Ten years ago they barely existed. Now, food trucks are an enormous industry bringing in $2.7 billion in sales, according to the “Food Truck Nation” an annual study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. In honor of the report, and the brave and bold purveyors of flavor bringing their tasty food to the streets every day, we’ll be highlighting five innovative, cool and above all delicious Food Trucks across the country, living their entrepreneurial dreams.
Next up, Virginia’s Republic Gourmet Popcorn, who have developed a following around the DC Metro area thanks to their interesting flavor combinations. Take a look at what they have to say:
Popped! Republic Gourmet Popcorn
Owners: Rich & Kristie Arslan
Opened: May 2012
How did you come up with the name?
We embraced the idea that we were launching our business in the nation’s capital so we decided to incorporate that in our brand and business name – Popped! Republic.
What does your average day look like?
In the first few years of our business, we were working 10 – 14 hour days handling popcorn production, operating our food truck, managing customer inquiries and all of the office work by ourselves. Almost six years later and now with 11 employees, as business owners, we still need to be hands-on and put a significant amount of time into our business to ensure we continue to grow but we finally are able to take a weekend off here and there. We begin production of our over 20 handcrafted, gourmet popcorn flavors at 8:00 am every morning, Monday – Saturday. Fulfillment of catering and online orders begins every day at 9:00 am. The truck team arrives by 10:00 a.m. to prep for the day and hits the streets of DC by 11:30 a.m. The team wraps up by 8 pm every evening.
What inspired you to get in the food truck business?
Rich had always had the entrepreneurial spirit but had been working in the pharmaceutical industry for most of his career. He would always pitch me business ideas. When he came to me with the idea of a gourmet popcorn company, I really like the idea. There were none in the DC metro area and we were big popcorn fans. We spent almost two years researching the idea and Rich met a lot of other business owners in the popcorn business. When we were ready to take the leap, we were looking for a traditional brick and mortar store in Washington, DC but frankly, the cost to lease a storefront was exorbitant. It was right at the beginning of the food truck scene in DC and we decided that a food truck would help us test our concept while being more cost-effective. The rest is history!
The best decision we made in starting our business was getting help. We met with a business counselor at our local Small Business Development Center to help us evaluate our funding options and prepare a business plan and loan package that would make us attractive to lenders. Due to our counselor’s assistance, we were successful at getting an SBA 7(a) loan. The loan in addition to our personal investment from our savings is what launched our business.
We are proud to say that due to our business success, we were able to pay off our loan two years ahead of schedule.
What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you or your business in your time in the Food Truck Business?
The unique aspect of operating a food truck is that you get to go to the customers, rather than waiting for them to come to you. Being mobile has huge advantages and if you brand your truck properly, it is constant advertisement and promotion of your business. However, after our first year of business when word of mouth began to spread about our business and popcorn, we would get customers in their cars trying to flag down the food truck to pull over so they could buy popcorn. Once we had a police car pull us over with lights and sirens. Our truck manager was concerned he was about to get a ticket, but when he pulled over and the officers came to the window, they just wanted to buy some popcorn.
What’s the hardest part of the job and why?
There is a misconception that with a food truck it is easy to get started and you don’t face the same rules and regulations as a restaurant. That is 100% false. We not only have to follow all of the same health regulations as restaurants, we have an array of other rules, permitting and inspections that we must go through to operate. Also, we can be at the whim of city council’s and local governing bodies who can pass additional regulations restricting food trucks which impact our ability to do business. As small business owners, having to manage all of the requirements of operating our business and monitoring potential new regulations that may impact us, all while managing the day to day can be overwhelming and expensive.
What gets you up in the morning?
We started our business to provide us with the opportunity for unlimited growth- both personal and financial. When you work for someone else, you spend your time and energy growing their company and contributing to their success. Often, your personal growth is impacted by barriers such as opportunities for promotion, company culture or even location. When you have your own business, you are in charge of your own path to success – whatever that might look like for you and your family. That is what keeps us motivated.
What’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring Food Truck owners?
Think big! You may be starting with one food truck but when you are planning your business, but do you want a fleet of food trucks or to transition from truck to restaurant? Are you interested in becoming a national brand or franchising? Think big from the start, put in to place the foundation for your larger vision as you launch your business, be flexible because you never know what lessons you’ll learn on the way that will require a course correction, and don’t forget to ask for help when you need it.