From Food Truck to Restaurant Chain: The Entrepreneurial Journey of Mexicue Co-Founder David ShillaceRamon Ray
The Evolution of an Entrepreneur
David’s food truck business was his first dip into entrepreneurism. After discovering the food truck revolution in Los Angeles, he decided to bring the trend to the streets of Manhattan with a food truck called Mexicue, a tasty fusion of Mexican and barbecue. The Los Angeles food truck idea hadn’t caught on yet, so in 2010 Manhattan was like the Wild West for food trucks. A year later things changed. They faced competition from dozens of trucks flooding the market, backlash from angry retail operators and food vendors, and a devastating snowstorm that hurt the business. It was time to move on.
The first Mexicue brick-and-mortar restaurant was opened in a 450 square foot space on Seventh Avenue. With growing popularity and hungry investors, a second 1,200 square foot restaurant was opened on Broadway. Then with more support (specifically from Sandy Beall, founder of Ruby Tuesday), a third, 2,400 square foot restaurant was opened on Fifth Avenue. The current plan is to open at least two new restaurants per year, with a goal of $20 million annual revenue by 2017.
In my interview with David, we asked him to share some insight about his journey and give advice to other entrepreneurs. Two of his main points related to mistakes and company culture.
(Watch and excerpt of my interview with David below:)
Mistakes as Learning Opportunities
David’s experience reminds entrepreneurs that missteps can either be viewed as devastating mistakes OR as learning opportunities that help you achieve something even more positive. David does not view his as mistakes, but rather part of the experience that contributed to the evolution of his business.
For one, leaving a six-figure salary to start a food truck could have been viewed as a mistake, especially considering that food trucks are typically not that profitable – but how could he be where he is today if he didn’t take this step?
Secondly, opening up a 450 square foot business (mostly take out with a small seating area) wasn’t part of his long-term business model – but it was this first brick-and-mortar attempt that gained him brand recognition and customer loyalty, enabling him to open his larger, fast-casual restaurants.
Each step in the evolution of Mexicue allowed David to learn valuable lessons that pushed him forward. These seemingly odd directions were a necessary part of the path to success.
Encouraging Company Culture
Another main piece of advice David gave was to encourage company culture and use that culture to find the right people. In his business, David is looking to hire people with the right fit – those who have an entrepreneurial attitude and think along the same line. This goes for everyone in the business, from investors to managers, dishwashers, and waitresses.
Of course, not every business does this. Some service businesses have lower expectations for their minimum wage workers, seeing them as temporary workers who will eventually move on to college or other jobs. But, as David points out, your bartenders, waiters, and other staff are going to be the ones interacting with the customers. If they can’t communicate that company culture, your branding is unsuccessful.
David says that one of the things he’s most proud about is his team. He’s been careful to find people who share the same company vision, and when everyone is moving in the same direction, the company can move forward.
As an entrepreneur, you have an opportunity for great success, but as the main authority with decision-making power, you can also make miscalculations and missteps. In addition to seeing these as part of the overall journey, David says you should also surround yourself with people that are better than you in every aspect of business. This allows you to mitigate your mistakes and learn from the experts. Although David has experienced a wild ride in the past five years, he says he would never give up the entrepreneurial lifestyle. Working for yourself means working to make your own dreams come true, and that is important to having a full life.