Area food truck owners offer a look at their operations
As the dinner hour approaches, the line outside the glass window of his food truck begins to grow. Customers stare inside with googly eyes -- like the ones in the logo painted on the side of the truck -- making him feel like a fish in a fish bowl...
As the dinner hour approaches, the line outside the glass window of his food truck begins to grow. Customers stare inside with googly eyes -- like the ones in the logo painted on the side of the truck -- making him feel like a fish in a fish bowl, as he and his workers prepare taco after taco.
When his employees finally reach the end of the line and hand an OOf-da Taco to the last customer, it's a half hour past 2 a.m., when the truck was supposed to close. But, they still aren't done.
"My dad's policy is that ... you wait another 10 minutes to see if anyone else will come before you close," said Austin Parenteau, a manager of OOf-da Tacos. "So, if one person comes every five minutes, we can stay another hour."
Austin's father, Greg Parenteau, said just because you say you're going to close at a certain time, doesn't mean you have to close at that time.
"We always want to take care of everyone, whatever it takes," Greg said.
Greg is the owner of one of three OOf-da Taco franchises. He took over the business for his parents in 1995, and now, he's training his three sons to do the same. Greg said he pursued the business because he loves the food industry, and it seemed like the perfect fit.
"I wanted the opportunity to come back to Minnesota and be my own boss," he said.
'The diversity of everyday'
All throughout college, Greg worked in regular restaurants, but he said he prefers the food truck. "We're at happy events. We're not serving funerals; we're serving parties and festivals," he said. "People love it and want to come."
Greg travels throughout Minnesota and North Dakota with his fifth-wheel camper and one of the food trucks following fairs, festivals and concerts from April to November.
"I love the diversity of everyday," he said. "We're going to different locations almost every week. It's never boring because you get to see customers that you only see once a year."
At the same time, his son, Austin, and nephew, Marc Parenteau, both managers at OOf-da Tacos, operate another truck at different events.
If the event is close enough to their home in Erskine, Minn., they will drive back and forth every night to sleep. Otherwise, they sleep in the trailer or stay with nearby friends. Getting a hotel is a last resort.
Greg typically travels with about five high school and college student employees, who are all friends of the family.
He said it can get a little cozy in the trailer, but they love the fact that "it's kind of an oasis with a/c."
The small food trucks can get a little crowded and cozy. as well. Greg said the floor in the OOf-da Tacos trucks is only 16 feet by 36 inches. But, everyone has a specific position, which helps operations running smoothly.
"Usually, someone is on till; someone is assembling the tacos; and someone is frying the tacos," Austin said.
As the owner of Luchadores Taqueria, a new stationary Mexican food truck in Fargo, Raul Gomez understands the importance of organization when working in a small space.
When he and his business partner, Steve Heiland, were buying a truck to start their business, they looked for something that would let them use the limited space in the most efficient way. After looking at many listings and online postings, they decided the best option was to have a truck custom-built for their needs.
"It's incredibly, efficiently designed," Gomez said. "You can have access to everything you need to prepare a complex dish at your fingertips."
Gomez and Heiland didn't sacrifice anything in their smaller-than-usual kitchen. They have four burners, a stove top, a full commercial freezer, a griddle, a cooler and two hot holding stations.
"It would seem like a crammed space, but you can fit all those things," Gomez said.
The limited space in both food trucks makes it necessary for the employees to be in sync with one another.
"It's kind of hot, and you're standing still for a long time, and you get to know your workers a little better than people who are working shifts at restaurants," Austin said. "You get to know them within a few hours."
Long hours, no sleep, no problem
For food trucks, which cater to the lunch, dinner and late-night crowds, the hours can be long and strenuous for the small crews.
"Your feet hurt. Your back hurts. And you get tired," Austin said. "But, it's nice 'cause you work two days and get a really good paycheck."
As the publisher of High Plains Reader, Gomez isn't concerned with the cash quite as much as the 18-year-old manager working to pay for college.
Once Gomez has his employees well-trained, he plans to pull back a little, so his 8 a.m. mornings at the newspaper aren't so tough.
Right now, Gomez is balancing the newspaper, freelance work and the food truck. One thing he doesn't have to deal with, though, is an irregular schedule. Unlike OOf-da Tacos, Luchadores Taquerias has set hours.
OOf-da Tacos follows the fair and festival schedule, which means its hours and days of operation fluctuate with each event.
"It's erratic," Austin said. "Whenever the fairs are or the events are we just go then. Sometimes, we work in gas stations to fill the time, which is a lot slower and not as busy."
Sometimes, Austin works 10 hours every day for a full week, has a one-day break and goes back to work. Other times, he has an entire week off.
Austin has a combined several weeks off throughout the summer, but he said his dad is rarely home.
Greg is one of only two or three employees who can transport the food trucks to new locations, so after an event, he has to move two trucks. With overlapping events, sometimes complications arise and food is lost.
Greg said one time he wasn't able to pick up the truck from the fairgrounds for a couple days. When he finally got there, the food was spoiled because power had been shut down in the entire fairgrounds.
"We had to throw out everything," he said, "but it was the end of the fair, so we didn't have a lot left."
Now, Greg makes sure to keep the schedule organized, so food and money isn't lost. Arrival and departure from every event has to be planned because they don't run generators while traveling and the food can only be saved for so long.
Greg said one of the biggest challenges of running the business is making sure the equipment is up-to-date and working properly.
"It is no fun to be broke down on the road," he said. "We can't afford that."
When he is home, he checks the equipment and prepares the food trucks for the next events. He doesn't have a lot of free time to spend with his wife, Donna, who runs the business finances from home. But Greg said the distance doesn't hurt their relationship.
Despite the challenges of running a food truck, Greg and Donna said they love the business and hope their sons will take it over when they retire in 10 to 15 years.
Where to find the trucks
• OOf-da Tacos follows the fairs and festivals in Minnesota and North Dakota. For a full schedule, visit www.oofdatacos.com .
• Luchasdores Taquerias is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday at 124 8th St. N., Fargo.
Maki covers Arts & Entertainment and Life & Style for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1122, (800) 477-6572, ext. 1122; or firstname.lastname@example.org .