It was a long drive from San Antonio back to Eduardo Bocock’s home in Virginia. Twenty-two hours to be exact. Plenty of time for Bocock (ACCT ’95) to brood over the $65,000, custom-outfitted food truck he had just picked up that was turning out to be not much of a bargain.
For one thing, the new-to-him truck was threatening to break down. Tempering his annoyance, though, was the thought of all the “ginormous” (and accordingly priced) food trucks on the market. This one might be a bit of a lemon, but it was the right size for him. And nobody else was doing food trucks at this price. So while he stewed and grumbled his way across the country, Bocock made his peace with the situation.
It was an acceptance made easier by his discernment of a new market niche. He could see it as clearly as if he were presenting a case study. Real estate was expensive and hard to get in places such as Washington, D.C., Bocock knew. Yet with the population increasing in many urban centers, a rise in the demand for food trucks only made sense to him. The macroeconomics were there.
Bocock was betting on that — and on himself. “If this guy can do food trucks, I can do food trucks,” he mused.
He’s a pretty good bet. His successes in business stretch back to the second grade in Costa Rica when he picked up pencils dropped by careless students in the hallway and sold them the next day to students who would be penalized if the teachers found out they hadn’t brought a pencil to school. Even more to the point might be his experience as a mergers-and-acquisitions specialist and later his turn as an options trader.
The food industry is also in Bocock’s blood. His family owned an ice cream company in Honduras where he worked every summer, whether it was at the retail store scooping up the frozen treat for customers or in the production plant.
Bocock was right about demand. Food trucks have tapped a rising consumer demand for fresh, fast, authentic food choices. The industry is expected to generate $1.2 billion in revenue this year, according to Mobile-Cuisine.com, a growth of 12 percent over the last five years.
Bocock is right in the thick of it with East Coast Custom Coaches, the customized food truck business he established in Manassas, Virginia, in 2008. Customized, though, doesn’t refer just to the outfitting. His enterprise is one part manufacturing, one part contracting, one part designing, one part consulting. And lately, even one part banking.
Part of what sets Bocock apart from his competition is his pragmatism. His food trucks are used, but well-maintained. Bocock’s mechanic works on them until the engines purr. “They’re a fifth of the price of a new one,” he notes. “You don’t sell more food if your truck is new or used. We’re trying to save people money.”
And he keeps his eye on the bottom line for his customers in other ways, as well. From day one, Bocock consults on menu design and pricing architecture. He’s not so much selling customers a truck as helping them build a business. “We custom outfit you with a kitchen that’s designed for your menu, because the more food you can get out the window during an hour-and-a-half at lunch, the more money you make. If the kitchen isn’t made to your menu, you’re going to be slower and lose money.”
His clients bring a bounty of traditional, mouth-watering foods from other countries to U.S. streets. “We do fusion tacos and a lot of kebobs. We do food from Senegal and Kenya. Peruvian chicken. We have a family who owns one of the very well-known salsa bars here in Arlington, Virginia,” Bocock says. “I just sold them their sixth truck.”
Some of the trucks are outfitted with special equipment. Zaza & the Perfect Pie, for example, has a wood-fired, brick oven built in at the rear doors of the truck. Another, the Snocream Shavery, is actually a vintage school bus given new life as an innovative café. The exterior design, created with a vinyl wrap that is applied like a decal rather than painted on, features giant emoji-like icons. Many of the imaginative truck designs are custom-designed by the in-house wrap unit to bring the customer’s brand to life, Bocock says.
Recently, Bocock put together a prototype hedge fund — he calls it the “food truck fund” — to help some of his customers finance their rolling restaurants. Consider it part of his social mission to do good business.
“Our market, by design, is not the institutional market. It’s the entrepreneur market,” he says. “We’re a mobile-business launch pad. We want to help people start businesses.”
He is particularly interested in helping immigrants who have been working in restaurant kitchens. “The guys that run a kitchen, that’s who should run a food truck, because they’re used to hard work,” he says. “Most of them are immigrants. They work their tails off. They have the gumption, desire, the grit.”
As for himself, Bocock, who has long dreamed of also owning a stationary restaurant, opened White Apron Specialty Sandwiches in Washington, D.C., hoping to make lunchtime a little brighter for those who toil in cubicles all day. Twenty sandwiches are on the menu and all the ingredients are fresh. The fact that they make their mayonnaise from scratch tells you everything you need to know.
That doesn’t mean Bocock will walk away from his custom food truck business — for the best reason of all. “Last year, I helped open 70 new businesses,” he says. “Real people are the drivers of the economy. I’m helping them realize their dreams. It’s the best job of all time.”