Debra and her Shimmy Shack food truck in South Lynn, MI was one of the earliest Detroit area food trucks to become a member of FoodTrucksIn.com but I had not known about Debra or her trick until she contacted us to ask some questions about our free membership and our plans for the future. She proudly and quickly pointed out that Shimmy Shack is, and remains, Michigan’s first and only 100% vegan food truck!
I have often thought that the success and growth of a food truck community are signs of vibrancy and a economic.viability so, with so much news over the last years being about Detroit's struggling economy, I wanted to seize an opportunity and ask Debra to share her experiences with her truck and the local food truck scene.
Eric: Who owns the Shimmy Shack?
Debra: I am the majority owner. The other owners are Leon, Kirsten, Ryan, Jim, and John (the creator of Ren And Stimpy).
Eric: We often come across a food truck with a couple of partners. But how does it work when there are six owners?
Debra: It does present its challenges but operationally I make the decisions. When it comes to strategy, we do meet in a collaborative setting then move forward with ideas.
Eric: What did you do before you owned a food truck?
Debra: I was an executive in corporate America.
Eric: What led you to the idea of starting a food truck?
Debra: I have been vegan for 23 years and always wanted to open a vegan restaurant. A food truck was a less expensive way to enter the market and determine which city would be first to have our brick-and-mortar restaurant. We are Michigan’s first and only 100% vegan and gluten free food truck.
Eric: What’s your truck’s name? Is there a story behind the name? Shimmy Shack.
Debra: There are many stories on where the name came from. Each employee has their own version of what they’ve heard! We like it that way.
Eric: Do you work on the truck yourself?
Debra: Oh yes!! and I drive it.
Eric: And what about the other 5 owners. Are they all involved in the day to day?
Debra: No they are minority owners and are not involved in the day-to-day. They have roles such as creative directors and new recipe approval.
Eric: Do you think you have any specific challenges over other trucks because you are a vegan truck?
Debra: Yes, we sure do. Many people are unfamiliar with vegan food and how good it can be. We are also gluten free which again is unfamiliar to many people. Over the decades vegetarian food has somehow gotten the reputation for being boring and bland. We show just how untrue that is with our sliders, fries, shakes, chili and nachos!
Eric: That sounds like a great menu. Would you say it is a healthier menu or a tastier menu?
Debra: We don’t claim to be healthy fast food….we claim to be healthier fast food. Definitely better than meat and dairy options and WAAAY tastier and sexier too.
Eric: What are the advantages and disadvantages to being the only vegan truck in the area?
Debra: The advantage is definitely that there are areas and events where our food is very much appreciated and in fact sought-after. Certain music festivals, markets and towns really appreciate having a unique choice. The disadvantage is with people being unsure of vegetarian food so they choose a commonly known food from another food truck or nothing at all. We aim to show that vegan food is tasty, sexy and leaves you wanting more!
Eric: That must be a challenge at times! How do you convert those that are “unsure”? Do you offer samples or discounts?
Debra: We sometimes do samples, yes, but usually we have a strong person on the window answering questions and making recommendations based on their tastes.
Eric: What would you say is the most popular item?
Debra: Our ‘classic’ burger and sweet potato fries with shimmy sauce. The classic is made from lentils and topped with lettuce, tomato, vegan cheese, pickles, ketchup and mustard.
Eric: Do you do beverages as well?
Debra: Yes, we make vegan shakes – chocolate is our best seller followed by strawberry, banana and vanilla
Eric: What makes your food truck stand out other than being a vegan truck?
Debra: Well, an image of Shimmy of course! She is an American icon and was designed by John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren and Stimpy, a cult classic from the 90s. And, our colors are retro inspired so they are easy on the eyes and on the back of the truck it states ‘this truck eats its veggies…powered by biodiesel’.
Eric: What do you think are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of being in Detroit?
Debra: The advantage is we are in the midst of a rebirth of the city, and Shimmy is right in the middle of it! We are both growing together. And, we were chosen as one of only 5 food trucks to be a part of the official Detroit Lions tailgate parties. It’s events like that that really make us feel part of the energy Detroit offers! A disadvantage, as mentioned before, is the need for more outreach as to how good veg food can be!
Eric: Do you just serve the Detroit area? How far will you travel? What is the furthest you have traveled?
Debra: The farthest we have traveled is when we drove Shimmy from Minnesota to Michigan. She was built in MN so we had to drive her home! For an event, the farthest we have traveled is approximately 120 miles one way. We don’t make a habit of that due to fuel costs but are glad we did it. We mostly serve a 60 mile radius around the city of Detroit with most of our events being to the northwest of downtown Detroit.
Eric: Do you have a particularly memorable story about a reaction a customer had to your food?
Debra: One of the funniest stories is about a gentleman at a local farmer’s market. He had been eyeing us, slowly walking by the truck for about 5 weeks in a row, never stopping and never saying a word. He finally did and after that became one of our best customers! We also love the local fire chef who comes to see us every Friday night for his weekly dinner of chili. People come to us just for our chili – it’s that good! We love when fire, police and construction workers eat our food - - it’s totally macho food!
Eric: What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten from a food truck/cart? Which truck was it and where?
Debra: To be honest it’s hard to find vegan food on other area food trucks but I did have the vegan mac and cheese at the Mac Shack in Dearborn, MI and loved it!
Eric: Is there a food truck that you would most like to visit in another city?
Debra: The Cinnamon Snail, a veg food truck in NYC.
You can learn more about Shimmy Shack and where to find Debra and her team in the South Lynn and Detroir, MI area at http://www.foodtrucksin.com/shimmy-shack