Food trucks: A day in the life
Local food trucks do brisk business at lunch and dinner, popping in for a short time before heading off to the next location, but the Mini Burger truck’s co-owner, Davin Vculek, said the business typically requires 12-hour days, with only four or five hours of actual food service.
“We start about 8:30 in the morning,” he said Wednesday as he stood next to his truck, which was parked in Rancho Cordova awaiting the opening rush. “We do a lot of prep work at our commissary, and that’s what most of the trucks will be doing at that time.”
Once the preparatory work is complete, Vculek and three or four employees head out to the day’s first location.
The truck itself – made in the 1970s – holds a driver, and two passengers can sit sideways on a bench seat. Any additional employees follow the truck in another vehicle, and they typically arrive at the first location by about 10:30 a.m. to prepare for opening at 11 a.m.
On Wednesdays, Vculek and crew set up at 11000 White Rock Road in Rancho Cordova, where the local laws allow them to park on private property with the permission of the property owner and do business.
About 20 people were lined up at the truck on Wednesday waiting for it to open, and business started with a rush, which didn’t die down for the next few hours.
“We sell about 1,000 burgers per day,” Vculek said, adding that most are sold at lunchtime.
The truck is a tight fit, and on Wednesday the 14-foot kitchen held Vculek and four employees, all working in tandem to get the burgers out quickly.
“A lot of people think that you just have to get a food truck and park somewhere, and you’ll draw crowds,” Vculek said. “But really, it’s hard work. I was working 16- or 18-hour days in the beginning, and it was tough to break even. We really worked on efficiency and building our brand. That didn’t come easy.”
Recognition has spread over the course of the past year, and David Siedlecki, a 50-year-old driver for Regional Transit and resident of Rancho Cordova, wore a Mini Burger T-shirt Wednesday and said he is one of the truck’s biggest fans.
“I used to have a (bus) route here, and I saw it parked here one day and called my wife and told her to stop by,” he said. “I like all of it, and I’m looking forward to them getting their next truck.”
Vculek said a new, 30 percent larger truck will debut in three weeks, and the current truck will be transformed into a taco truck.
“It’s going to be unique,” he said. “We’re going to make our tortillas from scratch, and we will have, like, a Maine lobster taco and a Korean-style taco.”
The name of the truck and more specifics on the menu aren’t being released at the moment, he added.
Another step for Vculek this year is the opening of a 2,500-square-foot quick-service restaurant in downtown Sacramento in September.
He said the menu will be an expanded version of what is available at the Mini Burger truck, and beer and wine will be available.
A former chef for Guy Fieri, owner of Johnny Garlic’s and other restaurants, Vculek, 29, said his background is in running brick-and-mortar restaurants, but the food truck presented a whole different set of challenges.
“One of the reasons we are going to the bigger truck is for more refrigerated storage,” he said, adding that after the current truck runs out of supplies, it’s time to head back to the commissary and stock up for the dinner shift. A larger truck will allow more time to be spent selling, increasing revenues.
“If you have a restaurant, you’re open,” he said. “With a truck, we have to do a high volume in a short time to make money. And when it rains, we’re closed. A restaurant can stay open.”
The constant line at the truck during lunch on Wednesday was evidence of the truck’s ability to do a high volume of sales, and Julie James, a 25-year-old Elk Grove resident who works in quality assurance in Folsom, said it’s worth the drive – and the line.
“Their food is really good,” she said. “I wouldn’t be coming from Folsom if it wasn’t good.”
The line Wednesday was typical of what she said she sees, and it usually takes 10 to 15 minutes from ordering to having a burger in-hand.
She added that she is looking forward to visiting the brick-and-mortar restaurant once it opens in Sacramento.
Cory Wozniak, a 34-year-old Fair Oaks resident who works in the technology industry, agreed with James, saying he plans on visiting the downtown restaurant once it opens.
While some food truck detractors wonder about the amount of sales tax being collected in the largely cash-based business, Vculek said Mini Burger uses the same computerized systems that restaurants use to track sales.
“We report all of our sales to the IRS,” he said. “It’s the same as any other business, and we actually have more licenses and restrictions.”
He said he has a business license for each city in which he does business, and all mobile food employees must go through a state-mandated background check before being allowed to work in the food trucks.
“That can take as long as 30 days, and I really have no idea why they make us do that,” he said. “It’s not required for other restaurants.”
Sacramento’s current controversial food truck ordinance, which limits stops to 30 minutes or less within the city limits, makes doing business in the city difficult, Vculek said, adding that he parks at the state Board of Equalization offices every Tuesday, because state property is exempt from the city ordinance. The Board of Equalization is located at 450 N St.
“They lost their cafeteria, and they asked us to come down there,” he said, adding that he spends only one day in Sacramento as the result of the ordinance. “We’re hoping to get that changed.”
Vculek said the interest in the downtown restaurant, coupled with the success of Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen opening in another downtown space, is proof that the food truck is a good incubator for small business.
“We started 18 months ago with two employees,” he said. “Now we’re getting ready to have our second truck and 10 employees, and when we open the restaurant, we’ll be at 30 employees. That’s tax money and jobs brought to the region.”
For more information on locations of the Mini Burger truck, click here.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.