5 on Friday: David Weber
This week’s 5 on Friday we spoke with the owner of the New York City based food truck, Rickshaw Dumpling Truck.
Name: David Weber
Food truck name: Rickshaw Dumpling Truck
Truck Twitter: @rickshawtruck
Year started in the mobile food industry: 2008
Mobile Cuisine: Why did you become a food truck owner, chef?
David Weber: My business partner, Kenny Lao, and I opened the Rickshaw Dumpling truck in 2008 mostly as an R&D vehicle to learn more about the Rickshaw brand and where our customers were located around NYC. Since February 2005, when Rickshaw Dumpling Bar opened its first store in the Flatiron district in NYC, people have been writing in asking for a stores in Midtown or the Financial district or in Tribeca or the Upper West Side or in Brooklyn. While it would take years to roll out stores for all these locations, one truck could make a circuit of all of those locations in a week! A truck is consistent with the Rickshaw brand and mission in that dumplings were originally a street food inAsia. While branded, differentiated food trucks were still quite new in 2008, the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck was an instant success. We took what we learned on the truck to develop smaller, more efficient stores. The success of the truck in Midtown lead to the opening of a Rickshaw Dumpling Bar in Midtown East and a Rickshaw kiosk inTimes Square.
MC: Who has been the most influential person in your culinary career?
DW: As a former consultant and an MBA, I had a deep grounding in the business side of hospitality, however, I’ve learned a lot about the culinary side of running a business on the job and my colleagues at Rickshaw have influenced me and inspired me most. Chef Anita Lo of Annisa instilled in me a deep respect for ingredients. Our advisor Michael Bonadies of Bonadies Hospitality (and formerly President of 12c Museum Hotels and founder of Myriad Restaurant Group) drove home the close connection restaurants need to have to the local community. Finally, my business partner, Kenny Lao, taught me the importance of keeping the dining experience fun for our guests.
MC: What do you think sets your truck apart from your competitors?
DW: The great thing about hospitality is that it is a collaborative industry. People drawn to hospitality are generally very engaged, and giving. I tend to think of other restaurateurs as colleagues rather than competitors. Hospitality professionals understand that customers have different preferences and that different concepts meet those needs and desires differently. Some days people feel like a burger for lunch and sometimes they feel like having sushi. As an industry, I think we’re all working to meet those various interests as best we can.
Rickshaw is unique in New York Cityin that it is the only fast casual concept to focus specifically on dumplings. We cook with high quality, all natural ingredients, and we get healthy food out fast, which is something that our busy customers appreciate.
MC: What was the toughest part of researching for your newly released book: The Food Truck Handbook?
DW: The toughest part of the research was actually opening and running a food truck. Running a food truck is hard! Writing the book was easy. Having been seeped in the mobile food industry for the past four years gave me most of the material I needed to write it. One of the more challenging aspects of the research was getting a deeper understanding of the regulations in different cities around theUS. I had a team of three very resourceful researchers help me with that.
MC: What one suggestion would you give to someone planning to open a food new truck?
DW: Buy the Food Truck Handbook! I worked hard to write a pragmatic book that is useful, easy to read and can honestly guide you through the process of planning, starting, and succeeding in the mobile food industry. The book will really help you avoid a number of common pitfalls and put you on the fast track towards running a profitable and scalable business.
If I had to choose one thing to focus your time on, I’d say the most important constraint on your operations will be local regulations. Take the time and energy to personally get to know the local regulators at your department of health and have a thorough understanding of what is permissible and what is not. Once you thoroughly know local regulations, take the time to fully plan out the operations of your truck from start to finish. What is the menu? Where will things get made? Where will you park? You’ll want to be as prepared as possible to create a business that not only reflects you and your passion, but is sustainable, and contributes to the local community.
If you are interested in a chance to win a copy of David’s new book, check out this link to find out how.