Sunday, September 23, 2012

Going Mobile

Interview with Gary Ele
Executive Pastry Chef/Proprietor
Oz Patisserie Mobile Dessert Truck
By Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

Kathryn:  Hi GaryJessie and I have known you for several years from working with you at the World Pastry Championships.  We see updates all the time on Facebook about your food truck business!  How long have you had it?

Gary:  I physically started the truck business in July of 2010. The planning phase started in December 2009.

Jessie:  What did you do before you opened the truck business?

Gary:   My background includes: US Navy, CA, IL, HI, VA; Norwegian Cruise Lines America, Honolulu HI; Sandia Resort and Casino, Albuquerque NM; Casino Arizona, Scottsdale, AZ. 

Kathryn:  How did you come up for the idea for a truck versus another format?

Gary:  I wanted to work for myself for years but could not afford a “Brick and Mortar” business.   I was a little ahead of the curve and started looking outside the box and came up with the idea of a Mobile Dessert Truck. There are many Food Trucks across the country, but I wanted to do a fine dining style of desserts.  My goal is “Michelin Quality at Street Food Prices.”

Jessie:  How's it working out for you running your business in a truck?

Gary:   Business is booming! I enjoy being my own boss and setting my own schedule.  

Jessie: Is it what you expected?  

Gary:   Actually it is more than I expected. I enjoy making the desserts that my customer base wants and what I want to experiment with and if something does not sell it comes off the menu.

Kathryn:  Is anything more difficult than you anticipated?  How many days a week are you open?

Gary:  The hours can be long when I get back-to-back events.  Normally I am open 6 days a week, but that is flexible dependant on the weather or booked events. I may not open prior to a very large event in order to have time to prepare, depending on the expected customer count.

Jessie:  What's your customer base like?  Are you in the same location on certain days of the week so you have regular followers?

Gary:  The majority of my daily customer base is post high school educated professionals.  I try to stick to a certain schedule of locations around Albuquerque for the daily operations, I have a very strong and loyal customer base that have on occasion driven up to 20 mile or so just to get the souffl├ęs or some of my one-time-only specials.

Kathryn:   How do you post your daily location for people to find you?

Gary:   I use Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and post updates daily. I can be located on Facebook at OZ Patisserie Mobile Dessert Truck , Twitter at @OzPatisserie or Foursquare at Gary Ele.

Kathryn:   Where do you bake?

Gary:  I bake in the truck. It is fully equipped with a convection oven, induction stove, mixers, sinks, refrigeration and storage. I do not require a separate commissary.

Jessie:  Do you have staff to help you?  If you suddenly have a run on something you’re selling, does it mean that you’re “out for the day?”

Gary:   Currently I am my own staff.   I normally carry enough stock to get through the day, but if I do run out of something I either make more on the truck or apologize to the customer.

GaryAs I am the “staff,” I am out with the truck daily. I do some wholesale to other trucks for the late night crowds.  My days run between 10 to 16 hours and I prefer to bake early in the mornings this time of year due to the hot weather.

Jessie:  Because it seems like you're always running "specials" when I see your facebook postings -- clearly you're always thinking up new menu items.

Gary:   I normally carry between 10 and 15 different items. Anyone in this business knows you have to constantly keep up with either new trends or go way back to the classics.

Jessie:  Is a truck format very expensive?

Gary:   The truck format can go from reasonable to the absurd depending on your budget. I am fortunate to have a strong mechanical background so I bought the basic shell and did the majority of the work on my own.

The capital investment someone needs to set up something like I have would vary between about $20,000.00 to well over $100,000.00 dependant on whether you have the need for a full kitchen or have a commissary to cook in and just serve. A truck I know of in Orlando just does Cup Cakes and everything is done in their commissary, packaged, loaded on speed racks and put in the truck.

Kathryn:   On your website, it says you can rent the truck for a party?

Gary: I do private catering where customers rent the truck based on a person count. More and more I am doing unconventional weddings; no cake, but an assortment of desserts.  Dependent on the extravagance, location and the budget I will vary the cost.  At some pay-as-you-go events I will set a minimum fee.

Jessie:   Gary, is there anything else that you think about, or whatever that I have not asked about that we should include? 

Gary:  This has been the most exciting time of my Culinary Career. I get excited when I see the faces of my customers as they try either something familiar or new. I have never been happier with the place in my life.

Kathryn:  Thanks Gary! 

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