While mobile vendors have had a presence around town for a couple of years, the grab-and-dine phenomenon has been visually cemented in the Queen City by a double-decker bus that its owners say is becoming a local tourist attraction.
London Calling Pasty Co. is one of seven regular vendors parked at the SGF Mobile Food Park, 836 N. Glenstone Ave. Owners Neil Gomme and Carrie Mitchell said the business took off when they launched in October, and they say there has never been a need to look in the proverbial rear-view mirror.
“It has quadrupled our expectations,” Gomme said, declining to disclose revenue.
“When we opened, we planned for a week’s worth of pasties, and we sold out in two days,” business partner and sister-in-law Mitchell said. “It really scared us.”
Transport Graphics Inc. co-owner Ken Walker began leasing a vacant adjacent parking lot two years ago for what is now formally known as the SGF Mobile Food Park just off Chestnut Expressway.
Beyond the roughly $250 monthly rent collections, he’s assisted tenants with marketing, physical improvements to the kitchens and seating areas – and vehicle graphics. Now, Walker is planning to set aside 2,000 square feet of his 6,000-square-foot Transport Graphics’ warehouse for a commercial kitchen.
“Once they become successful, nobody has enough room on their trucks,” Walker said.
Research firm IbisWorld reported in February the food-truck business has taken off despite the shaky economy. The budding industry has been growing 12.4 percent a year since 2009, with sales by some 4,000 food trucks expected to surpass $800 million this year.
In the first two days at London Calling, Gomme sold roughly 800 of the English pasties – folded, crimped pies filled with meats, cheeses or vegetables. He said business is steady and draws pasty fans to the Ozarks from as far away as Michigan, as well as natives from England, New Zealand and South Africa.
Gomme, who worked in England for Coca-Cola before moving with his wife back to her hometown last year, was drawn to the area with the goal of starting a pasty restaurant with his wife’s sister.
“Originally, we had ideas for a brick-and-mortar place,” Gomme said. “We did lots of research, and we found out that food trucks were an up-and-coming trend. And we realized that around town it can be expensive to rent a place.”
Gomme said the low weekly rent of $50 – plus the 28,000 passing cars a day – helped make the decision to invest in a food truck. The next step was developing a gimmick to attract people beyond the food product.
“The reason we got the bus was to draw people’s attention and create a scene of London,” Gomme said. “Our whole goal was to create an experience for people.”
Robyn Redmon, owner of Red’s Cupcakes, said she took root at the food park on Dec. 31, and she expects to generate $6,000 in sales during the month of June.
“We’ve almost doubled sales every month,” she said, noting business started slow with limited hours during a rough winter.
Well aware of the food-truck and food-park trends in such cities as Chicago and Austin, Texas, Redmon invested around $50,000 last year to launch her mobile business. She previously operated Red’s Cupcakes as a part-time online bakery.
She caught a break two years ago as a featured shop on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, and the channel aired the shows again in January. Preparing her sweet treats in what Redmon calls “casual glam” style, she sells the cupcakes for $3.25 apiece.
Red’s currently is open at the park Tuesday through Friday, and she travels to the Farmers Market of the Ozarks on Saturdays. Redmon said the quality and diversity of products at the food park has kept her around.
“These aren’t roach coaches like you might think of with food trucks,” she said. “People love it when they know where it is. I think people are just finding out about us.”
Walker has committed to not doubling up on the same kinds of food items at the park.
“I get requests all the time, but as king of the food court, I try to protect the interests of the vendors,” Walker said, adding he is working to sign his eighth tenant and estimates he has room for 12 spots.
He said the food park has grown organically after first leasing space to That Lebanese Place, which now operates a brick-and-mortar restaurant on Commercial Street. While others around town such as The Aviary prefer to operate solo, Walker thinks providing options attracts a crowd.
“I wanted to make it a destination,” he said. “If you’re shopping for a car and you drive on South Campbell, you can go to Youngblood Kia, Youngblood Nissan, Wessel, you can look at Chevrolets. There are 10 to 12 brands all right there on both sides of the street. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Steven Smallwood, co-owner of The Wheelhouse known for its fusion of Mexican and Thai cuisine, got the idea to open at the park after talking to a friend who worked at That Lebanese Place. He invested $35,000 to start the food truck last July, and he now generates about $10,000 a month in sales, with a specialty in vegan dishes.
Smallwood said he pays about $350 a month, including utilities at the park, and the low overheard makes his business model work.
Some of the restaurant spaces he had looked at cost $3,000 to $4,000 a month – but Smallwood admits the working quarters in the food trucks are tight.
“We are preparing food that is normally prepared in a restaurant, so we would like to have the space that a restaurant has,” Smallwood said. “We are hoping to slowly buy more equipment and get another trailer.”
Without an engine in the London Calling double-decker, Gomme and Mitchell are working to expand their 11-employee operation through catering services and other means.
“We have just acquired a mobile vehicle. In the next couple of months, you will see us around town,” he said, adding Transport Graphics is designing the look of the vehicle.
Gomme said Branson is a target market and a traditional locale might be in the British restaurant’s future.
“First, we just need to solidify what we’re doing with the food truck,” he said.[[In-content Ad]]
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