Hitting the road in a food truck
A young Minden couple has found a way to make a living with the windows down and the wind blowing in their hair.
If the open road represents freedom, then Wildhorse residents Chad and Jessica Cliffe, 34 and 31, are tearing off the fetters of the restaurant industry. Their new eatery, I’d Eat There Food Truck and Catering, has made a business model out of mobility.
“We can’t just pull up and serve food anywhere,” Chad explained. “We call that guerilla food-trucking. You have to get permission first. Normally, Jessica scouts out the spot, then we decide which one of us is going to make the call.”
On Friday morning, the Cliffes parked their red and white truck behind The Record-Courier building for an interview. Though they’ve already nailed down park-and-serve locations for several days of the week, they’re still searching for a Friday destination.
“We’re trying to get by the (state) Assembly before it ends,” Chad said.
The food truck, of course, has a story. It begins years ago in Morro Bay, Calif., where Chad and Jessica met. She was a server at Rose’s Landing restaurant. He was a chef.
“We still have that old restaurant homage going,” Chad said with a grin. “She had been in the front of the restaurant, and I had been in the back. Now, it’s front of the truck, and the back of the truck.”
In 2008, with a young daughter named Joey, the family relocated to Minden. Chad was hired as the executive chef for a start-up restaurant called Atabi, located in the Thunder Canyon Golf Course in Washoe Valley. Chad ended up spending four years of his life cooking for the course membership.
Last summer, however, a career change came from an unexpected place: a Bible studies class at LifePoint Church in Minden.
“Someone in my Bible studies class suggested the food truck and actually became our financial backer,” Chad said. “Just being in the food industry as long as I had (18 years) and knowing that Jessica was on board still wasn’t enough. It was really something outside both of our comfort zones. It was definitely a leap of faith.”
Thrilled and bewildered at the same time, the Cliffes started researching. They had an idea of what a food truck might look like but not a clear picture.
“There is a food truck industry out there, but usually for tacos, where you see the huge flap come down for selling and grabbing sodas,” Chad said. “But that’s not our truck. We found fabricators who’d been making and modifying delivery vans into food trucks. Logistically, there were kinds of foods we wanted to do and certain things we were looking for – all the specs, all the health code requirements on the food side, and trying to fit it all together.”
By the end of summer, they’d found what they believed to be a retrofitted Fed Ex truck. It turned out to be the perfect fit, with one catch, though. It was located in Portland, Ore.
“It was a crazy drive,” Jessica remembered. “We went there and back in 24 hours.”
“All the equipment inside and the steel plating were super clean,” Chad said. “It came with a 2-burner stovetop and a 3-compartment sink, which you need. We added two fridges and a flat-top griddle.”
But what is a food truck without a name? Jessica had filled two pages with potential titles before her eureka moment.
“I kept going back to it,” she said. “Then I had a text conversation with my brother. I told him we were starting a gourmet food truck and trying to come up with a name. When I sent him all the stuff, he told me he thought it was a great idea, and he said, ‘I’d eat there.’ That’s where the name came from.”
But what about the menu? What exactly would people eat there?
“We wanted to have staples but also the creativity to get our names out there,” said Chad. “Yes, we do have tacos, but they are done with love. Each one expresses how much we love food.”
“We did tastings,” added Jessica. “My mother tasted a lot of our food beforehand because we could always count on her to be candid.”
The resulting “curbside cuisine” consists of sandwiches, from club melts and cheesesteaks to jerk chicken and the Russian Renee. The latter boasts turkey breast, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, dried cranberries, and Russian dressing on dark rye.
The fresh tacos are corn tortillas folded over sauteed tilapia or thin-sliced sirloin, salsa, lime Sriracha sauce, shredded cabbage and queso fresco.
“The Renee is taking off,” Chad said.
“It was a special item,” explained Jessica, “but even as a special, it was flying out the window.”
The truck officially rolled out in September. Finding locations to sell the food was a matter of finding fans.
“When they try our food, we got them. It’s just a matter of getting them to try the food,” Chad said. “We’ve gotten two locations from customers.”
One referral occurred while the truck was parked at the Frontier Communications building in downtown Gardnerville. A new customer, who happened to work for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, gave the best endorsement a new customer can give.
“She said, ‘Wow, you have to come over to our office,'” recalled Chad.
Now, every Thursday, the I’d Eat There food truck is stationed at the sheriff’s office off Buckeye Road in Minden, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Other locations include Appoggio Fitness near the Stratton Center in Gardnerville, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tuesdays; Research Way in Carson City, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays; and Frontier Communications in Gardnerville, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.
“We’ve seen a steady increase with the weather changing,” said Jessica. “We can definitely handle more growth.”
Envisioning the future, Chad said that breakfast would generate more revenue than dinner, unless the truck were booked for a particular event.
“During dinner, you sit down,” he said. “You want elegance more than jerk chicken from the food truck.”
Whatever the strategy thus far, it seems to be working.
“We’re getting some new people, but we definitely have our regular customers now,” Jessica said.
The small business owners are looking forward and outward, including a gig at the Genoa Cowboy Poetry Festival in May. And they appear to be building bridges over the road they’re traveling. Every morning, they prep their truck at Kim Lee’s Restaurant in Gardnerville before hitting the road.
“The more we do it, the more we enjoy it,” said Jessica.
For more information about the food truck, visit http://www.iettruck.com or call (775) 315-1987.