Brothers Giuseppe and Mario Lanzone have long known that they wanted to start a business together, but they never imagined that a simple food truck would put them on the road to developing a small food empire.
The siblings are the brains behind Peruvian Brothers, a growing food truck and catering business in Washington, D.C., that specializes in – what else? – authentic Peruvian food. The brothers grew up in Lima, Peru before immigrating to the United States in 1997, and they’ve modeled their flavorful cuisine on family recipes passed down from generation to generation.
“We had family recipes that date back to my great-grandma,” Giuseppe Lanzone said in a recent interview.
Since Peruvian Brothers launched in April 2013, the company has grown from one food truck to three, expanded its catering services—that provides food platters and prepared meals for special events—launched a concession stand at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium and created their very own brand of hot sauce.
New accolades keep pouring in year after year. Washington City Paper named the Peruvian Brothers’ food truck the best in the city in 2014, the Peruvian American Association ventured to say it was the best in the country in 2015, and Washingtonian Magazine reaffirmed that the food truck was D.C.’s best earlier this year.
We had a chance to ask Giuseppe about what he’s learned over the years, his advice for other small business owners, and what’s next for the company.
Why did you decide to start a company with your brother?
We always wanted to open something together, but we were always too busy. Before Peruvian Brothers I attend the University of Washington and was recruited to row for the U.S. at the Olympics. [Giuseppe would later go on to row in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympic Games].
My brother was busy getting his captain’s license, and then he captained a yacht in the Mediterranean for eight years. After competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics, I came back to Washington, D.C., where my mother lived, and we finally decided to open a little food truck.
How has your role in the business changed since it launched in 2013?
My brother and I are in the food truck only once or twice a week now, rather than every day. We’ve realized that if we’re going to develop the business, we can’t do everything. We have to make sure the team is running smoothly and that we’re finding more opportunities for our food trucks and catering business.
What was the most difficult problem you encountered while building up the business?
Early on, everything was hard. For my brother it was making sure to cook the right amount of food every day and keep up the quality of the food, day in and day out. On my side it was learning how to open a business from scratch – getting the LLC designation for the business, the insurance for the food truck, and permits from the city.
You hired your first full-time employee in 2014. Was it difficult learning how to manage employees and be a boss?
We’ve been really lucky with employees so far, so management hasn’t really been an issue for us. Right now, we have a total of 12 employees during the week, three full-time workers [including myself and my brother], and on weekends up to 20 employees who help out with our trucks and concession stands.
One of the most important things about managing employees is not to treat them like workers who come and go—treat them like a part of a team. Having a good team is the key to running a business well.
What has been one of the most memorable experiences running the business so far?
Recently we were invited to talk to business students at Georgetown University. The only other speaker at the event was the Ambassador of Peru, so we had to really bring our A-game. Still, it made us realize how far we’d come since running our one and only food truck.
What are your future goals for the company?
We’re done expanding the business, at least for right now. Right now, we just want to step back and continue to be good at everything we do.
We’re still in the process of adjusting the structure of Peruvian Brothers from a business that operates a single food truck to a company that has multiple projects. That means having more menu templates, updating our website, creating a new website for our hot sauce and updating our company processes.
In the future we really want to have our hot sauce go national from coast-to-coast. I would love to be able to go to the grocery store in San Francisco and buy my sauce off the shelf.
Any advice for entrepreneurs who hope to follow in your footsteps?
Nothing was easy for us. I tell people you have to be really good at climbing walls, because there are going to be a lot of them on the road to wherever you want to go. Put your head down, and just conquer one problem at a time.