At sunset on the Sunday before Memorial Day, Adam Dick jumps out the open back doors of the Foodie Fleet food truck, parked outside Tap & Bottle, and sprints toward the Food Conspiracy Co-op. Still inside the truck, Kylie Rogers—Dick’s wife and Foodie Fleet’s co-owner—says, “We ran out of Granny Smith apples but didn’t realize and just sold two Granny’s Goat.” The Granny’s Goat is a Foodie Fleet signature sandwich, made with Granny Smith apples, Chiva Risa goat cheese, raspberry jalapeño jam from We B’Jamin Farm and seasonal greens from Sleeping Frog Farms.
“It’s the busiest we’ve been since our launch in March,” says Rogers as she hustles around the small space. As if it’s one movement, she turns the waffle iron, fills a compostable bowl full of sweet potato crisps, and spreads slow-stewed Sonoran chicken over a half-moon of mesquite waffle. In March, in this same parking spot in front of Tap & Bottle, Foodie Fleet, a locally focused and sustainably sourced food truck, re-opened its doors after an eight month hiatus, a change in ownership, and a reimagined—and relocalized—menu.
Dick returns to the truck with a bagful of Willcox apples from the Co-op, and the pair resume their regular stations—Dick on the grill, Rogers assembling sandwiches. One of their two employees, Caitlin Alexander, takes orders at the front window and runs trays full of food to those waiting outside Tap & Bottle. The inside of the food truck smells like a bakery—like sweet mesquite, like dough and yeast, like a long Sunday brunch. When you can share smells on Facebook, they will need no more marketing.
“How many more waffles do we need?” Rogers calls to Dick. He looks at a line of tickets. “Five,” he says. “Shoot,” she replies. “I’m running really low on batter.” Once they run out of waffle batter—a vegan, gluten-free, slow-rise batter—they just can’t go run and grab more, as the dough requires an overnight chill in a refrigerator at the commercial kitchen at the Mercado San Agustín. They can still sell sandwiches and sweet potato crisps, but most of the patrons queued at the window don’t want just a sandwich—they want a sandwich bookended by a crunchy mesquite waffle.
Founded in 2011, Foodie Fleet began as a venture of four friends who wanted better—gourmet, even—late night offerings. “Tucson has a deeply ingrained mobile food or food truck culture, but it was then still focused mostly around Sonoran hot dogs and taco carts,” says Matt McDonnell, one of the founders. “We didn’t see many offerings that were healthful or, more importantly, local.”
He didn’t have much culinary experience, nor did his partners, Jeremiah Mosij, Rick Thompson, and Michael O’Connell. “But that helped us keep it simple and healthy,” McDonnell says. After running the business for two years, “life began to intervene,” he says. The various side projects they’d been pursuing while they built up Foodie Fleet—law school, teaching English, installing solar panels—became full-time jobs.
So they posted an ad on Craigslist: Food Truck for Sale.
“The pictures were kind of obscure, so you didn’t know what truck it was,” says Kylie Rogers, who had clicked on the ad from a computer in St. Louis. She met Adam Dick in Tucson, where he’s from—his parents still live in town—but the couple ended up moving to St. Louis via New York for her job. At the time, Rogers was working as the director of global leadership for Anheuser-Busch, but she and Dick were becoming increasingly interested in food—especially, food sourced locally and sold on a truck.
“In St. Louis, the locavore scene and the food truck scene was just monstrous,” she says. “I just fell in love with this truck called Lulu’s. It’s a vegan truck, with a rooftop garden. I thought I was eating vegetarian food, so I was baffled when I found out it was vegan and that all of their vegetables were sourced locally. The taste was so superior to anything else. It tasted so much better, so much healthier than food-truck food.”
They talked about starting a locally sourced food truck in St. Louis, but knew Rogers would eventually be re-located. When they visited Tucson in the summer of 2013, they found their former home transformed. “There was so much going on, especially in local food,” says Rogers. “We started talking about what we could do to be a part of that here.”
With Foodie Fleet still up and running, they’d decided the market was already filled. That is, until one night, they found a food truck for sale on Craigslist. Rogers dug up old articles online to try to match Foodie Fleet’s interior with the one pictured in the Craigslist ad. “When we realized it actually was Foodie Fleet, we got on the phone.” And they stayed on the phone for almost three hours. “We found out that we shared a lot of the same values and purpose,” says Rogers. “Adam and I decided that we wanted to buy the truck and business the minute we hung up the phone.”
As they considered how to re-launch the food truck, they decided to keep three of the core items that the original team had developed: the Granny’s Goat sandwich, the Kino Veggie Sliders, a quinoa, tepary bean, and local veggies burger—and waffles.
But they wanted their waffles to reflect their values. “The two guiding principles for our menu were accessibility to the menu, and zero waste,” says Rogers. “For accessibility, we want everyone who walks up to the food truck to be able to find something to eat, even if they’re dairy-free or gluten-free or vegan.” So they got to work.
“Literally, over two months, we had waffles every day for breakfast and dinner,” Dick says. “Our family had waffles. Everybody had waffles.”
Today, their waffles are vegan, gluten-free, made from mesquite flour, with Queen Creek Olive Oil, coconut oil, rice flour, homemade pecan milk (made with Arizona pecans), and chia seeds sourced from Native Seeds/SEARCH.
Planning the produce they would incorporate into their menu was more challenging. “We literally took a notebook and went to every farmers’ market in town. We’d ask vendors, where are these from? How often do you have them? In what quantity?” Rogers says. “It was so complex. First we had to make a list of everything that was available in December, locally.” Then they turned to the Internet. “Well, we’d like to do red peppers. Can they not grow here? Or is it just that none of these places happen to be growing them? It was exhaustive research. Sometimes food we wanted to do on our menu got nixed, because we couldn’t find it.”
“We had to get comfortable with the idea that our food costs would be higher than most other trucks. We wanted to keep our prices low, which was part of the accessibility.”
They still go to the Santa Cruz and St. Philip’s Plaza farmers’ markets every week to pick up orders they’ve placed with local growers, and as they hone their menu and their market, they’ve become better able to predict sales. Even so, the very nature of a food truck is that sales will be unpredictable—and that no week is the same as the other. “You can’t have a standing order for a certain amount of vegetables a week, because we may or may not be going through them,” Dick says.
Which means they’re often running to a farmers’ market—or to the Food Conspiracy Co-op—to grab a missing ingredient. “If a few days before Viva la Local, we don’t have goat cheese from Lissa [Lissa Howe at Chiva Risa] because we sold more last week than we thought we would, we have to drive down there,” says Rogers.
Because they have to maintain orders with individual producers, “there’s such a lack of efficiency in local sourcing,” says Rogers. Combine that with the lack of efficiency inherent in running a food truck, and they’re working 60- or 70-hour weeks. “You’d think, because it’s mobile, it’s efficient. But really, every day, you set up your kitchen, and you break down your kitchen.”
She estimates that less than 20 percent of their time is spent actually running the truck for customers (compared to closer to 50 percent for a conventional food truck). The time they aren’t in the food truck is spent ordering food, picking it up, and then prepping it in the Mercado San Agustín kitchen—stewing the Sonoran chicken, fire-roasting the green chiles, shaping goat-cheese-balls, assembling quinoa burgers. “If you don’t do local sourcing, then you buy pre-cut cabbage,” Rogers says.
And if you don’t source locally, your food costs are lower. “We had to get comfortable with the idea that our food costs would be higher than most other trucks,” says Dick. “We wanted to keep our prices low, which was part of the accessibility. That’s why we only have one meat feature at a time—it’s a higher cost item. We want to show that local food is affordable,” he says.
“Even thought it’s not,” Rogers responds. “That’s part of the challenge.” She estimates their food costs are about 35 percent of retail price, while traditional food trucks run closer to 25 percent.
The challenge ahead of them is building the right traffic and finding the right market. “Every time we get a new customer, we get a new repeat customer,” Rogers says. A regular location, where they can capture new foot traffic and retain those repeating customers, is key to their growth. “But how long will that take? Right this second, it’s not a sustainable family income,” Rogers says.
But they’re working on it. Starting in late July, all of their sandwiches will be offered on waffles only. “That’s what people come back for,” says Rogers. Without fresh bread to pick up every week, becoming a waffle-only truck has the added bonus of reducing one stop on the locally sourced runaround. “Adam and I, and a lot of our regular customers, have been eating sandwiches on waffles for awhile now anyways.”
Dick agrees. “I mean, if you can get a waffle with pulled pork on top of it, why wouldn’t you?”
Especially if the pork is local and the waffles taste like sweet mesquite. ✜
Visit FoodieFleet.com for an updated schedule, or to book Foodie Fleet for private event catering.
Megan Kimble is the managing editor of Edible Baja Arizona. Follow her on Twitter @megankimble.