Garbanzo trucks it to St. Louis

| by Elliot Maras
Garbanzo trucks it to St. Louis

Full speed ahead was how Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh President James Park decided to enter his hometown market of St. Louis. The Denver, Colorado-based chain recently opened its 25th brick-and-mortar unit there and has also been driving St. Louis sales with its first food truck.

"Our mission to the world is to make our fresh Mediterranean cuisine a mainstream favorite across the United States, and we like to say our old world recipes are inspired by tradition, but not bounded by them," Devin Handler, director of marketing, told Food Truck Operator, sister site of FastCasual.

Hailing from St. Louis, Park and Handler were both familiar with the market and quickly tapped Tommy Lee, a St. Louis food truck operator, to ensure that the chain's first food truck got the brand off to a promising start.

Lee, who had worked for Garbanzo for five years before moving to St. Louis, had founded his own truck concepet— Slide Piece — which served gourmet sliders. He knew Garbanzo and the food truck business, which made him the perfect person to help explain the Garbanzo concept to Missourians. 

"I already had my slider trucks, and they thought it would be a good idea for me to run their Garbanzo truck for them," Lee told Food Truck Operator, sister site to FastCasual.

Garbanzo purchased a used truck with 101,000 miles on it and outfitted it for total cost of $47,500. The truck has a flattop grill, a two-burner range, a fryer, a steam table, a stand-alone refrigerator, a sandwich table, a three-compartment sink and a hand-washing sink. 

"Tommy had a lot of input in helping to guide us along the way," Handler said. 

Lee hired a full-time person for the Garbanzo truck and spends much of his time helping that person on the truck. He has six to eight employees during the peak summer season for his two slider trucks, and as few as four during the offseason.

Lee orders and prepares the Garbanzo food in his own commissary. He also schedules the events for the Garbanzo truck, which goes to many of the same events as his two slider trucks.

A promising start

The Garbanzo truck's first location was an office park in Clayton, Missouri, one of eight events in its first two weeks, including a birthday party and office park servings. The first event was to support a charity called Lift for Life.

"I believe the vehicle itself is one of our primary advertising vehicles that's out there helping us build brand awareness," Handler said. "We don't feel there's any cannibalization at all (between the food truck and the restaurant)." 

In the short time the Garbanzo truck has been in business, it has won its fair share of special requests, Lee said. One of the biggest microbreweries in Missouri has tapped the Garbanzo truck for its largest event.

"They're going to be right on par with each other," Lee said for the two food truck brands he manages. "It (the Garbanzo truck) has exceeded expectations." He anticipates hiring another employee for the truck in the summer.

Lee has found the Garbanzo truck easier to manage than his slider trucks since it has only three serving formats — bowls, wraps and pita pocket sandwiches. 

"The main components in those are the same," Lee said.

His slider trucks, by contrast, serve five different sandwiches, each with its own type of protein.

Handler, for his part, has been surprised by the number of special requests the truck has received for private catering events.

"This food truck is another great step forward," he said. 

"We thought St. Louis would be an interesting market for the food truck," Handler said, due to the number of business parks in the area. There are many worksites in the business parks that only allow employees half an hour for lunch, particularly the medical businesses.

"We wanted to be able to satiate their needs with healthy, delicious and nutritious food, but not have to go out (from the park) and get it."We always say we want to go out and try stuff, but we don't necessarily do it. We fall into patterns of convenience and proximity. What we wanted to do was disrupt that. The food truck gives customers a chance to try something new and create top of mind awareness for the Garbanzo brand.

The pricepoint

The prices on the truck’s menu are similar to those in the restaurant but are rounded to a dollar or 50 cents to make math easier and quicker. Customers pay using the Square app, which integrates with the restaurant's Aloha POS system.

“Square is just an easier POS system in that environment," said Handler, who hopes the truck can deliver 20 percent of gross revenue as profit and expects to recover the investment in three to five years.

The company plans to introduce food trucks in other markets.

"We'll take the insights from it and turn it into action," Handler said.

James Park will speak about the brand during the CEO Roundtable at the Fast Casual Executive Summit, Oct. 7-9 in Seattle.

Topics: Food Trucks

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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