The FSTC Takes a Ride into the Food Truck World…

Kiana Caban, Communications Assistant

KianaHave you ever thought of taking the wheels off your food truck and transitioning to a brick-and-mortar restaurant? Or, conversely, putting some wheels on your foodservice establishment? Not sure what questions to ask or what potholes to avoid?

The PG&E Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) recently took a ride to the food truck side by bringing in Chef Walter Abrams of Dabba to tell his story at our Foodservice in Motion: From Food Truck to Brick & Mortar seminar on Tuesday, July 26th. Foodservice in Motion focused on how to transition your food truck to a brick-and-mortar establishment while saving energy, water, and money along the way.

Dabba Truck

The Dabba food truck parked outside the Food Service Technology Center prior to the Foodservice in Motion seminar on July 26th, 2016.

Chef Walter shared how his Marin-based, East Indian-inspired Dabba (Hindi for “lunchbox”) food truck transformed into a San Francisco restaurant with all its accompanying challenges and successes. FSTC senior engineer Mark Finck discussed how the FSTC was able to help Chef Walter & Dabba achieve this dream and offered attendees tips and tricks for making their own transition to opening a restaurant.

Foodservice in Motion

The FSTC’s Mark Finck (left) and Dabba’s Chef Walter (right) present ways to attract foodservice customers.

Finck and Chef Walter did a Q&A session hitting the following four key topics:

Location/Accessibility
Dabba food truck initially focused on taking the truck to different round-up groups (e.g. Off the Grid) in Napa and catering private events (e.g. Bottle Rock). Participating in these different events helped engender a customer following for Dabba. That was an advantage as Dabba’s restaurant eventually took root in the San Francisco Financial District, where professionals go out five days a week for lunch. Mark Finck also stressed that, “The best restaurants thrive on their location, location, location.” When searching for a restaurant location, an operator must consider the surrounding city culture, foot traffic, and local demographics.

Value to the Customer
Dabba focuses on serving high quality product to their customers – 90% of their food product is organic or pesticide free, which stems from building partnerships with local farms. When serving customers from the food truck, ticket time for guests is usually under 10 minutes. If it runs longer, they try to foster relationships with their customers while they wait for their food. In the restaurant, ticket times are between 2-2 ½ minutes. Chef Walter’s vision is to deliver “delicious, healthful food by including a higher quality service experience for guests. I want you to sit down and use cloth napkins and silverware, while a host floats around and connects with guests.”

Chef Walter’s central takeaway: “Food trucks are a great way to raise money, market your brand, and build a concept.” The Dabba food truck experience was a crucial step toward establishing itself with its customers and the industry before venturing into the restaurant arena.

Dabba Truck 1

Dabba food truck prepares lunch for FSTC seminar attendees.

Operational Cost
The FSTC’s Mark Finck discussed how choosing ENERGY STAR® efficient equipment can dramatically lower operational costs. When selecting equipment, appliances using less energy will still meet your cooking requirements while significantly saving you in utility costs. This is an important consideration when moving from a food truck with limited gas supplies and electrical power from generators. When transitioning to mortar, power is no longer limited, so utility costs will significantly impact your profit margins.

Chef Walter stated that Dabba food truck’s profit was determined by event location and the most lucrative events were the ones that had a fixed number of meals to serve (e.g. catering events). When attending an event that was based on customer draw, often times the amount of food prepped did not align with the amount of food sold, which affected Dabba’s bottom line.

Signature Menu
Chef Walter discussed how Dabba is inspired by a restaurant known as Avatar’s, an institution in Marin County. Dabba restaurant serves East Indian flavored tacos, burritos, rice bowls, and salads. They focus on serving high quality product with “ethnic confusion… healthy and bold flavors.”

Dabba Truck 2

Foodservice in Motion seminar attendees wait in line at the Dabba food truck for seared chicken rice bowls.

The Dabba food truck was on-site for the seminar providing attendees with the opportunity to taste Chef Walter’s unique flavors for lunch.

With so many different food truck attendees looking to transition to a brick-and-mortar restaurant (or vice versa), the FSTC hosted a vendor fair for the final part of the seminar. Vendors included: BlueCart, California Restaurant Association, Central Contra Costa County Sanitary District, Contra Costa County Environmental Health, Food Craft Institute, and Mr. Food Safety. Attendees had the opportunity to pose questions and start connections with these valuable foodservice resources.

The recent food truck boom has equipped many foodservice operators with an ambition to “go brick-and-mortar”. As this seminar demonstrated, the FSTC’s energy-saving expertise and numerous resources give food truck operators the support they need to succeed in any endeavor.

For the full Foodservice in Motion presentation, please visit http://fishnick.com/handouts/07262016/