Business Lunch: Food Truck Consulting

4 10 2011

Find an obstacle, create a way to lower the barriers to entry. That’s what Matt Cohen of Off the Grid did. Originally wanting to start a food truck business serving the ramen noodle dishes he learned to prepare in Japan, he encountered obstacles when trying to obtain permits to operate his business. Like many cities trying to engage in and regulate the food truck revolution, he ran into city bureaucracy that made it more difficult for him to move forward. Instead, he built a for-profit food truck business that supports a rapidly expanding network of about 100 mobile food vendors at weekly events around the Bay Area.

Reshaping the way food trucks operate, Off the Grid is a soup-to-nuts, vertically integrated operation, assisting mobile food vendors with everything from location scouting to social media tricks to truck aesthetics. His consulting arm has even won the hearts of the city as his clients receive expedited permits. Off the Grid also works with the local Parks Department to open spaces for food truck events, creating even more business for its clients.

In Seattle, operating a food truck business is just as tough. However, this year the Seattle City Council recently voted in favor of new rules, which allow food trucks to sell beyond private lots. For a breakdown of these new, more relaxed, regulations, see this Seattle Times article. Prior to this new regulation, I also wrote about food truck business models.

Time and time again, we’re confronted with obstacles that challenge our vision or progression forward with an idea. The real challenge is possibly refocusing and changing direction. Sometimes the obstacle itself may present an unmet need, as it did with Mr. Cohen. While it may be frustrating to shift gears, the process of thinking through alternatives might highlight a profitable avenue for both you and your customers. It may just become your win-win cash cow.

Photo courtesy of Off the Grid.


Hooray for Local Seattle Businesses!

1 04 2010

It’s well known that I’m a big advocate for small businesses. And today I’m even more excited about supporting the Seattle business community.

After the demise of Washington Mutual in 2008, Seattle lost the eight year sponsor of its 4th of July fireworks show drawing tens of thousands of people to the shores of Lake Union. Chase, which absorbed Washington Mutual, agreed to sponsor the show last year, but not again. (Ivar’s also pulled the plug on its annual “4th of Jul-Ivar’s” show last year after 44 years.) So when One Reel, the nonprofit that organizes the show, announced this week that it was not able to secure a corporate sponsor for the annual fireworks show this year – Seattle restaurateur and chef Tom Douglas pledged $5,000 to keep the show going and challenged other Seattle business leaders to do the same. Talk about a community effort – sidelining several other donors, Microsoft and Starbucks each doled out $125,000.

And the donations keep rolling in. Check out which Seattle businesses are pledging to save the show this year; the list is impressive and continually growing.

I first learned of Tom’s 4th of July donation efforts through his restaurant’s Twitter account. But it’s not unknown that Tom is acutely interested in developing a supportive business community – particularly a supportive food community. Whether you liken it as Tom Douglas University or the Tom Douglas Universe, as mapped out in the April 2010 issue of Seattle Magazine, think of the velocity effect of his ambition. With five restaurants, a bakery, a catering business, a radio show, a line of spice rubs, and a kitchen tool line on Amazon, he’s developed quite a business – and he’s opening two more restaurants!

It’s understandable that when money is tight, companies may choose to donate funds toward partnerships held in a different regard, and with less liability. But after an almost half a century long community tradition, it’s hard to muster the thought of not having a fireworks show in Seattle on the 4th of July. A community campaign seems fitting.

Cheers to Tom Douglas. And cheers to all the area businesses that are donating to support Seattle’s 4th of July fireworks show over Lake Union. Buying local can surely have an explosive effect – I’ll see you underneath the fireworks in a few months.

…If you’d like to make an individual donation, click here.

Photo courtesy of Jenine Anderson.

Prosperity Partnership: Economic Growth for the Central Puget Sound Region.

1 12 2009

I just learned about the Prosperity Partnership while catching up on a few Puget Sound Business Journal editions. If you live and/or work in Washington’s central Puget Sound Region, you should take note of this organization.

The Prosperity Partnership is a coalition of government, business, labor and community organizations from King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties dedicated to developing and implementing a common economic strategy. Their mission and economic strategy is to strengthen the long-term economic prosperity of the central Puget Sound region and create 100,000 new jobs. Sign me up, I’m interested!

Launched in July 2004, the Prosperity Partnership has grown to include over 300 organizations dedicated to further establishing a strong, globally-oriented and sustainable economic agenda for the region. This agenda is aimed at developing local prosperity, which the central Puget Sound region’s economic growth depends – based on six foundational principles. Because businesses locate where there is a high quality of life, good schools, efficient transportation, affordable housing, and supportive government policies – a coordinated effort like the Prosperity Partnership helps to promote new business, existing firm growth, and the region’s competitive stance among other similarly situated markets around the globe.

The organization has outlined six economic foundations of the economy that must be strengthened to keep the central Puget Sound region competitive – human resources, technology, access to capital, business climate, physical infrastructure, and quality of life and social capital. With a focus on rebuilding these cornerstones, the Prosperity Partnership has indicated its strategy of six Foundation Initiatives to grow the local economy:

  1. Education: Ensuring a vibrant, well-educated and adaptable workforce with an entrepreneurial spirit.
  2. Technology Commercialization: Improving the movement of technological innovations from research institutions to the marketplace.
  3. New & Small Business Support: Nurturing entrepreneurs and small businesses.
  4. Tax Structure: Implement balanced, pro-competitive tax reforms.
  5. Transportation: Building an effective transportation system to support a world-class region.
  6. Social Capital and Quality of Life: Securing broad based prosperity in all parts of the region through a strong civic and nonprofit community.

Want to learn more or get involved?

As with any community, support is user generated. Help grow the central Puget Sound’s regional economy, learn what’s at stake, and support local business! …It’s ALWAYS time for business!

Photo courtesy of Prosperity Partnership.

Spotlight on Business: Celebrated Chefs

12 10 2009

Celebrated Chefs

A little over a week ago, I dined at Urbane in Seattle before heading to see Wicked at the Paramount Theater. I hadn’t actually planned on going to Urbane until passing by it earlier that day, curiously entering inside and spontaneously making a reservation. Boy am I glad I did. The food was fresh, creative, and tasty – and the restaurant also introduced me to Celebrated Chefs.

Celebrated Chefs is a program designed to raise money for non-profit organizations continuously and seamlessly. Its the brainchild of Bob Sarkie, along with the healthy support of Pete Higgins and Nicholas Hanauer. And given Mr. Sarkie’s experience with Entertainment Publications, Celebrated Chefs is the culmination of his work towards creating a smooth transaction-oriented program that supports non-profits. It practically makes all enrollees of the program continual donors, without even knowing it – and I mean that in a good way.

How does it work?

There are two ways to enroll in the Celebrated Chefs program, one of them is through their participating restaurants. The program essentially offers restaurants the opportunity to diversify their marketing and further contribute to their non-profit support. Celebrated Chefs has carefully handpicked these restaurants for being local, serving quality ingredients, and having an all around chef team of their peers. Inclusion is exclusive, price points vary, and all of these restaurants are worth trying at least once in your life.

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Spotlight on Business: – Connecting lawyers globally.

5 10 2009


There is something to be said about the Internet. It has the capability to connect people globally and expand the definition of “community.” And the larger your network, the greater your opportunity to influence a broader audience or seek out support.

Lawyers in particular understand the value of networking and broadening their communities. Good lawyers get work and retain clients by using the tools at hand better than anyone else. A lawyer’s reputation is just one of these tools and it’s worth mentioning, to lawyers, the value of investing in your reputation:

A lawyer’s most important investment is the investment they make in themselves. An investment that makes certain that the public, referral sources, bloggers, conference coordinators, and the media see the lawyer as a thought leader in their field – see the lawyer as a reliable and trusted authority in the lawyer’s area of expertise.

There has never been a better time to use the Internet as a way to leverage this investment. This is where comes in to play. I recently found out about LawRex through Twitter and became immediately intrigued. I then discovered that what started as a bet between the founders of LawRex, siblings Joe and Isis Bous, became an online solution aimed to change the way lawyers do business.

The bet was made over the question of whether there existed an online solution for their solo practitioner friend to find and generate referrals. Afterall, isn’t it often the case that “almost everyone knows a lawyer, but no one ever seems to know the one they need.” As a result, LawRex officially launched on August 24, 2009, as a lawyer-to-lawyer referral and client management system that allows lawyers to trade the leads they can’t use for ones they can online. LawRex is a new tool for lawyers, and an increasingly important one at that.

And if you’re a business owner, LawRex can be a benefit to you as well. Likely, all business owners have sought out legal assistance in either starting-up their business or maintaining its success. Provided that these lawyers are a member of LawRex, you’re likely to receive competent help in the future – whether it is from your specific lawyer or another lawyer, accessed through LawRex, who has the specific experience to better assist you.

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Spotlight on Business: Lambs Ear Shoes

25 09 2009


Mentors. They’re really hard to find and when you finally gain one, hold on tight. Any mentor will tell you that it takes hard work to see the results. But it is sure nice to look back and realize how far you’ve come. So when I asked Angie Sorenson of Lambs Ear Shoes about the inspirations behind the opening of her store, it’s not surprising that she mentioned her mentor Becky Buford of Les Amis and Essenza in Fremont. And the more I hear about Becky, the more she resembles a retail savvy version Tom Douglas, unofficially noted for Tom Douglas University.

Thus after nine years as a manager and buyer for Les Amis, Angie was primed to jump start her long desire to open a store. Her goal was to stay in Fremont and build a fashion forward brand that would match the talent defining boutique retail in the neighborhood. And for a girl who shops for shoes and jewelry before all else, Lambs Ear Shoes was born.

Time, place…and a little grace.

Selecting a completely interior store space without any windows was certainly a daring move, but also an opportunity given the time and her opening budget. Angie hired Jason Thomas Faulkner of Society & Co., Michael Danielson, and Joe Bourmeister to complete her vision of something modern and clean. Jason believed that a good design would never age and continue to look fresh. And with these goals in mind, she completely entrusted the store’s design to Jason, provided that he stay within budget.

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Spotlight on Business: The Queen Anne Farmer’s Market

10 09 2009


Remember the quote from the movie, Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.” Well, it has certainly proved true for the Queen Anne Farmers Market this year.

The Queen Anne Farmers Market is a non-profit organization with the mission of supporting local farms and building the community of the neighborhood. And after its re-launch this summer in their new location at Queen Anne Avenue and Crockett, the market is truly proving to be a community success. A success that may be attributed to a number of different factors, and people. It takes a village to raise a child right?

The People:

With a canceled farmer’s market contract in their hands, Julie Whitehorn led the steering committee to further developing the Queen Anne Farmers Market with a business plan different from other markets in the city (Pike Place, The Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, and Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets). Simply put, everyone had to be passionate about building the community and creating relationships with the neighborhood.

Julie’s vision also included the promotion of small farms, helping farms become financially viable, and improving public health by encouraging responsible attitudes towards small farms. And after attending a conference by Project for Public Spaces, an organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities, she was inspired to jumpstart the market. Without direct market management experience, her passion and vision for the market certainly gave her the credentials to take action. She knew that an operations template could be learned, as long as the market received an increasingly positive response from the neighborhood.

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