Tortillaville arrived on the scene in 2009, right at the cusp of the food truck revolution. A good handful of modern-day food trucks had hit the streets in New York City and Los Angeles by then, and the Vendy Awards, the ultimate award for New York food trucks was established. Over the next couple of years, the food truck revolution would increase tenfold; with a variety stretching the imagination. Food truck shows would appear on TV, and well established restaurants would launch a new breed of $100K+ culinary chariots.
As recent transplants from Manhattan to Upstate New York, and still deep into a recession, Allison and I were finding it more and more difficult to earn a living as a graphic designer and videographer. It was a time when the graphic design industry had become saturated, and do-it-yourself You Tube videography had gone viral. Our start-up Hudson, NY gallery proved unable to survive the economic meltdown; that endeavor only lasted a year. It was a case of bad timing meets serious concern: little income, no job prospects, the great recession; what to do?
“Tell me why we moved out of Manhattan again?” Allison asked in a quizzical voice.
“You said that you wanted a house, remember? And besides, it was time to get out of that dingy apartment,” I replied.
“Maybe we should have stayed city people, with a house in the country,” she countered.
“That’s not an option anymore. We’ll figure something out,” I said.
It was just then, courtesy of a serendipitous red light, that we took notice of a For Sale sign attached to a stainless steel trailer. It was hard to determine its exact purpose, but we were attracted to the retro quilt design. A man sitting alone in a pick-up truck appeared ready to make one last roadside sale.
I wasn’t actually thinking of buying it, but a gander seemed a fun thing to do at the time. A look inside revealed a small work space, yet complete in detail. The interior included a grill, steam table, coffee urn, fryer, refrigerator, and four sinks. It had ample drink storage beneath the service window, and a skylight and air conditioner to keep the servers comfortable. It was very sensibly designed, and it was all brand new, or unused anyway. The gentleman, a recent retiree of the food catering business, had the 2005 food trailer custom-made as a back-up plan for his son. But, it turned out that his son didn’t need a back-up plan, so the trailer was never used, not once; in fact, the tires had dry-rotted from sitting over the years. It just so happened that on this particular weekend, dad got tired of looking at the trailer in his yard; decided to put some new tires on it, and as he put it, “just sell the thing.”
That’s when we rolled into the picture. After a peek, I popped the question. “How much are you asking?” I inquired.
Half was just $13,000. It seemed like a lot of money, and at the same time, a steal. I was intrigued, and soon moved past mildly curious, to serious consideration. I had no idea what to do with such a piece of equipment if I did buy it, and in fact, had nowhere to keep it. But, the man, Ed, offered to let us keep it on his property until we figured things out. With little to lose, and everything to gain, the impulsive buyer in me kicked into high gear. Just like that, we struck a deal, and I was off to the bank.
A stroke of luck at an opportune light had altered our plans for the day, and perhaps, life. The future looked bright, that is, until my cell phone rang. It was a call that seemed to last a split second, and at the same time, an eternity; the kind of call you get when someone breaks your heart—the break-up call. It was Ed telling me that a higher offer had just come in, adding apologetically, that he had to get as much as he could.
“But I’m on my way to the bank,” I pleaded. “We had a deal.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, and with that, what had hoped to be a fresh start, had instead—hit a dead end.
It was disappointing to be sure, but by evening Allison and I reasoned that the food concession route probably wasn’t our calling after all. We found equal comfort in not having to part with $13,000. The very next morning, the phone rang.
“This must be your lucky day,” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“Excuse me? Who is this?” I asked in a sleepy voice.
“This is Ed, the guy with the food truck. This must be your lucky day,” he repeated.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“That guy, who offered me more money for the trailer, he wanted me to have it shrink wrapped and shipped out to his son in California as part of the deal,” Ed said. “Can you believe that?” he continued, “I don’t deal with people like that, so I just decided then and there—no deal. You didn’t play games with me, so I want to stick to the original price that we agreed on, OK?,” Ed said.
“OK,” I responded, still half asleep, then continued “Could you repeat that?”
That call, on an early April morning in 2009 marked the beginning of our career as food truck proprietors. This bustling new trend in some major cities had not yet spread to the smaller ones, like Hudson, New York. We were to be upstate food truck pioneers, though we didn’t know it at the time. But, what were we going to serve? What would we call our company? How was this done? We didn’t know anything. Clueless, we just took it one day at a time. Fortunately, we took advantage of Ed’s offer, and kept the trailer on his property for a while.