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.
I started my career at the world-famous Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles Apprenticing under Certified Master Chef Raimund Hofmeister.
Since then I have worked in more than 22 countries around the world working for some of the world’s finest chefs from Cas Spijkers, 2 Michelin star Restaurant De Swaen Hotel in Oisterwijk, to Paul Prudhomme's K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. I was on the 92 and 96 US Culinary Olympic Teams.
I have been involved in all aspects of the foodservice industry. My main focus has always been on healthy sustainable foods; working in every aspect of the business from fine dining to airport foodservice and food manufacturing. I personally took care of the Los Angeles Lakers Foodservice, providing all meal periods for the team in the season for 8 years including the 3-year title run with two world titles and receiving two championship rings for my efforts.
My partner and I started Food Fleet in 2012 to help mom and pop mobile food vendors work within a corporate environment. Since then, Food Fleet has secured National Contracts with Sodexo, has multiple contracts with Levy Restaurants, Guckenheimer, and others, providing services for Convention Centers, NASCAR, PGA, Concerts, Colleges and Universities, Hospitals, and more.
We are currently managing over 2.5 million a month in gross sales.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Our industry as a whole has seen the best of times and the worst of times. The pandemic almost shut us down completely. We were down 95% for a long period of time and did our best to hang on. I managed to keep the entire team intact through it all. I did my best to keep them engaged and ready for when the floodgates were going to open, and we all would be up to our necks. We worked on our new tech platform, our policies and procedures, and our training manual. I paid for continuing education for our team members. We also increased our team calls to three times a week.
I looked at this as a huge opportunity to implement new procedures and start from scratch with others. No one had the time in 2019 or before to do that. Now you have the chance to start over. Take advantage of the opportunity when it is in front of you.
We partnered with the Wave foundation in the N.W. We are a founding member of the organization as well. We began working with the tribal communities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada. To date I am proud to say that we have supported over 650,000 people facing food insecurity and have provided over 4 million meal equivalents to date . We will continue to work in these communities as well as others to help combat food insecurity.
I spent the rest of my downtime working on reopening plans with all our clients, making sure I kept engaged. We worked to find creative solutions to bring people back to work when the time came.
Our industry suffered the most with the loss of employees along with severe supply chain issues.
Food Trucks, however, were able to operate during the pandemic and keep their staff. They also do not use the giant GPO ( group purchasing Organizations ) to get their food. This has enabled them as well as us to be able to provide our services where others have not been able to.
We have been involved in everything from stadium reopenings to universities and a great number of back-to-work initiatives for some of the largest companies in the US on a national scale.
In a short period of time, we went from 0-125. Our staff along with everyone else in the industry have been all trying to keep up with client demands. A lot of people were not prepared and all want to start tomorrow. This has been the most challenging part.
That all being said, we have been able to deliver at every turn, even on the, I need it tomorrow.
I am lucky to have a team of miracle workers that are dedicated and passionate about what they do.
We have more than doubled our staff in the past few months and still will continue to grow at an accelerated rate.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I know you were asking about what was your biggest mistake or missed opportunity. I would tell you that no one could have believed the entire world would be in this position.
I think everyone's moves during these times have all been a calculated risk, and there have been some big winners and big losers all along the way. We were lucky enough to have ours pan out. It could have gone the other way.
I have always considered my role in the company to be visionary and see the entire chessboard. My team is full of pragmatics and all care about the company deeply. That combination really works well for us. That being said, it's critical to make sure you see everyone's point of view. They have your back and want to make sure we all succeed. Balancing these elements is not easy. We are lucky and it has really paid off for us.
I don't want to say the biggest lesson this year was X. It was more of validating my beliefs and the way I live my life. There has been so much loss for so many, so many personal challenges, so many struggles, and it was important to recognize all of it. Understand that while it may not be a big deal to you, it is to others.
Making sure we helped and supported all of our partners in any way we could, was critical as well.
It all comes down to doing the right thing morally and ethically. There is nothing better than doing the right thing and making money. It lets me sleep at night.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We plan on accelerated growth in 2022 and for the next 5 years. We are developing our own concepts for our clients and will be training veterans and members of the BIPOC community to operate. We have developed several cause-centric concepts that benefit the entire community from growers to families.
Be as helpful as you can right now and they will remember that the next time they need something.
We are also looking to expand internationally starting in the EU with our same model. We spend a lot of COVID time working on our 5-year plan and are ready to execute it.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I spent a lot of my time over the past year studying and doing continuing culinary education from nutrition to food safety. I am in the process of taking some practical exams now for additional certifications, I also passed my WSET 2 ( wine certification )
So all of my books and reading material were educational. I really did enjoy the refreshers as well as learning new things.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Right now you need to be more nimble and ready to solve problems for customers more than ever before. Having the ability to do that and not take advantage of them financially, is critical. Short-term money is just that. Be as helpful as you can right now and they will remember that the next time they need something.
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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