A year and a half ago, Rick Harrison Wolfe rolled into Columbus inside a black mobile food truck, ready to sell gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to people who didn’t even know they even wanted them yet. The Cheesy Truck proved to be both successful and popular with local diners, but Rick decided to sell the business this summer at the peak of the season.
We spoke recently with him to find out more about what is in store for this former food truck entrepreneur and what he’s witnessed of the food truck craze from inside the front lines. Our full Q&A can be found below:
Q: What originally got you interested in starting The Cheesy Truck?
A: I needed a purpose. I was VP of Brand Development at a “really big” shoe company in LA and that ended at the peak of the economic meltdown. So I leased my place and hit the road to the Bahamas, London and Columbus to ponder my next career move.
I had been an avid follower of food trucks in LA since the beginning of the movement and have always loved the street food scene abroad. And then it hit me. I wanted to move back home to Columbus and I really loved the energy that street food brought to cities. I hadn’t been back for a while and was very impressed with how Columbus had blossomed. My research started in the fall of 2010 and I moved back and brought the truck in early 2011.
Q: Did you always plan on selling the business, or was that something you decided along the way?
A: The Cheesy Truck was my catalyst to come back to Columbus. I always intended on trying to get back in the fashion/branding game as well. I created the truck as sort of a “rolling resume” and a passion project. So I went into it hoping I could do both. The truck business grew very quickly (which I am very grateful to Columbus for) and I realized to run it at its maximum potential, I couldn’t do both.
Q: How have you seen the local food truck scene evolve over the past few years?
A: When I was coming back to Columbus in 2010 to do research there were only a couple of trucks that “moved” and that’s why I felt it was a great opportunity to open a truck and do it “LA” style. I am amazed at this 2012 season. It grew much more quickly than I ever anticipated. I had many people telling me back in 2010 that they would never eat from a food truck. That perception changed quickly.
Q: Do you think the food truck craze will continue to grow in popularity in Columbus, or will it evolve into something else?
A: No question, there is still plenty of room to grow and evolve. There are approximately 1.8 million folks in the metro area. I always felt that if I could capture the attention of 5% of the population, I’d have a great business.
I believe there is a ton of untapped potential in the suburbs as far as food truck pods, festivals and catering goes. Social networking is paramount for this business model and I kept a close eye on the analytics. With that said, the majority of our fans and followers were from Bexley, Dublin, New Albany, Upper Arlington and Grandview.
Q: What do you think of the level of creativity and culinary expertise that is going into some of these new food truck concepts?
A: Personally, I love it. My model was about providing a high quality and fun product/experience. I’m no Thomas Keller and never claimed to be. Some of these new folks are top notch trained chefs bringing their talents to a mobile format and I’ll go as far as saying that in certain categories you cannot find as good of food at a brick and mortar restaurant in this town. The only negative with the the fancier/unique cuisines is that it takes time to get folks on board and educate their palate. The Cheesy Truck menu is accessible to almost every demographic, from kids birthday parties to fine wine events.
Q: Do you think that the number of food truck events has reached a point of over-saturation? There were three big festivals/events this past weekend that all featured food trucks to varying degrees. Is it too much? Or is the demand still there?
A: Not at all. As I said, this is a big city and there are plenty of opportunities both private and public where gourmet food trucks are a perfect fit. That’s the beauty of more trucks with different offerings. There’s now a food fit for every type of event.
Q: Are there other things you think that “the food truck scene” should be doing differently?
A: Sure. That’s why I brought TCT to Columbus. The food truck scene here is still very new and evolving. Each and every current food truck owner/operator is still integral in creating “the scene” at this point. Its a blank canvas. From day one of moving to Columbus with the truck I was a huge believer in “the movement” and the best interests of my fellow truckers, and growing it as a group. I gave away or shared as many good gigs as I took. For it to thrive it has to be a group effort. I was a co-founder of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association, and I’m confident these guys will take it to the next level.
Q: Finally, what’s next for you? Another food truck? Brick & mortar restaurant? Something completely different?
A: No more food trucks for me. I am doing some consulting and working with some good friends on a new restaurant project in the Brewery District, which will be the hottest spot in the entire midwest! And I’m actively looking to get back into my old biz, preferably in Columbus. I like it here.
More information can be found online at www.thecheesytruck.com.
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