The Biz Fix

Is it the end of food trucks? Not quite, says Lemonis

Derek and Debbie Kaye tell eager foodies who seek advice on starting a food truck one thing—don’t do it.

The married couple cut an exclusive licensing deal with Eddie’s Pizza, a restaurant on New York’s Long Island, to sell a version of its bar pies out of a truck. Four years later, they say it’s become increasingly difficult to make money on New York City’s streets. 

“On a monthly basis, we’re spending over $1,000 in parking tickets and fines alone just to maintain our business on the streets,” Derek Kaye said. 

Tough rules and regulations, along with required permits and licenses, create obstacles that eat up their profits, the couple said. Truck drivers often wake up at 3 a.m. to fight for prime lunch spots, even though they can’t legally park and operate at a paid meter. 

“We even go to a spot knowing that we’re going to get a $60 ticket, and we just take it because we like that spot,” Debbie Kaye said. 

Marcus Lemonis of CNBC’s “The Profit” advises them on how to make more money, and how to hire help without spending a lot.  

Still trucking with events and catering
To avoid some of these hassles, the Kayes now use the truck more for events and catering. From food truck weddings to special events like birthday parties and anniversaries, the trend is on the rise.

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“It’s cool. It really gives you the ability to be mobile,” Lemonis said. “I’d love to see [a food truck] in my driveway.” 

These bookings now account for 80-90 percent of the truck’s profits, and provide guaranteed money as rates are set and partially paid in advance. 

“We know exactly what we have to prepare; what we'll be making for the guests,” Derek Kaye said, “whereas some days you go out on the street, and it could rain and destroy your business.”   

Make dough out of dough
No matter how hard they try, one fight the couple can’t win is the battle with Mother Nature. During the cold weather months of November through March, when fewer people eat lunch outside and fewer events are held outdoors, they can lose $5,000 a month. 

(Related: A $17 sandwich?! Why food trucks are getting expensive)

Lemonis suggests the couple make money year-round by leveraging the product’s greatest asset—its dough—and selling pizza kits online. 

“There’s a lot of take and bake concepts. If you could sell the dough in a kit with some sauce because it's New York water-based dough,” he said, “there's New York transplants all over the country.”

The truck uses the same half-baked dough made by the original Eddie’s Pizza restaurant. The decades-old, secret family recipe includes New York’s water—which some claim gives New York-style pizza its unique texture and flavor. 

“It’s the dough and sauce that really matter,” Lemonis said. “So you give people a cheese, no-cheese option. And with cheese, you put a little asterisk. ‘Have to pay for expedited shipping.’” 

To promote the truck even more, its website could include an instructional video showing how the pizza is made in New York. 

“That's a great idea.  I definitely think it's something we should look into,” Derek Kaye said. 

Too busy? Pay an eager intern
The couple say they don’t make enough money off the food truck so Derek  works a full-time job in travel sales to generate more income. That leaves Debbie bearing the brunt of the entrepreneurial work, even though it was her husband’s dream to start a food business. 

(Related: Food trucks faced with fines choose alternate routes)

“I'm doing the events, the social media, the hiring, the firing, the scheduling, the payroll,” Debbie said. 

Lemonis worries Debbie will burn out or start to resent her husband. He suggests they hire help, but the couple doubt they can find a good employee for what they can afford.  Lemonis disagrees.

“You could probably find some young kids out of school who are looking for an entrepreneurial internship that's paid. That's how I would pitch it.  Look, where else can you find a nice young couple that started the business from nowhere that you can learn from?” Lemonis said. “People can learn from you two.”

The next big food vending idea?
The Kayes sell more than pizza pies. Two years ago, they created Takumi Taco. But rather than sell the Japanese-inspired tacos off a truck, they came up with a more permanent option that’s not quite brick and mortar.

(Related: A $100 million idea that no one knows about)

It’s a clever concept that doesn’t come without challenges. Part two of their story, coming up, on “The Biz Fix” with Marcus Lemonis.

Follow The Profit's Marcus Lemonis on Twitter: @marcuslemonis

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