Surviving the Stresses of the Food Truck Industry (3 Experts Weigh In)

In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked a few of our favorite food partners how they take care of themselves while being their own boss… ’cause as we all know, running a business is no joke. Their insightful and honest answers reminded us just how important it is to take care of each other in the restaurant biz!

Check out the interview below (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.):

Roaming Hunger: Hi there. Could you please introduce yourselves and your food truck business a bit for the folks at home?

Jann Cipriano West: Of course. I’m the Event and Catering Director at La Cena LLC in Milwaukee, WI and run the Get Them While They’re Hot Tamales, Bella Monte Italian Cuisine, Picnic A La Carte, and Little Sweets of Mexico food carts. The tamales are really to die for, and we have both roaming and catering options for all.

Shay Roberts: Hey! I’m the owner of Pudding Bar 101 in Atlanta, making puddings, parfaits, and other desserts in almost any flavor you can think of. We’re a black-owned, woman-owned business with lots of catering opportunities.

Feda Oweis: Hi there, I am the owner and head chef of Beyond the Border, based in San Francisco. I have been serving Latin-American comfort food, SF-style, at Beyond the Border Truck since 2013. The truck is known for its gourmet catering!


RH: Amazing! Thank you. So we wouldn’t be here today without the belief that running your own business is incredibly empowering, but that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing. Do you feel that running your own business has increased your stress levels? 

SR: I definitely think I’m the right person to call for this question!

FO: Guys, it maximized it to the MAX.

JCW: Hahahaha. Yes. I could go on for a while about that.

RH: Tell me more, if you’re comfortable of course.

JCW: With catering, there’s a whole lot of pressure with the timing of it all. It’s like a dance that you have to get right. As for the personal side of things, a lot of people are dependent upon us, both customers for great food and service—and employees for income and apprenticeship. That’s not even including our family and friends. Oftentimes, we are mentors to people in our lives, so there’s a lot of pressure to remain positive and successful, even when things are exhausting.

FO: I started off as a food truck owner, but now am a restaurant owner as well. I have double the workload to think about. With the restaurant busy and food trucks built, it’s almost constantly on my mind. I’m still learning so much about the brick and mortar restaurant business—I’ve barely been in it for a year! Every week something new happens…people call off, the whole nine yards.

SR: For me, I think I would say it has minimized my stress. I have five kids, so it’s important for me to have some flexibility to be there for them. They play basketball, they cheer, and I can be there, which is so lucky. However, my business is truly like no other. Trying to brand it and pitch it can be stressful because my product is a little different than others out there.

RH: For sure Shay. You do have some exceptional pudding though!

So, what do you all think stresses you out the most on a day-to-day basis? 

FO: Inevitably, in the food industry, people call out of shifts. There’s always a degree of being slightly understaffed. I currently have nine people, which is still not enough some days. Now, you also have to think about food delivery apps and getting those in order too. That’s a huge part of the business that you can’t slack on in a post-Covid world.

SR: For me, sometimes being available is hard. There’s only one truck and I have the tendency to book, book, book, and overdo it for myself. My daughter does come and help me after school, but setting boundaries for the bookings I accept is new to me.

RH: Did the pandemic make it harder on you in any way?

SR: Actually, the pandemic was everything to me and my small business. Right before it, I was a teacher, trying to figure out how to survive. I started with a little pop-up tent, selling confections, and then finally got enough money to buy a truck. I think people were ready to step outside of the conventional restaurant, so I loved that aspect of the pandemic.

FO: I see the cost of food differently after the pandemic. Before, I didn’t worry too much about food costs. For example, aluminum foil got really expensive. I had to be more focused on portion control and on top of my equipment. I also learned that the people who are helping you need to be appreciated. Be grateful for them. The people that still work in the service industry post-pandemic have the passion for it, so take care of them. They stuck it out when it wasn’t fun.

RH: Thank you all for sticking it out during Covid! It sounds like there’s just so much going on with, well, everything. Family, friends, and food (and being in charge all the time to boot). Do you have any advice for other food truck owners who might be experiencing the mental strain that comes with this line of work?

JCW: Mental health should be a crucial part of your business, not the last thing on your to-do list. Mental health doesn’t always mean dealing with disorders. It can also mean, “How am I today? Am I cool, calm, and collected?” Owners should always have a trusted person, employee, family or friend, that can step in for a brief moment or period to diffuse a stressful situation. If a vendor or client is being difficult or problematic, it’s easy for an owner to become emotionally involved. That’s where the owner should defer to company policy and have the delegate enforce policy in a respectful, calm and collective manner. Utilizing a delegate improves customer satisfaction because we make sure they don’t see, hear, or experience our stress.

SR: Always take time for yourself! As a small business we all know you aren’t going to get it done in one day. Look out for the red flags of when to say no to a gig. If the client can’t communicate well, and the atmosphere looks toxic, don’t chase it! Good opportunities will always come your way if you have the right attitude.


RH: It’s really wonderful to find the positives during difficult times. What tools do you have in your toolbox for the inevitable stressful catering situations that do arise?

FO: It’s a labor of love, this business! If I had that answer, it would really save me some days. Sometimes I like to go get an ice cream on the way home. Ice cold vodka and Topo Chico chills me out—I guess just enjoy the foods that soothe you. Shhh, I really love Taco Bell. It’s nostalgic. That’s my to secret self-care.

JCW: I’m still working on those. But actually, I’d like to think I have some good ones! Relaxing is common sense. When things are really, really tough, it’s important to physically take yourself out of the kitchen. Walk outside, get some vitamin D, and take a deep breath. There’s not one fix for everyone, but this tends to be a good start. Take your hair down, shake it out, and then put it back up. There are only really 5-10 minutes to diffuse yourself once at work, so prepare before the gig for the inevitable crunch time, when you don’t have that moment to breathe.

SR: Everything I do is accessible—I have my affirmations. I make sure I know and tell myself that I’m enough. I make sure I walk into rooms like God sent me there, whether the job is stressful or not. For me, it’s about faith. I have a scripture on my truck. I also love to walk outside and gaze at greenery. It gives me peace and space to think, hear myself, and hear God—it’s like a reset. To others, I’d say, show yourself gratitude and grace throughout your journey. Every step will not be easy. Don’t try to rush your pace. If you grant yourself this kindness, others will too.

RH: Thank you all so much for your time, your thoughts, and for sharing your individual approaches to mental health from a small business perspective! We’re so proud to support our partners this month and every month.

Author: This interview was conducted and edited by Greta Gooding.