This is a follow up story for Food Fleet. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! I’m Jeffrey, founder of Food Fleet. From the beginning, Food Fleet was founded with the idea of helping small mom and pops work within a corporate environment. We are one of the nation's largest mentors of startups in the food service industry. We mentor passionate people who want to get into the food business but don't understand how the actual business works. That hasn’t changed since we started back in 2015.
We do that by showing them how to work in a corporate environment, whether it's stadiums or arenas, or corporate campuses. We show them how to engineer their menu, about licenses, permits, insurance, and most critically, transaction times. This allows our vendor partners to expand their existing business while at the same time providing our corporate partners with some really good food. We supply all of the major corporate food service companies with their mobile solutions and indoor popups, or station takeovers.
But we do so much more than that. Everyone on the team gets to know these owners. It's not just about booking a truck. It's never been about the booking. It's about understanding each person, what their passion is, what they're good at and why they got into it. I think that's the difference. Mentoring happens when getting to know who these people are and what their needs are. If we don’t have a relationship with each one of our vendor partners and an understanding of where they are in the world, from their truck, their restaurant, and their pop-up, we can’t do what we do best––feed people.
It became clear during the pandemic that our approach to building relationships with both our corporate partners and our vendor partners was exactly what was needed to pivot our operations to providing food in an unprecedented environment. Our measure of success shifted.
We've done well over 4 million meals in our communities helping people and providing millions of pounds of food and continue to do so.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
The last 12 months have seen unprecedented growth for us, month over month, to the point where we have tripled our team and operations. We have gone from 1.5mm in gross revenue to roughly 3mm and our team has grown, since the beginning of the pandemic from 4 to 20.
We brought on several people for business development, marketing, and tech development to help us focus on our growth. We are operating in more than 30 states and the UK. We have been a big part of companies’ incentives to bring people back to the office. Food is the driver. It was a major strategy for companies like Bloomberg and IBM.
We are seeing the return to the office on Tuesdays through Thursdays. Not so much on Mondays and Fridays and how can you make returning to the office exciting. You know, there is no greater joy than feeding people. That's why we got into the business.
Food is really special. Everybody or mostly everybody can associate something that their mother made or their grandmother…it’s part of their life that triggers something beautiful and draws an emotional response… the smell, the taste. Paul Prudhomme taught me that.
Another reason is the connection to the community that wasn't universally there before the pandemic. People are now focused more on their local community…not on name only. Before the pandemic, there was a lot of empty talk about supporting local and community. That has changed. Many saw communities ravaged by the pandemic and they want to help.
Also, people want to know where their food comes from, and who's making it for them. There's a stronger focus on supporting local, the true local community at large, and our partners are from those communities so our corporate partners want to see the money going back and helping individuals on a day-to-day basis.
We’ve also been able to identify more partners and tell their stories. The pandemic saw, perhaps because of isolation or loss of family and friends, a loss of connectivity between human beings. We started getting asked over and over again about who our vendor partners were and how they were doing. We didn't realize what we had until we were asked because it's inherently who Food Fleet is. It’s the building of this community of extraordinary human beings that want to feature and showcase their passion for what they do.
Doing the right thing for your team, your partners, and everyone else you touch in this world will always win.
So we plan on launching a new website in 2023 that will integrate the storytelling component. It is part of a more defined or strategic marketing approach that will celebrate over 8000 vendor partners. We’ve hired the founder of Edible Queens and Edible Idaho to help us with this. Claudia has recently received her master's from NYU in food and culture. She is an exceptional storyteller and has an amazing ability to help us find our local food heroes.
We also have been working with a team on business development along with strengthening our procedures and financial modeling.
We continue to work with the Wave Foundation, whose focus is on climate and equity in communities that need our help. For example, during the pandemic, we provided weekly food boxes with culturally appropriate foods to communities in the Northwest. We only purchased foods that were grown in the northwest and continue to do this today. We were recently recognized by the White House during their conference on food and nutrition.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
The biggest challenge has been managing the inevitable stress on our team when a client’s needs are urgent and filled with last-minute changes. For instance, juggling the client’s urgency to have their employees return to the office and how that impacts food service.
Helping the team navigate this, along with hiring enough staff and training them to jump in has been the most challenging.
Understanding when it's ok to say no, and not stretching the team too much has also been difficult for me. I never want to say no if we don’t have to. Identifying the risk/reward has helped a lot with that.
I gave the entire team a hazard pay bonus a while back to let them know how much I appreciated all their hard work and going the extra mile.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I would say there have been many important lessons I have learned. Being more confident in what we have and what we are capable of delivering has been a big lesson.
I would also say understanding the growth of the company and what it means to go from 4 to 20 employees and a whole lot more that comes with that. The old adage “No good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind meaning wanting to help people out at the last minute usually causes problems.
When that happens, I stop being strategic with the team including not listening to them in terms of how much time they need to execute a task. The last-minute stuff has caused the team more pain than not and I've learned to let them tell me what they need and how to go about doing it.
You know, having an exceptional leadership team to ensure we maintain our culture and identity has made it a lot easier for me. We are lucky to have a VP of Ops who lives and breathes that. She sets the tone for everything we do.
The biggest lesson is trust in what you have built. While you need to constantly evolve and evaluate. Doing the right thing for your team, your partners, and everyone else you touch in this world will always win.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We are looking at international expansion.
We are looking to grow in ways we never thought possible, by strengthening our partnerships and identifying new areas of growth. We are planning on increasing face-to-face meetings in the new year with our clients and seeing what their needs are. I want to replicate what we’re doing here in other places.
We can go to Europe, South and Central America, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia and with my background, it's not difficult to mirror our same systems. We have relationships in every country in Europe and with the British/European Street Food awards so expanding in those directions is a very real possibility.
What’s the best thing you read in the last year?
I love the Netflix series Chefs table and all the spin-offs from pizza to street food and BBQ. The writers and producers have an exceptional way of conveying their people passion for what they do. It inspires me every time I watch one.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Surround yourself with people that understand what you’re trying to achieve. Find good mentors and people that are helping for the right reasons.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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