If you want to know something about operating a food truck, it’s a good idea to talk to someone who has one. If you want to be good at it, well you might talk to Brett Johnson, who co-owns Empanadas Aqui with his wife Dadnitri and his aunt Pat Fettig. Their menu items placed in two categories at the 2017 Taste of Cincinnati and in 2016, they claimed the prize for Best International Cuisine at the Taste of OTR.
As it turns out, operating a food truck entails a lot of knowledge. Financing the business, maintaining a vehicle and equipment, scheduling and marketing… and we’re not even talking about the food, yet. Brett shared his experience with us recently for our new Facebook video series, My Experience… Food Truck Exclusive. He also talked to us about getting starting and provides some advice for future food truckers in the Q&A below.
Q&A with Brett Johnson from Empanadas Aqui
First, tell us about your truck… or is it a bus?
Brett Johnson: “My wife is Venezuelan. The whole idea of the truck itself is empanadas, arepas, tostones… it’s Venezuelan street food. It’s all my wife’s recipes that she has from her family. It’s kind of a niche market and I think the school bus kind of makes us stand out. You don’t really see giant green school buses—well, tiny green school buses—everywhere.”
You specifically searched for a school bus to use as a food truck. Why?
BJ: “We just wanted something different. We’d seen all the food trucks with the step vans and we thought. let’s do something people don’t have. I was looking at different old school trucks and buses. I think I saw on Instagram one day a food truck that was a school bus as well and I thought, wow, that is really cool.”
BJ: “Most people assume that if it’s south of Texas it’s spicy food… and it’s not. We use a lot of corn dough. We make that here on the truck. There’s the arepa, where we take a corn dough and we put it into a patty and grill it on both sides like a flat bread. My favorite is The Hairy. It’s got Gouda cheese with shredded skirt steak, and the avocado-cilantro sauce. We have two different empanadas that our staples: The Bad Girl and the Carne Mechado.”
How does someone start a food truck? What resources are there?
BJ: “You can start with your idea and see how other trucks around the country have done that idea. We did not go that route. We dove right in. We had food trucks around Cincinnati that we used as a mentor. How do you install a fryer? What equipment should we be using? Where do fill your propane tanks? Those kind of questions you just ask around locally. But there are resources such as I Am a Food Trucker. It’s a book and a Facebook page. The best resource we used for our business was Bad Girl Ventures, which is a micro-financing organization. They teach you how to write a business plan over a 10-week course. We were there with experts in individual fields like accounting and social media.”
BJ: “Everything breaks down at the worst time. We had the engine go out last year. We had to swallow a large bill and put a new engine in. I think looking back, I would take more time in the quality of stuff we put on the truck. From the truck itself, and then add in really good equipment so we know it’s going to work and if it doesn’t we have warranties.”
How to find Empanadas Aqui