To celebrate International Women’s Day this March, we had the pleasure of sitting down with a woman who truly puts all her heart into everything she makes. Torey Hartwell—the owner of Sweet Smackin’ Treats—lets us in on the essential tips and tricks that have supported her successful Atlanta-based food truck Sweet Smackin’ Treats.
Check out the interview below to learn more about her incredible entrepreneurial spirit (Answers have been edited for length and clarity).
Roaming Hunger: Hey Torey! It’s so good to see you. Can you share what inspired you to start Sweet Smackin’ Treats?
Torey Hartwell: I’ve been baking since I was a little girl. Then in high school I loved home economics so much that I started selling what I made at school to make a little extra money. That was 30 years ago! When I started teaching elementary school 14 years ago, I decided to bring in bakes for my students. They were a hit! It was then I had the thought to take it a step further.
RH: Did you consider starting a brick-and-mortar shop or was a food truck your first instinct?
Torey: I used to own a flower shop and my husband owned a barbershop. We were so busy outside the house that we felt like we were always missing out on life. Because of that, I knew I never wanted to pay another mortgage again. So, in 2015 I got a Cottage Food license to bake at home (had to put up billboards in my yard and send letters to the neighbors and everything).
Then in 2021, the food truck happened almost by fluke. We’d been talking about it, and then late one night I was on Facebook Marketplace and this truck popped up on my feed. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely wait until the next day before driving three hours away to pick it up… and it was perfect. We gutted it, modified it, measured, and taped every inch of it before installation to make sure everything would fit perfectly inside it. We used every inch of space on that truck. My husband did it all himself and did a phenomenal job.
RH: You mentioned getting a Cottage Food license. Do you still bake everything at home?
Torey: All baking is done off the truck. Donuts are fried, nachos are put in containers— everything is prepped and ready to go through the warmer on the truck then styled with flavors and toppings. Except for the lemonade. That’s made fresh with our smasher and you get to choose your flavor on the spot.
We have a whole system in place. The truck is only 6 x 10, so there’s no major preparation onboard. Honestly, you don’t need a big truck to serve a lot of food. There’s something in every corner of our truck because we use the space well. It also means that whoever’s working, their spot is their spot and they better like each other ‘cause it’s close quarters. And they do. We have 3-4 people working at a time and they’re all family members. Everybody’s got a shirt—2 small, 3 medium, 2 extra large. I keep one around for every niece, nephew, aunt, everybody!
RH: How do all your schedules work within the food truck’s event schedule?
Torey: Both my husband and I became full-time ESL teachers when the market crashed in 2008, so most of our schedule has us catering events on weekends, nights, and holidays. The education field allows us the flexibility to run the food truck, and for summer vacations, we line up events for every single weekend. It books up.
RH: How do you keep so organized with so many different schedules?
Torey: I burn a lot of the midnight oil, but that’s okay, it’s my oil to burn. I also have a calendar for everything. From taking care of my dad who lives an hour away, to keeping spreadsheets for the truck. Everything is organized, tested, and approved.
We test everything we make. Every item is brought to the school for our students and co-workers to try. If it’s kid-approved, it’s good. And our colleagues give great constructive criticism.
Also, starting during Covid allowed us to take our time and learn the market really well. We learned how to search events, drive the truck, and explore what worked and didn’t work for us as a business. I just try not to miss a beat.
RH: Wow, pretty iconic! Can you share more about the tools you use to keep on top of things?
Torey: We track order forms, materials, paperwork, and checklists. All the checklists. Also for us, reconciliation forms and spreadsheets are key. For each event we do for the year, we create a form where we list what we served, what sold, how much we made, what our top 5 items were, what went wrong, what went well, and what we can fix next time. This actually helped us fix our menu. Menus were tested and we found that our catering menu didn’t work well on the truck.
We started out with hot dogs, cupcakes, shaved ice—we were all over the place. Then we narrowed it down to what would stand out. We scouted other trucks, gas stations, restaurants, even Etsy for ideas. Our candy kababs (which the kids love), those were inspired by Etsy.
In the end, that’s how we came to focusing on mini donuts. We’d make the toppings stunning, like no one else we’d ever seen, and we don’t let customers customize them. We have 9 to 10 available options and they each have a name and our unique toppings. We’ve got funfetti, banana pudding, cookies & cream, strawberries & cream…people can choose which one they want and it’s a full dessert, a meal, not a small donut snack. And these donuts you can only get on the truck.
Now, we have two different menus for two totally different experiences. On our website you can order catering items, but nothing on there is what’s on the truck. Everything is trial and error. I’m a big risk-taker. And if something doesn’t work, get rid of it and move onto the next.
This is a Roaming Hunger Interruption:
Although Torey says she’s “a big risk-taker,” what she has actually done is a great lesson in how to actually de-risk your business. Track everything you do and sell, organize what’s worked and hasn’t worked, and continually test and retest your product and your processes. Small improvements lead to more revenue and profit over time, and the last thing that is tested is a lot less risky than the first thing you tested.
Now, back to the interview!
RH: Sounds like you’re a market research pro! What advice would you give others about marketing their food truck?
Torey: Be professional. Apply any experience you have to any kind of business. Get flyers, advertise by posting on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Make your personal brand your business. On all my social media pages you have to scroll for pictures of my face—what you’ll mostly see are my desserts. I want you to focus on my business.
Have cards to hand out, but above all, have a website and keep it updated so when people ask you questions you can send them to your site.
Stand out! Our truck is all bright colors, it’s neat from the inside out, and we have tall flags on our roof that have the names of our items on them so we will never get lost in a crowd. That’s how people find us and we have lines down to the interstate. Our menus have pictures of every item. We put out displays of fake cotton candy and we make sure the lemonade maker is visible from the window. We are always marketing. The product has to look appealing to the eye. Nothing is sloppy. We also found out that people wanna know where everything is from, so we put our logo on everything…from cups to napkins, it’s on there.
RH: Do events help market your business too?
Torey: Bigger ones with entertainment, yes. And at this point we get invites to come back to events. They send me the notice and I don’t have to reach out. There’s no digging for business because we were professional and organized the first time around. Car shows, dog shows, concerts, those are all great. Events with big crowds looking to spend money. Parades and such we don’t do unless there’s a concert or event after because once the crowds are gone, so is the chance to sell. Less opportunity at those.
RH: What are your 5 favorite things about running Sweet Smackin’ Treats?
Torey: First, I love the beepers we give to customers. No one’s yelling out people’s names and when orders are ready we meet them and serve them with professionalism.
Next, we just enjoy what we do, and while we’re tired, it’s a different kind of tired ‘cause it’s fun.
Third, the flexibility of the truck and being able to say yes and no to events.
After that, it would be teaching my husband how to put together all the toppings, he’s getting there!
And finally, trying to master displaying cinnamon rolls on the truck without warming them. It’s coming along.
RH: Fingers crossed for you! You clearly love your community. What are some favorite events you’ve served around town?
Torey: Definitely Bridgefest here in Stockbridge, Georgia. It went on for 9 hours and we stayed till every last person was fed. Then, there’s the Black Rodeo event we were invited to that goes state-to-state. Trucks stayed busy—everytime we thought we’d caught up, I’d look out and the line was around the corner and there was another stack of tickets. I get excited by big lines. Ours can go on and on, which draws new people in…it’s free advertising. So much so that we now have a sprinter van for those events so we can go out and get more supplies if we need them.
RH: Any other tidbits you can share with others thinking of starting a food truck?
Torey: It’s all about spending less to make more. We can sell 6 donuts for $6 because we have our toppings, and others are still selling 12 donuts for $5.
Second, know how much you have and how much you think you’ll sell. The worst thing is running out of food. If you sell out in the first hour, it means you didn’t prepare. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine. No one should ever get to the window and we’re sold out. You should have a plan for how much money you want to make at the event before you get there, and you better bring enough food to be able to make that much.
I’m a numbers person, so always be looking to keep an eye on how much staffing you need, how full the event is, and if you can rotate staff members.
Lastly, I like sharing. Build with your friends, with your network. Share your knowledge, there’s enough to go around for everyone. There’s no need to be scared that someone’s gonna take something from you. You can’t service an entire city or area on your own.
RH: Sharing is caring! Before you go, we have to ask, have you faced any obstacles as a women-owned business?
Torey: I have never let obstacles get in my way, but honestly, thank goodness my husband knows mechanics! If anything, the only struggle has been him teaching me how to turn on the generators, run equipment, and do all the technical stuff so the whole business wouldn’t shut down if he’s ever not around. We added a winch to the trailer finally so that’s all automated now. Other than that, I run everything on the inside of the truck. I know my goals, I know my product, and I love seeing Roaming Hunger’s events out there, so thank you!
Author: This interview was conducted and edited by Yvonne Cone