Starting a Food Truck 101 is a new ongoing series of case studies that explore the process of launching a food truck from concept to launch. The series will cover everything from menu strategy, sourcing vehicles, marketing and licensing. The first business we will be focusing on is Rock Lobster Food Co who have recently announced they are launching a food truck and are currently in the early stages of developing it.
If you were at the last installment of the Toronto Underground Market, then there’s no doubt you’ve heard of Rock Lobster Food Co. Serving their authentic, mini east-coast style lobster rolls, they had one of the longest lines all night.
Over the last couple months they have been taking advantage of the pop-up craze to test their menu and start to build a following and now they have started the process of transitioning their business to a food truck model.
And we plan on taking you along for the ride.
Because of current employment considerations, the owner isn’t quite ready to reveal who he is just yet, but he is ready to let us join him as he faces all the tasks that go along with opening a food truck.
Let’s dive in.
Rock Lobster Food Co: Part 1
TFT: What is Rock Lobster Food Co?
RLFC: Rock Lobster Food Co is food company that’s all about bringing lobster to the people and making it accesible. We found in this country people do not eat lobster on a regular basis whereas in other countries it’s much more a part of the culture.
Back in the day lobster was considered a ‘working class’ food. Out east, people like our parents and grandparents would go to school with lobster sandwiches because it was cheap and abundantly available. Nowadays it’s the complete opposite and lobster is considered a luxury item.
So the goal of Rock Lobster Food Co is to really bring lobster back to the masses and make it approachable. Our signature item is our lobster roll which is really about taking a ‘fancy’ ingredient and adapting it to a street food style concept.
TFT: Tell us what an authentic lobster roll is.
RLFC: Firstly, a lobster roll is on a toasted ‘east-coast style’ top loader hot dog bun which is split down the top (rather than down the side like our buns here in Ontario), and it’s toasted and grilled with butter. It’s served warm with rich lobster meat and mayo – no other filler. That is the classic east coast lobster roll. Anything else and it’s more of a lobster salad sandwich.
We’ve actually been approached by a couple bakeries offering to supply us with more gourmet-style breads but I don’t want that. Because the idea is that it needs to be that enriched, white bread backyard-style bun. It’s not fancy and it’s not pretentious. The idea is to remove that from the equation.
TFT: How many people are involved in Rock Lobster Food Co other than yourself and do you have an investor?
RLFC: I’m the owner and I have an operations guy who’s a close friend of mine and we’ve got two very supportive girlfriends that have been incredible and there since day one helping us out on this project. I do not have an investor.
TFT: Where did the idea come from to start a food truck?
RLFC: About a year and a half ago I went to a friend’s wedding out east and this was around the time the food truck craze was starting to pick up. And I’ve worked in hospitality since I was 13 years old and I’ve always wanted to open something and own it. So I’ve had a lot of different ideas and when I went out east to New Brunswick I found they were serving lobster rolls everywhere – even McDonald’s and Subway. They do tons of ‘street’ lobster dishes and make it really affordable and approachable. And it just clicked – literally a light bulb went off and I knew I had to do this.
So then we went down to New York and saw what they were doing with their trucks from an execution standpoint and saw how they were bringing lobster to the street and there’s been a couple really successful trucks doing this there. They were showcasing Maine lobster there and I thought we need to be proud of our product here so that’s why I want to highlight the Canadian atlantic lobster we have. So the idea was to make it the signature item in our dishes and really show off the great product we have here in Canada.
TFT: Typically lobster is a more expensive and premium product so how do you plan to make it a success on a food truck – which are often associated with affordability?
RLFC: The first thing I did when I was planning and mapping out my business plan was call about 50 different seafood suppliers out east. I stumbled upon one in particular and we went back and forth and the company and the owner were amazing. They have absolutely fantastic product and they really liked my vision and passion and said they would love to help me out.
So while I’m paying a bit of a premium I’m ok with it because at the end of the day I want to deliver the best possible quality to people. However, I also plan to price it at an affordable price point because I know some people will want to have two servings and feel like they are getting good value for their money. We are still refining our pricing but I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised.
The whole idea is taking lobster to the masses and allowing everybody to enjoy it without feeling like their getting gouged in the wallet.
TFT: When did you begin the process of starting a food truck?
RLFC: We started our business plan about a year and a half ago and since then we’ve gone through the process of finding our supplier, figuring out our branding and then getting ready for making our transition from a pop-up vendor to a truck.
We’ve been looking for trucks for about a year and in that time I’ve seen no less than 50 trucks. And I’ve spoken to people from all different manufacturing companies as well as independent owners. And it’s tough because from the time when we first started looking to now, what we’ve found is the prices to get a truck done in Toronto or Ontario have doubled. Like anything, as demand has grown prices have escalated.
TFT: I understand you recently purchased a truck. Can you tell us a bit about it and how you sourced it?
RLCF: The truck I bought is a 1995 International which is your typical big delivery truck like most of the food trucks you see. Many of the trucks I saw weren’t ‘finished’ food trucks and needed to be retrofitted still. I found the one I purchased on Kijiji. The owner had posted it the night before and I first saw it the following morning. So I called the owner to see if I could go see it and found out he was about four hours away in Minden, Ontario. I asked him if I could go out and see it and bring a deposit with me so that very morning I drove out four hours each way.
As soon as I saw it I new I wanted it. There wasn’t a single spot of rust. It’s an actual refrigerated Beatrice delivery truck and it looks fantastic. So obviously we don’t need to get it refrigerated now so what we are going to do is block off a part it so we can have sort of a walk in cooler on board. Because we’re dealing with lobster which requires refrigeration to be kept fresh, the idea is to allocate the adequate amount of space on the truck to make sure we have the room we need to take care of this.
TFT: Speaking of fresh, obviously when you’re dealing with seafood, freshness is a critical factor. What’s your strategy for delivering the freshest possible product?
RLFC: We have a very tight relationship with our suppliers and we work with one mainly. I fly all my stuff in via WestJet. Currently I usually get about 2-3 deliveries per week so these lobsters are literally coming out of the ocean, getting put on a plane and arriving in Toronto. In other words, it’s always fresh. They’re not in holding tanks and there’s nothing that’s stored for long periods. The majority of our lobsters come out of Nova Scotia and when that season ends for that particular area, I flip to our supplier in New Brunswick and vice versa.
TFT: What’s your next step in the process of trying to get your truck launched?
RLFC: The next step is to actually ‘build’ the truck so I’m going to be reaching out to my friends in the restaurant industry and different contacts to start the build of the inside of the kitchen. We also want to get it wrapped as soon as possible. We want to get the brand out there right away so people know that it’s coming soon. Also we are going to begin the licensing process with the City very soon.
TFT: Do you have a estimated timeline for when you hope to have the truck ready?
RLFC: Fingers crossed, we hope to have it ready by July 1st.
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