Once a rare sight in Mitchell, food trucks are suddenly popping up in parking lots and street corners across the town, dishing out new flavors through a window.
From the low overhead costs that come with opening and operating a food truck, to the freedom of owning a mobile restaurant, the business model has become an attractive venture for several new local food truck owners. In the past few months, there have been four new Mitchell-based mobile kitchens camping out in parking lots scattered throughout the city, each offering its own style of cuisine.
Although Nate Satrang was making a living as a car salesman over the past decade, his dream of opening a food trailer steered him in another direction. Deciding to follow his lifelong passion for cooking barbecue style cuisine, paired with his desire to run his own food business, Satrang took a leap into the food truck industry with the purchase of a trailer that would become The Daily Special. When May 2 arrived, Satrang’s journey into the business officially began in the parking lot of Northside Powersports in Mitchell.
“I’ve always wanted to run a food truck, and I’m sick of bosses telling me what to do,” said Satrang, as he threw some ground beef patties on the grill, preparing for the lunch rush. “I learned how to cook from my mom. Every time I would cook for family or friends, I would hear how much they liked my food, so I had confidence in my cooking.”
While the low overhead costs of operating a food trailer were attractive to Satrang, the ability to hook his trailer up to a truck and travel across the country to offer his popular pork nachos, burgers and smoked chicken is one of his favorite perks of the food trailer business. Although he has yet to hit the road with The Daily Special food trailer, Satrang is planning to make the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally his first trek.
“You don’t have utilities, you have super low overhead, and you’re mobile. You can make money wherever you want to go,” Satrang said. “I want to travel, so that part is going to be fun.”
As a first-time business owner, Satrang was filled with plenty of nerves on the opening day. But those nerves were squelched within the first 15 minutes into opening, as customers flocked to the window to try The Daily Special.
Knowing there is growing competition in the city, Satrang has found ways to make his food trailer stand out by offering one daily special each day he opens, staying true to the name of his business. The business strategy has been success thus far, as Satrang said he sold out of the daily specials on all but one of the days the food trailer has been open.
“After we opened, it was crazy seeing all of the new food trucks in town. But we are focused on top-notch customer service and interesting menu items,” Satrang said. “The feedback has been great, so we have things going in the right direction.”
Chubby’s, LLC, is one of the new food trucks that recently made Mitchell its home. For Von Bailey, owner of Chubby’s, opening a food truck was one way the Chicago native could bring a piece of his childhood memories to the city of Mitchell.
Bailey’s mobile restaurant menu features a unique blend of authentic Mexican-style cuisine, including tamales, elotes, tacos and burritos. Backed by the support of his girlfriend, Julie Vizcarra, who’s ethnicity is rooted in Hispanic culture, the young couple is exposing the community to new flavors from the window of their Chubby’s truck. By offering ethnic foods that are commonly found in urban areas rich with Hispanic culture, Bailey said it helps Chubby’s offer something completely different.
“Where I’m from in Chicago, we would have food trucks and guys walking around with carts full of elotes, and I’m showing a little piece of my home with the food truck,” Bailey said, highlighting how his cuisine offers something new to the Mitchell community. “A lot of my cooking experience took place as a kid with having a single mom, and me being the oldest of my siblings. My girlfriend really helped inspire some of the dishes we serve, and she perfected them with some of the spices we put on our food.”
Rather than solely opening during the afternoon for the lunch crowd like most of the new local food trucks, Bailey is tapping into the late night snacking clientele. After he worked out a deal with Thirsty’s, Bailey couldn’t have found a better location for the opening weekend of his food truck, sitting in front of one of the busiest bars in Mitchell. Bailey pointed to the hour switch at Mitchell’s only 24-hour restaurant, Marlin’s Roadhouse, as a unique opportunity to be the only food option for the late night bar crowd due to the COVID-19 virus affecting traditional restaurants.
“It’s awesome that we can chase the crowds and set up where a lot of people gather. We sold a lot of food, and we had so much love from the town on the opening weekend,” Bailey said.
Pros, cons between food trucks and restaurants
As more food trucks and trailers sprout up in Mitchell, what does that mean for the traditional brick and mortar restaurants? The overhead costs of tailoring a larger building to the owner’s desire, property taxes and heating and cooling costs, are all expenses that are out of the picture or significantly reduced with operating food trucks.
However, relying on Mother Nature is one disadvantage food trucks face compared to brick and mortar restaurants, which can provide tables and seating inside of the building year round. Satrang is well aware of the pros and cons of running a food trailer instead of a traditional diner inside of a building, but it’s a risk he’s willing to take. The sales tax licenses that are needed for food trucks to operate are dolled out through the South Dakota Department of Revenue, not the city of Mitchell.
“We put tables and chairs in front of the trailer for people to have the option of sitting down and enjoying their meals, but that will be a seasonal option due to winter months. But the low overhead and operation costs, along with being able to travel to warm parts of the country during the winter can hopefully make up for not having a restaurant in a building,” Satrang said.
Opening a business has been a dream of Bailey’s, but the upfront costs and risks associated with it can be intimidating for many budding entrepreneurs. That’s partly why Bailey steered away from a traditional restaurant location, he said.
“With limited funds, it would be hard to start off paying high rent for a restaurant location, so the food truck is a great way to get started,” Bailey said.
Process behind establishing food truck
Finding the right mobile kitchen, considering it’s where the cooking takes place, stood out as the most vital aspect of the process for Bailey and Satrang to establish their businesses.
After searching for several months, Satrang found the perfect food trailer listed online from a former chef who used it in a similar fashion. As he put a lot of work into assembling the interior of the trailer to fit his grills and cooking equipment, finding a place to park was the only thing left.
Thanks to Chris Brink, owner of Northside Powersports, Satrang found a parking lot to set up in front of the new motor sports business off Burr Street. Typically, food trucks pay a fee usually set by the owner of the parking lot, but Brink opted to allow Satrang to use the lot free of charge. It was a decision that Brink said was made due to the high volume of customers that the food trailer brings, helping expose his new business, paired with helping Satrang get his business started on the right foot.
“Nate (Satrang) brings around 400 people here when he opens up, and I’ve had a lot of people who have stopped in to check out my business since he began parking here,” Brink said.
The prep work that goes into opening every day is different from one mobile kitchen to the next, which largely depends on the type of food being served. For Chubby’s, the prep work is a little less time consuming than The Daily Special, considering tacos, burritos and tamales require less tedious work than smoking meat, which can take on average up to 16 hours.
At The Daily Special, Satrang has called on his friend, Allen Morrison, to handle the day-to-day operations and prep work. Together, the two prepare the brunt of the food the night before they open, smoking pork and tri-tip cut beef into the wee hours of the morning.
“I’m working on putting a night crew together, because Allen (Morrison) and I can’t do that every time we open,” Satrang said.
Whether the food truck trend is here to stay, it’s evident the community of Mitchell is enjoying the mobile kitchens that are bringing new cuisines to town.
“I love all the new food options I’ve been able to try, and I’m starting to get some favorites already like the pulled pork nachos,” said Cody Zephier, as he stood in line in front of The Daily Special on Tuesday afternoon.