I’m a big foodie. Recently, I had the opportunity to have an insider’s look at one of the most successful food truck businesses in NYC. Wafels & Dinges, founded by Thomas DeGeest, was one of the first gourmet food trucks in NYC. Today, they operate a fleet of trucks / carts and about to open a brick-and-mortar cafe. They have fans all over the City, around the country, and around the world. It’s evident that the secrets that made them successful are transferable to a variety of businesses.
What’s the most difficult part of operating a food truck business?
Picking your spot, which is strategically the hardest. Recently, a lot of new food trucks just go wherever others are at. You can’t follow. You have to develop your own territory. We have a knack of finding untapped neighborhoods. For example: Park slope. We used to be the only one there, but by now a fair number of other trucks have followed
Lesson: To be successful, you have to develop your market and be the first to market in order to realize the full potential of that market. Don’t be a follower. Followers will never have the opportunity to enjoy 100% of market share. At the same time, you cannot rest on your laurels if you are the leader. Others will ultimately follow and try to take share from you. So, you always have to be developing new markets and continuously driving growth.
Your twitter stream is hilarious. Who does your twitter?
Joe. He’s been with the company since the beginning. He really started responding to twitter on the train on the way home. It’s between Joe and Thomas and others who were with the company since the beginning that really developed the voice of the company.
Lesson: It’s been said, but it’s worth saying again: an intern cannot handle your social media. Your social media channels are one of the most visible venues of customer interactions nowadays. This is the voice and brand of your company – leave it to someone who knows your voice and brand.
What keeps you apart from every other food truck out there?
So many restaurant franchises or multi-unit companies choose to dumb down their process for the sake of repeatability and scaleability. The idea is anyone can come in and be trained immediately. We do not dump down our products and our process. You can’t dump down the product and keep its soul. It takes up to a year and a half for our waffeleurs to be fully trained to take on a complex truck shift solo. We are now opening our first cafe. It’s 1200 sq ft. It’s quite big actually. But if we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right.
Lesson: To sustain success, you would want to have a perfect product always, without compromise. You need to have pride and passion for what you are putting out in the marketplace. Also, since everyone in your operation in some way influences your product and your brand, you need to ensure that everyone in your organization shares that same passion.
About Wafels & Dinges: Founded by Thomas DeGeest in 2007, Wafels & Dinges’ mission is to bring authentic Belgium waffles to the United States. Today, Wafels & Dinges operates a fleet of trucks and carts canvassing New York City. In addition, they operate a catering business, and are about to open a café in East Village. Wafels & Dinges has been awarded the Vendy Award, the Tablespoon Munchies Food Award, and has been rated as #1 Mobile Vendor by Zagat.
Photo credit: Doramon
Originally published on April 29, 2013