Even though Hartford is just 60 miles away from Providence, the home of FoodTrucksIn.com, I've been to Hartford only once to visit food trucks. That came in June, 2013, as I was completing a driving tour of food trucks that took me from Providence to Savannah, GA and back.
And, during that brief stop in Hartford, I did not have the opportunity to visit Whey Station, did not meet their owners, Jillian and Josh, and did not get to try their grilled cheese. However, almost ironically, I did recently spend an evening with Jillian and Josh who traveled from Hartford to Providence to attend a Food Truck Social that was hosted by FoodTrucksIn.com at a local restaurant.
Meeting and spending time with food truck owners away from their food trucks and trying their food is quite the aberration for me so meeting Jillian and Josh in Providence just made me realize that I simply have to get back to Hartford to taste the food at Whey Station and other local trucks.
Meanwhile, I want to share what I have learned about Jillian and Josh and Whey Station.
Eric: When did the two of you start the Whey Station?
Jillian and Josh: We started The Whey Station three years ago this March.
Eric: Have you both worked in the business full time since the first day? If not how has it progressed?
Jillian and Josh: We did not, I worked full time in the beginning, and Jillian stayed home with our kids and we only went out at nights. Then after about 8 months we started doing the truck full time.
Eric: Not only do you have a growing business, but you have a growing family! Tell me more! How many kids did you have when you started the business? How many do you have now? How do you manage it?
Jillian and Josh: When we started the business in March of 2011 we had two kids, Oliver was almost 3 and Ella was just over 1. We now have four kids in total Oliver will be 6 in June, Ella just turned 4, Addison just turned 2 and Isaiah is 8 months old. When we first started, we both worked the three nights we went out from 10 p.m. to sometimes 4 a.m. and all the events. We would take turns with who would get up with the kids and who would sleep in if that was possible with the commotion. As we started getting busier we finally hired employees and when we found the right people we were able to have one of us to stay home almost all the time with the kids.
Eric: Why did you choose a grilled cheese truck?
Jillian and Josh: We both worked in specialty food, retail and distribution for years. Most recently, before we started the truck, we sold gourmet cheese: artisan, imported and domestic. So it seemed like a natural step in our lives to continue with a cheese theme, something we knew a lot about.
Eric: Why is your truck named the Whey Station?
Jillian and Josh: Actually our truck is named Vacherin, after Jillian's favorite cheese Vacherin Mont D'or. The name of the business was just something we came up with, we know it doesn't make much sense because whey is normally discarded after cheese making, the curds are kept. But since it was a big truck we thought, Whey Station like weigh station on the highways. Plus we felt it had a natural flow and something a person would remember.
Eric: Do you work in the Hartford area only or do you cover all of Connecticut?
Jillian and Josh: Our main markets are in Hartford and Middletown although we travel all over the state. But, our truck is a "77 and has been good to us but it makes me nervous sometimes driving long distances. I am happy Connecticut is a small state.
Eric: Do you have a most popular sandwich?
Jillian and Josh: We rotate through sandwiches a lot but our most popular are probably the Mutt which has our monger mix (our signature 5 cheese blend), bacon, truck made cheese sauce, and potato sticks (currently we are using Zapp's voodoo potato sticks). Another one we get yelled at if we are out of is our Ella which is Brie, crisp prosciutto and truck made fig onion jam.
Eric: I understand this is your second or third season working with the Comcast Center and LiveNation. Any advice for other trucks trying to build relationships with large venues?
Jillian and Josh: We were found by a google search so I think it is very vital for any business to have a good online presence with your website as well as social media. In our first year it was the first time they had allowed food trucks inside and things were bumpy so being understanding and patient strengthened our relationship.
Eric: What percentage of time does your truck do street service, catering, and events?
Jillian and Josh: I would say street service is about half our business, events is about 40% and catering is 10%. We don't push catering enough. We would be happy and are ready to do more private events.
Eric: I know you spend a lot of time working near Wesleyan college. Do you change your menu at all when you do late night service?
Jillian and Josh: We don't dumb down our menu for the college crowd. We experiment more with them with our "higher end" sandwiches and they love it. We get a fair amount of the inebriated, but also a comparable number of patrons who want a good unique sandwich.
Eric: Tell me a little bit about your Kickstarter experience. I know it was unfunded. Are you glad you did it? What did you learn?
Jillian and Josh: We did not meet our goal and we are ok with it. We got a fair amount of press doing it and made some connections that we might not have without it. We learned to walk the fine line of being annoying and informative on social media. The silver lining is that The Germinal Fund a non-profit group comprised of Wesleyan students saw that we didn't meet our goal and came to us with another opportunity to raise the funds. We successfully raised $5,000 through the Kiva Zip website with their help and support. The Germinal Fund helps local Middletown area business with free financial advice and business planning and fund raising.
Eric: You have had a great experience with Square. They are your point of sale system and credit card processor but I understand they approached you with a great opportunity?
Jillian and Josh: They were starting a new pilot program where they would give a loan and you would pay it back as you process your credit cards. They gave us three amounts to choose from, each one had a fee based on the amount and a different percentage they would take in order to pay it off. It is nice because we don't have to think about making a payment, as we process credit cards they take a percentage before they deposit into our account.
Eric: What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten from another food truck/cart? Which truck was it and where?
Jillian and Josh: It would have to be Nora Cupcakes blueberry pan/cupcake. It's a blueberry pancake cupcake hybrid with maplely buttery frosting with bacon pieces. It was a perfect combo of sweet and salty. They are based out of Middletown where they have a store front and a truck.
Eric: Have you eaten at food trucks in other cities?
Jillian and Josh: Yes, we like to see what other trucks are serving and chatting them up.
Eric: What city's food truck scene would you most like to visit and why?
Jillian and Josh: Portland, because of the large amount of trucks and we love the cuisine of that area, and Josh has always wanted to go to Voodoo Donut, he has a major sweet tooth.
Eric: Is there a food truck that you would most like to visit someday?
Jillian and Josh: Josh would go to Gordo Doughnuts, again the sweet tooth and Jillian would visit Ludo Bites
Eric: We recently had a chance to chat in person as well when you took an almost two hour trip to join me and other food trucks at a food truck social in Providence, RI. Tell me why you decided to make that trip, and how important it is for you to stay connected to other food trucks and people in the industry?
Jillian and Josh: Working late nights we don't normally meet other trucks to swap food or talk shop. It was nice to meet and talk with other truckers to pick their brain about things, like what events are good, problem solving for issues on the truck and have a conversation with someone who goes what you go through every day. It's a small community so to keep it strong you have to support one another and it was a great event for that. We always talked about getting together with other truckers so this event came up we couldn't really pass it up, despite how difficult it is to find a good babysitter who can handle four kids.
You can learn more about Whey Station and Jillian and Josh at http://www.foodtrucksin.com/whey-station