Why I Decided To Start a Food Truck (Part I)

IMAG0090In the span of 2 hours, I decided to move across the country to start a food truck, leaving my job, my friends, and my home of 6 years in Chicago. The truth is though that it wasn’t much of a decision. Strangely, it made perfect sense to me.

In May I flew to Los Angeles for my brother’s graduation from the Marshall School of Business at USC. Just before the ceremony I mentioned to my brother that my lease was ending in Chicago. Both of my roommates were moving on and I needed to find a new place and new roommates. I was a little unnerved by this idea because it meant committing to living in Chicago for another year when I didn’t see a good reason career-wise to stay. My brother Samir said, “Why don’t you move to LA? You could move in with me and you could open up a food truck out here. Until you get things going, I could help you out with your living expenses.”

Over the next 2 hours I sat in the Galen Center, thinking about how boring graduations are when you’re not the one graduating. I thumbed through the program for the one name I recognized and began thinking about my brother’s proposition. While I loved living in Chicago I wondered what was left for me there. I would certainly miss my friends, but in my career, I had begin to plateau and knew I needed to move on. Leaving the security of a job was daunting, but I had done it before. So, I decided to embrace it. After the graduation, I met my brother in front of the Galen Center, gave him a big hug, and said, “Congratulations, Bro! I’m moving to LA.”

While this might seem to be a rash decision, it was actually a moment I had been building up to for over a year. My brother and I had long talked about how there was a real lack of great Indian food in America. The biggest problem we saw was that a lot of people wanted to eat Indian food, but were intimidated by the idea of actually doing it. If you’ve eaten at an Indian restaurant lately (and aren’t Indian), then you know that it’s hard to know what you’re eating. As a result, most people don’t venture to an Indian restaurant, except with an Indian who will walk them through the buffet explaining what the strange looking foods are. We thought it would be a great idea to build a restaurant that would make Indian food accessible to the average person.

In March of 2009 when a 700 point drop in the Dow was a regular day, I was laid off from my job as a financial analyst at a hedge fund. Ironically, I had a meeting with a small business counseling service that very afternoon to go over the beginnings of my business plan. That meeting lasted about 5 minutes. The counselor barely glanced at my business plan and offered one piece of advice, “Restaurants are the number one failed business venture. You need to go work in a restaurant first.” With my only experience being a high school summer job at Subway, I figured he was right. But, I wasn’t sure I would be able to get the managerial experience I was looking for. However, when I got an offer to manage a restaurant a couple of months later, I turned down a $100,000 job offer to be a trader in lieu of a $25,000 one as a manager trainee.

I spent the next year at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches store, a Midwest based chain and favorite lunch spot of mine when I was in college at The University of Chicago. I worked my way up from trainee to assistant, to general manager and was happy to be getting the practical experience I was looking for. Meanwhile, Samir worked with his professors to flesh out the idea that at his graduation won an award for best business plan. While neither of us has a culinary background, we do have a mom who is such a great home cook that she recently started her own catering company after being inundated with requests to bring food to dinner parties every weekend. So, in my spare time I took trips home and watched my mom cook, bringing back recipes to test on my friends in Chicago.

During this time, Samir and I started looking into locations and figuring out what our costs would be. The search was discouraging. We realized that bank financing would be difficult, particularly for a restaurant in a bad economy. While partnering with family was an option, we had seen several family partnerships go up in flames and hoped we wouldn’t follow suit. Wary of tipping the balance my brother and I enjoy now, we looked for opportunities to get started using only the money we had already saved. So, Samir brought up the idea of opening a food truck.

This is the first installment of an ongoing series about the start up of a food truck called NaanStop. We will be launching in the first quarter of 2011. You can follow us on twitter @NaanStop or email me at neal.idnani@gmail.com with any feedback. Check back here for weekly updates!

Additional information about starting and running a food truck business:

61 Owners Give Advice For Starting A Food Truck Business

How Much Does A Food Truck Cost?

Food Truck Commissaries: What You Need To Know

Kiva Offers Loans To Food Truck Entrepreneurs