As a single-unit operation that sells Mexican food with Louisiana influences, Sky's Gourmet Tacos has found a way to extend its brand reach: the mobile food truck.
Los Angeles-based Sky's Gourmet Tacos launched June 3 the first of three planned mobile cuisine vehicles (MCV), fully stocked restaurants on wheels that take about three months to build. Kevin Minor, who runs Sky's with founder Barbara Burrell, said the company latched onto the idea while tracking the success of Kogi, a BBQ food truck that reached rock-star status in the Los Angeles area.
Sky's mobile cuisine vehicle is a 24-foot step van the company bought on its own to save costs. If purchased from the company that completed the build out, Minor said, it would have cost Sky's an estimated overall total of $120,000. By purchasing the vehicle separately, Sky's saved about $20,000, he said.
"We chose this course of action solely because of experience in key areas of our team," Minor said. "Choosing this road is unconventional and has its risks and consequences, including getting a lemon and being without the assurance that you would otherwise possess in dealing with a single source for truck and build out."
The truck operates eight to 10 hours a day and sells a scaled-down version of Sky's menu, a decision the company made in order to keep venture as simple as possible.
Pros and cons
In terms of operations, the vehicle is manned by current restaurant staff, and serves as an additional training ground for new employees. Sky's cost of goods sold has been reduced due to higher volumes being purchased, and overall, the cost to operate the truck is less than it is for a company without a restaurant because of cost and resource pooling.
"As demonstrated by the loyalty of Southern Californians to support quality food trucks, we believe this endeavor speaks to an immediate need to provide quality cuisine for less than what they should expect to pay in a brick-and-mortar establishment," Minor said. "By utilizing cuisine vehicles as an extension of our brick-and-mortar brand, we will continue to draw in new customers to the truck and restaurant, while essentially running a daily PR/advertising campaign throughout the streets of Southern California with de facto truck billboards."
The food truck movement is almost a natural extension of social media as both build community. Branded vehicles are natural customer engagement tools and they also can be used to vet new possible brick-and-mortar locations, conduct food testing, and carve out extra revenue through catering and festivals.
"The trucks diversify our catering ability to both new and existing customers by offering another catering option (of onsite mobile)," Minor said. "The truck is a vehicle to serve niche and non-target restaurant market areas (and) the social networking aspect of this allows patrons to become more engaged with the truck operation – I believe, even more so than with a restaurant operation."
Despite the abundance of pros, several drawbacks had to be considered. For starters, there is no guarantee for success.
"This was and had to be treated like a new business endeavor and not a restaurant – or otherwise we run the risk of not applying the necessary diligence," Minor said. "Because of how rapidly this new truck industry is growing, any new local legislation/regulatory measures could adversely affect business."
However, the overall decision came down to a "perfect opportunity at the right time," for Sky's.
"I believe many have ventured into food truck endeavors thinking it would be cheaper than starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant – only to encounter many high, unanticipated costs after venturing too deep to back out of the endeavor," Minor said. "The bottom line for me is this: When you compare and contrast the truck concept vs. the brick-and-mortar concept, what difference does it make to serve 300 people in one location over a span of 10 hours or to serve 300 people at 5 locations over 10 hours?"