Brian Branigan wants you to know that the food truck business is tough. Really tough. “But it can also be very rewarding. You have to do it right. People want organic, locally produced food, and because we do it that way, we’re successful,” he says. Branigan is referring to Tortillaville, the uÌˆber-popular Mexican food truck that he and his partner Allison Culbertson set up on Hudson’s main drag five years ago. Here, amid several picnic tables, the duo serves up a variety of tacos, burritos, quesadillas (chicken, beef, pork, fish, vegetables, and tofu), house-made guac and salsa, and other South-of-the Border sensations — even Mexican Coke!
Still, despite their undisputed success, the duo has recently put the business on the market. “I’m doing it reluctantly,” says Branigan, who says the couple plans to relocate to Key West full-time. “It’s been a great run and we decided that if we were going to sell, we should do it when the business is at its peak and when Hudson is at its peak.”
And while Branigan admits that he stumbled into this line of work by accident (“We had owned a bar in SoHo and we had recently left that behind. I was looking for work and this kind of found me”), he thinks that the food truck business can be a fabulous fit — for the right people. He also thinks that with his hard-earned experience, he’s the perfect person to tell other budding entrepreneurs how it’s done. That’s why he penned Food Truck 411: The Essential Information to Run a Successful Food Truck — a no-nonsense guide to what life behind the wheel is really like. “It is brutal and a blast. It is laborious and liberating. It is mind-bending and character building. It is not ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’… usually it’s the 64-hour workweek” he writes.
Branigan highlights four factors that make for a successful food truck owner.
“First, know what you’re getting yourself into. If you really set everything up and have a good staff, you can be very successful, but you have to know what you’re doing,” he says. “Second, you need a great product. That’s always important. Third, love what you’re doing. And fourth, location; that is key.”
If done right, says Branigan, a food truck like Tortillaville can bring in up to $99,000 per season, which runs from May through October.
Above, Tortillaville owner Brian Branigan with a canine companion. Below, one of the truck’s signature tacos
In his 220-plus page book, which is stuffed with lots of full-color photos as well as more than 30 recipes, Brannigan shares his tales from Tortillaville. Amusing anecdotes from a week in the life of a food truck owner are mixed in with the nuts and bolts about how to turn your truck into cold, hard cash. Pointers from the well-written tome include:
“As for me, I am Burrito Man. You have to prepare to take on a new identity and embrace it completely.”
“This is not a fad, or a career for poseurs; it is serious business that demands consistent quality product on a daily basis.”
“Whenever a customer approaches the window with a plate of food paired with a dissatisfied expression, I just say, ‘My mistake. What can I do to make you happy?’ No questions, not battles, just solutions.”
“The best part of the business is the customers, especially your regulars… You get to see kids grow up, and to meet people that you might otherwise not have the opportunity to meet.”
There is still time to check out the original Tortillaville this season. “This summer is going to be gigantic. We have more staff and more hours,” says Branigan. “We wanted to change the food truck business forever, and we did. It’s been a great ride.”
It seems that food trucks are everywhere these days. In our region, we have stationery ones, like Tortillaville, and others that take their tasty treats on the road. Sometimes they’re part of established eateries; others operate as a solo enterprise. They’re dishing up everything from pizza to barbecue to hot dogs to ices. Here’s where to track ’em down.
This roaming restaurant (which is currently one of 10 finalists in Live with Kelly & Michael’s Truckin’ Amazing Cook-off) serves up sliders like the Dirty Ninja (sauteÌed bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, sesame seed, and Asian mustard) and the Dirty Spartan (Feta cheese, arugula, tomato, red onion, black olives, cucumber, and tzatziki sauce). The truck serves Albany and Troy, and
its current location can be found on its Web site. www.slidindirty.com
The Tin Cantina
Serving Tex-Mex with a focus on vegetarian options, the Tin Cantina keeps fans updated on specials such as fish tacos and sweet potato burritos via its Facebook page. Located on Route 212 in Saugerties. www.facebook.com/thetincantina
Yum Yum On Wheels
This brightly-colored food truck — an offshoot of the popular Woodstock noodle house — will travel to your home or party to serve Asian-inspired noodles with your choice of protein, broth, and noodles. www.yumyumnoodlebar.com
This Saugerties barbecue truck offers classic main dishes — pulled pork, Carolina pulled chicken, ribs — as well as sweets like banana pudding with Nilla Wafers and local strawberry shortcake for dessert. And don’t forget to try some tradtionally southern sides like mac ’n cheese, collard greens, and cornbread. www.cueshack.com
Black Eyed Suzie’s
With a focus on fresh ingredients and local produce, this Woodstock-based food truck creates unique sandwiches (sauteÌed broccoli rabe, mozzarella cheese, and caramelized onions on a ciabatta roll) and sweet treats (like Earl Grey tea cake with rhubarb icing). www.blackeyedsuziesupstate.com
Pippy’s Hot Dog Truck
This restored vintage truck serves specialty hot dogs and homemade sides made from family recipes. Available for catering and parties, Pippy’s is usually stationed at the junction of Routes 23A and 32A in Palenville. www.pippyshotdogtruck.com
Subscriber alert: You should receive this issue early enough to check out the Hudson Valley Food Truck Festival. Beginning at 3:30 p.m. on June 20, a number of trucks will be parked at 1776 Route 212 in Saugerties; along with tasty food, guests can enjoy arts and crafts and local music.