Updated: Jun 24, 2020
I sat down in March 2020 to jot down some reflections on the past year ahead of what was promising to be an excellent start to the food truck season in Wisconsin. I had just used much of the remaining cash in the bank to buy inventory for a four day St. Patrick's Day themed menu. If my projections about a busy St. Patrick's Day were correct, the food truck would finally be back in the black after a hardcore winter. Spoiler: projections were not correct. Yes, COVID-19 rocked our world. It rocked the world of everyone I know. And yet, I strangely feel like I owe it some sort of tired head nod.
If you somehow stumbled on this post and don't know me or my food truck (Rose Mob Grill), then I'll just give a 20 second prequel: About 14 months ago, I started a food truck in Wisconsin after asking my father what dreams he still had in him. He and I were estranged for a majority of my life, but we decided to ignore all conventional advice and do this thing together. There are some other characters and roller coasters involved, but you get the gist.
Back to March 2020...
I was nervously and compulsively watching the news for updates on this virus making it's way across the globe. There were really no good places to get information. One piece of guidance would leave me feeling like there was really nothing to worry about. The next day, that same source was changing their tune. Either way, I was planning a four day menu with Moran's Pub, an Irish Pub in South Milwaukee, that had equally as many grand plans to get their spring selling season started. I didn't have much money in the bank as the winter was an unsurprisingly slow season. But, the owner of the pub, James Moran, and I kept a line of communication open, sharing news we would get from the various chambers, leagues, and health departments we worked with.
As the weekend inched closer and bars were allowed to remain open, I went out and spent all that cash on the corned beef necessary to make hundreds of Reuben sandwiches for St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Day 1 (Friday) goes off without a hitch. Day 2 (Saturday) was popping. It is on Day 2, working on the slimmest sleep margin possible, when it hit me that the bars were going to get shutdown. So many people. So close together. Scream yelling song lyrics in each other's faces. I immediately walked into a back room available at the pub, laid down on a bench, and panic cried. (The real ugly uncontrollable kind.)
The night before Day 4, St. Patrick's Day itself, we get the news that the bar could not open for St. Patrick's Day. The exact feeling hearing that news was like piping hot sand bags were piling up on my shoulders. James called me. I can only imagine how he felt initially hearing the news. But he didn't let on to any sneaky emotional spiral. Instead, he told me to still sell the food in front of his (closed) pub and that he would promote it. We showed up on St. Patrick's Day and the guy was wearing a green tutu. I repeat: The biggest day of the year for Moran's Pub goes up in smoke, and James is wearing a ridiculous green tutu. Unreal. His customers showed up in droves to support us for carryout. The city ordered Reuben sandwiches for employees. We brought meals to the staff working at the local grocery store. Still unreal.
I am telling this story because that experience, while seemingly more important than others, is what the last 14 months have been like running a small little 'ol food truck. It's been emotional. It's been so much stress I can barely function. It's been defeating. It has also been so much fun. So gratifying. A constant motivation.
Many people have read the story I posted on our website about why we started the food truck. They come up to me at events and ask me how it is going with my father. I am always caught off guard, because despite writing the words and publishing them, I am so surprised people read them. Even more surprised when they want to know how we're doing.
Y'all, I will just say this: I am so very proud of, and grateful for, my entire family. My father and I work very well together. We will not be entering any food truck reality shows, because that would get a little ugly, but we get better each week and push each other. (Turns out, I am not as an effective communicator as I have believed.) But, the village that keeps the truck running is bigger than just me and my father. My mom and stepdad are ridiculous with their never-ending support. My little cousins who show up last minute to sling food when I underestimated the size of the event. My nephew who takes pride in learning all aspects of running the truck. My stepmom and her family who have dropped off forgotten equipment on multiple occasions. My aunts, uncles, cousins (dozens and dozens of 'em), nephews, brothers, sisters, parents, old friends, new friends, and neighbors who all show up week after week to support this thing.
Yes, compulsively managing costs is important. Branding and marketing are necessary. Having something decent to sell is basically the point. But above all, if you are going to undertake any business venture, big or small, that village is what is going to keep you sane and motivated. And I somehow, without even knowing it this whole time, had the A-Team on my side.
Excuse me, I need to go ugly cry again on a bench.