Food Truck a Hit for I Heart Mac & Cheese
There are few things better than macaroni and cheese. Really, the only way to make the indulgent carb bonanza better is the ability to have it anywhere. To that end, I Heart Mac & Cheese is taking its decadent, custom offerings on the road with food trucks. The first franchisee behind the wheel said so far, it’s going great.
“We've gotten great response—people even honking and waving at us on the street,” said Hector Gonzalez, the franchise operator in south Florida. “It’s getting better every day, people are getting to know us.”
His truck is the first for the system, but CEO Stephen Giordanella said he expects food trucks to account for 20 percent of the chain one day. He said another two are in the works already. A key factor in his decision to sign off was a lack of direct food tuck competition, as most local trucks are burgers or tacos.
“It was something that Hector wanted to try, he was a general manager for our Pembroke Pines store. He saw the opportunity and said, ‘I’d really like to try it,” said Giordanella. “I hadn’t seen any trucks like that so we green lit it.”
A key benefit for the company as a whole is the branding the food truck offers. The closest brick-and-mortar location is about an hour away, so getting the brand into the community has been a big boon.
“We only take a 1 percent advertising fee,” said Giordanella. “They’re essentially a moving billboard already.”
The truck is certainly creating a buzz in the area.
“I had a young lady who said she had been following me for a week trying to get some mac and cheese,” said Gonzalez.
Sales so far have been “very lucrative” according to Giordanella, reaching close to traditional brick-and-mortar locations but with a smaller staff. Generally, Gonzalez said they have two or three people running the truck during a busy event. He says early averages were $500 a day roving the city hot spots and office parks, and $1,100 to $1,200 a day during events.
Operations, however, have taken some streamlining. The company wanted wanted to have the same menu in the food truck it has in traditional locations. That means it can get a little cramped in the truck between all the ingredients for deep customization and an impinger oven.
“It was a little uncomfortable,” said Gonzalez. “The challenge when we started was figuring out the quickest way to prep the meals and serve the customers; the space is tight! We've moved things around and with each day it's gotten easier. We now have a flow that works.”
Getting customers to “come in” requires a little carnival-style barking as well.
“Just like everything else, it’s all about customer service. You have to be out in front of the truck and talk to people,” said Gonzalez. “We’re building your mac and cheese, anyway they want, so you have to explain that.”
All in, he said the truck came in at about $135,000, well shy of the standard $250,000 to get into a traditional location. But there are some additional fees to do business.
“You have to get permits in all the different counties, then you have to apply to the food truck festivals and pay a fee,” said Giordanella. “But it’s nothing like paying rent. It’s much less expensive.”
Gonzalez’ first traditional location will open in February, and because the food truck has introduced the concept, he expects some good traffic right away.