Chicken and Rice and Everything Nice: How a Food Truck Empire Begins
I like my job, but I want to start my own business. How do I make the leap while still maintaining my stability?
Sincerely, Hopeful Business Owner
Dear Hopeful Business Owner,
I’ve been there. While working a 9-to-5 as a Member Services Representative at Zipcar, my friends and I got the wild idea to start a food truck. We balanced our full-time jobs with weekends full of registering for permits, getting licensed, and buying supplies, but eventually left office life for a full-time devotion to our new business: The Chicken & Rice Guys.
Fast forward three years and I’m proud to say that The Chicken & Rice Guys now has four trucks roaming the Boston area, one new brick-and-mortar location (and another on the way), and some long lines of devoted followers.
Working double-time had its challenges, but the support I got from coworkers helped me navigate the busy days. And of course, I’m a Zipster for life. Needless to say, I learned a lot in the process. I hope these tips help!
Jenny Giang CFO, Chicken and Rice Guys Former Zipcar Member Services Representative
Hungry, hungry locals wait patiently for their fix in downtown Boston.
1. Do your research.
This seems obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. You’ll need to put in some solid hours learning about the industry, the competition, the legal requirements, and the assets required for you to start your business. My team realized that there wasn’t a big food truck scene in Boston (yet) and found that you don’t need a lot of start-up capital to launch one, compared to other businesses. Before that could happen, there were food safety classes to take, permits to obtain, and—most importantly—a recipe to perfect.
2. Divide and conquer.
Some ambitious individuals may want to work solo, but it was a huge help for me to be working with my friends. None of us was working alone. On the flip side, it can be counterproductive for everyone to be working together on all tasks. Delegate them based on your strengths.
The truck’s namesake dish is made even more flavorful (and colorful) with its signature sauces.
3. Be open to change
Chicken and Rice Guys started out as an idea for a food cart. Very soon into it, though, we found that Boston regulations made it difficult for us to use the cart we had bought. So we went back to the drawing board and made it work as a food truck. Even now, we still take input from customers and friends, and not just to be polite. We’ve definitely incorporated outside opinions to make our business better.
4. Know when to say no.
When we were starting out, everyone had an idea or a concern. Listen to your friends, clients, and employees, but take it with a grain of salt. Be confident that only you have the whole picture of brand, service, and operations, so you know what’s possible and makes sense. You can’t say yes to everything—but you also can’t say no to everything!
A simple menu keeps the line moving, but fits everyone’s needs with chicken, lamb, and tofu options.
5. Aim to be proactive, rather than reactive.
When we started out, we didn’t know a lot about truck maintenance. We bought ours used, which is very common. On our second day in service, we were driving on the highway when we heard an explosion—and found a giant hole where the engine should be. We had a tow truck carry it into the city for the lunch shift! When it finally got to the shop, it turned out that it needed an oil change. Definitely preventable.
6. Take chances.
It’s intimidating to consider new business plans when there’s a lot on the line. Be thoughtful. Know what you want to do and weigh the risks of it. If you think you’ll regret it if you don’t do it, do it!
Ever wondered what it looks like inside a food truck? Jenny takes a break as the lunch rush dies down.