Running a food truck in the winter months take’s something a little extra.
Traditionally, food trucks tend to close down for the winter, fearful that the below freezing temperatures will severely damage their trucks. Some just pack up all of their flavorful ingredients and move to an area where it’s warmer and easier to sell.
This year, many Cheyenne truck owners and operators are pulling the hand break, and employing different methods to overcome the frigid season.
Juan Coronado and Seth Stefanik, owners of Los Conejos food truck, are veteran’s of the Cheyenne winter, opting to remain open despite an often harsh decline in business when it gets too cold for customers to wait at the window for a hot meal.
It might be easier to close down, but weathering the storm is worth it to Coronado. Looking at it from the grand scheme of a five year business plan, staying open and remaining relevant to their customers is worth the variables of busted water hoses and frozen propane tanks.
“It hurts you if you look at it like, ‘maybe our sales today are low compared to our costs,’ but if we’re looking at a five year plan, then it’s it’s helping you because you’re staying relevant,” Coronado said. “You’re still serving who you can.”
Without the flexibility of moving the truck to different businesses and street corners at will, Coronado and Stefanik have devised a new plan to keep business flowing by playing to their customers habits.
“People like habits, if they keep coming to us every Tuesday, that’s what they’re going to do,” Coronado said. “But if we go away, and then they start going back to McDonald’s, for example, then it’s gonna be harder to get them back.”
For the first time this winter, the truck will maintain regular hours Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.- 8 p.m., featuring unique deals on each day. Kids eat free on Mondays, and Wyo Wednesday features $1.50 tacos if you show a Wyoming I.D. Customers can keep up with deals on social media.
Another veteran of local food truck business, Noam Mantaka, owner of Noam’s Kitchen, also chooses to stay open for the season.
Mantaka, while fully prepared for all that can go wrong in the winter, is not as eager to face the bitter cold. What’s more is that, like Coronado, he sees a steep decline in business, serving just a quarter of the customers he would see when the weather is more welcoming.
“The winter season is very, very intense and very hard to do, not easy at all,” Mantaka said. “Especially when I don’t have a lot of help now. I need to maintain the truck all the time which is hard as well.”
In his experience, faucets will crack, propane will freeze, the wind chill will rock the truck. He has spare hoses at his disposal, heating pads for the tanks, extra connectors for the sink. It wasn’t always this easy, but past failures inspire solutions, so he has a feeling that this winter will be much easier.
Going through the extra preparation and potential disaster is worth it for Mantaka. Parked outside a place like Freedoms Edge Brewing Co. and seeing just one smiling customer emerge from their safe indoor space is worth the trouble.
Not every truck in town has been in operation long enough to have earned their stripes by surviving the winter, but Paul Shutty and Jamie Schaffer of Yerbellies BBQ have encountered and endured enough since opening last September to see winter as a minor obstacle.
“If it wasn’t bolted down, it broke,” Schaffer said about appliances in earlier stages of the truck.
Shutty spent 20 years as a helicopter pilot in the military, but he and Schaffer met while working for Union Pacific Railroad here in Cheyenne. So if something in the food trailer broke, which it probably did, they taught themselves how to repair it.
They even spent about four years teaching themselves how to smoke barbecue.
It helps that their trailer is unique and surprisingly simple. They aren’t frying foods, they’re smoking their meats over the span of 12-16 hours. There’s no maze of plumbing running throughout the truck, there isn’t the need to keep a collection of tanks and hoses warm, and no hood system to speak of.
“We have to stay open because, we both worked Union Pacific and we said ‘we’re done with that’ and here we are going ‘this is gonna be our full time job,’” Shutty said. “So this is what pays the bills right now. It’s a good idea for us to stay open, it’s just a struggle.”
When they first opened, their trouble with the truck was taken as a major point of discouragement. It seemingly served as a test, and now the winter isn’t something worth stopping for.
“Food is a great way to make people smile,” Shutty said. “When you got good food, it’s watching the smile show up after we’ve been putting all the hard work in, that’s the whole passion for this. It’s not the dollar.”
Recently, Shutty was looking through an article compiling 50 tips from successful food truck owners on how to stay in business. He followed up on the businesses featured in the article, and one after the other ended up having closed within a year of the articles publication.
He attributes the failure of these businesses to a lack of preparation. But to run a successful truck, there’s something equally important to planning one step ahead.
Lauren Wolcott, co owner of Graffiti Cuisine, knows that it’s going to be tricky getting through the snow and maintaining her trailer amidst the elements, but realistically, there is only so much she can do.
“You just have to roll with the punches, make your repairs and serve your clients the best that you possibly can under under uncertain circumstances when it’s winter,” Wolcott said.
The most important thing an owner and operator can do is adapt. Wolcott knows that things will go wrong, but this isn’t a hobby, it’s her business. Slowing down, or giving up for that matter, is not an option.
“I think anybody in a business, whether or not they have that skill coming in, will acquire it sooner than later or they they will probably not survive,” Wolcott said.
Sometimes, the risk of damage just isn’t worth the effort.
Bernie’s Cafe, a food truck that opened last August, has already closed for winter as a meant to avoid costly repairs, particularly to a large water tank that is exposed on the underside of the truck.
Instead, co-owner Andrew Pitkofski, is using the time to capitalize on their catering and revitalize the menu for when the truck does return in the summer of 2022. He and his wife, who runs the truck with him, met in culinary school, so new items for the menu pop up on a rolling basis.
But the free time gives them the ability to come up with more brunch items besides the sandwich and burrito that have been popular thus far. In the works are new breakfast croissants, a pancake sandwich, and more.
In the meantime they book as many catering events as they can, some as far off as a wedding in July. They make chocolates and other sweets for Christmas and Valentines Day, and when the opportunity arises, they collaborate with others food trucks.
“Yerbellies wanted to make sure that we’re staying busy through some means,” Pitkofski said. “We got to sell our cinnamon rolls and we got they sold us one of their pork butts. So we got to do pulled pork cinnamon roll sliders on both our menus.”
As a whole, the community of food truck owners in Cheyenne looks to support each other whether they choose to brave the weather or not. It isn’t about competition, but maintaining and continuing to develop an important part of Cheyenne’s culinary scene.
“We have a great city where food trucks are really starting to make a mark, build a community and build some excitement,” Wolcott said. “That ‘pivot and turn’ and resourcefulness, I think every single one of us has that.”