizers charge fees that are just too high. We really enjoy doing public events. They are a great way to introduce ourselves to new customers. When and if event organizers make their fees more reasonable we would love to do more of them. In actuality, we have been to some events where the food trucks really enrich the experience at the event and actually draw in higher attendance. For those types of events it would be great if food trucks were able to charge organizers a fee to attend instead of paying a fee to participate.
Eric: What are you most looking forward to seeing change in the next few years?
Joe: The food truck industry as it stands today is still quite new and in its infancy. I look forward to food trucks and the small business people that own them receiving the respect and representation that they deserve in cities as vital and contributing members of the business community.
Eric: What is the most important piece of advice you have for someone starting or wanting to start a new truck?
Joe: Anyone starting a new business needs to do a lot of diligent homework. I cannot emphasize this enough. Before we started our food truck in Connecticut and then again before we moved to Providence we spent a lot of time learning and researching as much as we could. We even spent hours and hours hanging out observing food trucks and talking to food truck owners. We learned as much as we could before we started our truck and again before we moved. There is so much we tried to learn in advance. It made it much easier and gave us a better chance of success. We feel like we had realistic expectations of how much time and effort is truly involved in running a successful food truck.
Eric: So did other trucks cooperate when you approached them for advice or to chat with them?
Joe: Yes, we talked to and met a lot of food trucks owners while we were preparing to open our business. One of the things we love about owning a food truck is how friendly and helpful the community is overall.
Eric: Can you share an interesting meal you have had from another food truck?
Joe: The most interesting and unique thing I have ever eaten from a truck was roasted grasshoppers from our good friend and fellow Providence truck Mijos Tacos.
Eric: So what food truck would you most like to visit?
Joe: There are a lot of trucks and I hate to single one out, but if I had to choose one it would be Kogi BBQ Truck. They are a touch stone for the entire industry and a patron saint of Food Trucks.
You can learn more about Rocket Fine Street Food and where they will be Serving Now at http://www.foodtrucksin.com/rocket-fine-street-food