Mike Godina ventured into food trucks four years ago, and by all measures, has cooked up something special. His GringoDillas, co-owned with Eldan Zvida, was voted among the top three Arizona food trucks in 2014 and Best of Flagstaff for 2016 and 2017.
GringoDillas Food Truck offers choices such as gourmet quesadillas, hot dogs, tacos, BBQ sliders, hot dog burritos and French fry baskets priced at $10 or less. Food sales at its location behind 7 Aspen Street are not allowed during the day. Hours are 9 pm to 3 am, perfect for university students and late-night food cravings.
“Food trucks are an awesome industry,” Godina said enthusiastically. “You can be as creative as you want and sell whatever you want to people. I love my crazy life.”
Godina and Zvida also own two other food businesses: GoGo’Z and Falafelicious. GoGo’Z showcases quesadillas, hot dogs, Middle Eastern pitas and sandwiches in a drive-thru on Historic Route 66. The Falafelicious food truck is reserved for catering and special events, including beer tastings, music festivals, concerts, art walks, weddings and corporate lunches.
Infant Industry Locally
The food truck industry, while still in its infancy in Flagstaff and other parts of Northern Arizona, nationally boasted 4,130 trucks and $1.2 billion in revenue for 2015. Those statistics, published by mobile-cuisine.com, underscored a 12.4 percent gain over the previous five years and the seventh consecutive year of consistent industry growth.
“You get to be your own boss and make your own schedule,” Godina stated. “You get to see happy people from eating your food. We created something out of nothing and are employing seven people right now.”
JD and Tricia O’Reilly, proprietors of mobile kitchen trailer Bayou By You, describes food trucks as “a great way [for diners] to get hooked on a new cuisine – like Cajun and Creole.” Natives of New Orleans, the O’Reillys serve up authentic classics found throughout the Big Easy’s kitchens. Their enthusiasm for Bayou By You includes “scheduling flexibility, making our own rules, sharing our food with Flagstaff and receiving such positive reviews.” They also relayed the “fun” aspects of working festivals and catering special events and parties.
Food trucks across the country commonly operate from streets or corners, events or other locations, construction sites and shopping malls. Revenue nationwide in 2015 averaged nearly $291,000, mobile-cuisine.com reports, with the average order commanding $12.40. Average startup costs totaled $90,300 in 2015, with $85,000 of that paying for the truck.
“We love making people happy and touching people’s lives,” the O’Reillys explained. “We have been able to give back to our community by donating dishes to charitable groups.” Those efforts include aid to homeless veterans through United Brothers and Sisters in Arms, and contributing to charitable events such as Taste of Flagstaff and Feast for Flagstaff.
Food trucks are similar to other entrepreneurial businesses in terms of encountering negatives, even as owners relish controlling their destinies and having flexible work schedules. Challenges they cite include long hours, lack of sleep, longevity to turn a profit, unexpected costs, venue availability, seasonality, fees for participating in festivals, limited history of food trucks in the area and regulatory impositions. Restrictions on where and how food trucks operate can hamper daily operations, the owners shared. Additionally, winter storms and other bad weather pose risks of driving hazards, freezing pipes and limited customers.
Growing a Food Truck Culture
“It is a harder business in Flagstaff due to lack of food truck culture,” the O’Reillys noted. “[There can be] a resistance to seek us out and follow us to different locations. Currently, our permit restricts us to parking on private property. It’s not like on TV. You can’t just pop open and operate wherever you want. We are very grateful to our followers and followers yet to come. The more food trucks that open, perhaps the better a food truck culture will arise.”
Godina calls Flagstaff “a tricky area” for food vendors. “There are a few simple rules that make it a little tough. You need to be on private property, can’t set up shop in downtown Flagstaff on the streets, and you need to have permission from the property owner to park there. Other than that, you just need to have your health department permit and all other tax licenses.”
Shannon Henesey, owner/operator of Good Times Rolling Kitchen & Catering, explains that she had “given up trying to make a decent living in this town cooking, so we started to look at other options. My mom and I discussed a truck as a more affordable option here in Flagstaff. We found one in Missouri last October that was perfect and drove straight there and back in two days to get it,” so Henesey could meet the obligations of her full-time job.
“This is not a quick turnaround profit,” Godina cautioned. “There are a lot of costs that go into building, permitting, maintenance, upkeep and so on with the restaurant industry. There are a lot of hidden fees that no class professor has ever mentioned – and taxes. Some events can be very profitable. We are capable of selling upwards of $5,000 a day during festivals, but we only usually see a few grand with local events in Flagstaff. Special events cost money to get into. Some are upwards of $1,200 for a two-day event.”
Good Times Rolling Kitchen & Catering “is my full-time gig, but I also work another almost full-time job to pay my bills and rent,” Henesey stated. “At this point, all the money we make goes back into the company until [the truck] is fully paid off. The plan will be for this to be my only full-time job, but that is still a little ways out in a town this expensive. I keep an on-call staff and schedule depending on the events. My mom helps me a lot – sometimes my sister, too. I have a great staff and we love what we do.”
Research, Planning, Implementing
For anyone thinking about starting up a food truck business, the three operators stress the importance of research and good food.
“Research, think it through, plan it out and decide if you can handle the ups and downs,” the O’Reillys recommended. The two have manned the business on their own since 2015. JD works it full-time, while Trish helps out while maintaining an office manager job. They hire no outside employees.
“Our food truck menu depends a lot on where the event is,” explained Henesey, who on Friday nights often can be found at Wanderlust Brewing Company. “We have different items we put on, depending on where we are. At a Sedona wine festival, we would serve a different crowd than a Flagstaff beer festival. Our catering menu is a little more refined. It’s pretty good if everything lines up. It’s similar to a restaurant where you still have to get out there and in front of the people with a good product and really make it happen.”
Henesey encourages would-be food truckers to “be prepared for an 80-hour-a-week job to replace your 40-hour-a-week job. It is some cooking, but mainly planning, prepping and a neverending amount of washing dishes.” FBN
By Sue Marceau,