Popular food trucks feeding bigger business

MINNEAPOLIS - A little more than three years ago the food truck trend in the Twin Cities rolled onto the streets and its success can now be measured in trucks that have taken a back seat to the "brick and mortar" restaurants that have followed.

Three food trucks: Sushi Fix, Hola Arepa and Smack Shack have stories that are as different as their menu items, but they all have one thing in common, restaurant expansion.

"I pinch myself everyday," said Smack Shack owner Josh Thoma. "It's been such an incredible success for us here."

In 2012 Smack Shack added a restaurant to its food truck good, which didn't come easy.

"Our first year I think we lost money on every single lobster roll we sold, in fact I know I did," said Thoma.

Hard to believe the Smack Shack ever suffered hard times. But persistence apparently paid off. Thoma always thought the lobster roll would catch on, he just had no idea how big of a catch it would be.

"The restaurant in terms of sales does more than double what we thought, I'm absolutely astounded," Thoma said.

He said he plans to open another Smack Shack in Des Moines, St. Louis or Chicago.

If Smack Shack is the poster child of food truck to restaurant, then Hola Arepa is the stressed sibling.

"We're swimming, swimming, swimming, barely treading water," smiled owners Birk Grudem and Christina Nguyen.

Their food truck has been parked for months as the couple moved into the old El Paraiso Mexican restaurant to open the first Hola Arepa restaurant at the corner of Nicollet and 35th in south Minneapolis.

An arepa is a cornmeal based gluten-free crispy on the outside and soft in the middle concoctions filled with vegetables or meat and they sell like hotcakes.

Sales out of the truck allowed them to save cash, take out a small business loan, and Hola! Another brick and mortar was born.

"Hopefully we can get a good team in place here and hopefully we can get another Hola Arepa open in St. Paul," said Grudem.

For now, the focus will be at the new restaurant in Minneapolis, but the thought of expansion seems to be a common theme for food trucks.

"Some people say Billy, you are the first one to bring all the restaurants around here and that's great," said Sushi Fix's Billy Tserenbat from his new restaurant in Wayzata.

Billy said Wayzata will be opening nine more restaurants in the are over the next several months, thanks in large part to a huge complex that's currently under construction. Literally overnight there will be hundreds more potential customers within walking distance of Sushi Fix.

"That's actually my secret," laughed Billy. "Don't tell anyone that's what I'm shooting for, actually there is about 300-400 people already moved in."

He said his business boomed once business workers in downtown Minneapolis caught wind he would cater for their events.

Most of the private parties were in Wayzata and on Lake Minnetonka so it only seemed fitting he would open a restaurant there.

From food truck to strip mall in less than a year, don't let the exterior fool you, inside Sushi Fix is a slice of simple, urban elegance with award winning sushi.

"We've become best 50 places to eat, right now it's blowing my mind," said Billy.

If you do it well, aren't afraid to be different and have a passion for the product. It appears with a little effort and a lot of hard work. It's possible to go from food truckā€¦to the front door step.


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