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I'm quitting the grind, and putting YOUR money where MY mouth is. It's time to stop blogging about food, and start cooking for real.
I'm quitting the grind, and putting YOUR money where MY mouth is. It's time to stop blogging about food, and start cooking for real.
401 backers pledged $29,457 to help bring this project to life.

Reflections on One Month of Food Trucking

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Hello, Kickstarter backers! It's been over a month since my last update, and I realize that many of you must be wondering what's been happening in the first month since 'Wich, Please officially opened. I have a lot that I want to tell you, so forgive me if this update reads a little like a stream-of-consciousness hodgepodge.

First of all, running a food truck is hard work, you guys. In fact, next to having handfuls of dead lobster thrown at me when I worked in a lobster processing plant at 14, or operating that railroad-driven wood chipper that one time, it's by far the most difficult and demanding job I've ever had, both emotionally and physically. 

Thanks to the heat of the kitchen, the sporadic mealtimes, and the newfound physical exertion, I lost somewhere around 10 pounds in my first week at work. Thankfully, I've mitigated any further weight loss with a near-constant intake of roasted pork. 

My hands have turned into something of a disaster, as well, as they transition from "holding a mouse and keyboard all day" to "being cut, soaking wet, and occasionally seared on the grill," and by "occasionally" I mean "constantly."

Right now, I am putting in somewhere around 60 hours per week, which is more time than I've ever logged doing anything, and isn't leaving a lot of room for much else, like blogging, recreational cooking, dining out, being a role model to my children, or (ahem) writing Kickstarter updates. My totally invaluable and completely awesome young helper, Nick, 'Wich, Please's first and only employee, is also doing somewhere between 40 and 50 hours per week. Running this truck extends far before and after our actual service times, with lots of time prepping ingredients, handling cleanup, and running around like crazy people sourcing ingredients and supplies.

And you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way.

With Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree
With Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree

Speaking of ingredients and supplies, you're probably wondering how the first week went. It was, to put it in the most generous terms possible, a bit of a disaster. Not just a disaster, but the kind of slow-rolling avalanche of disaster that imprisons groups of mountain climbers and forces them into reluctant acts of cannablism. 

In those first weeks, our biggest problem was getting a handle on inventory and ordering. I simply had no idea how the scale of a business like this worked, and we found we were running out of stuff constantly and making emergency runs to the supermarket for last-minute supplies (and destroying our profit margins with retail pricing in the meantime).

Just what kinds of numbers are we talking about? As of this writing, our weekly food consumption is as follows: 75 pounds of pork belly. 35 pounds of chicken. 20 pounds of sliced bacon. 10 pounds of ground lamb. 10 pounds of ground chorizo. 10 pounds of beets. 20 pounds of tomatoes. 10 bunches of lettuce. 2 gallons of mayonnaise. Between 20-25 loaves of bread. And that doesn't even factor in specials, like our Friday night "Tacos in the Park" event, or the new "Burger Tuesday" special we've introduced. 

It's a LOT of food, and learning to manage all of the ordering across multiple wholesale  vendors (while still making quality and local sourcing a priority) is something that I confess, I am still struggling with.

From a recent Friday night "Tacos in the Park"
From a recent Friday night "Tacos in the Park"

We've been getting a ton of really positive feedback. Eater Maine called us one of the "Hottest Restaurants in Maine Right Now," and almost every day, someone tells us that our breakfast sandwich is one of the best in Maine, or that our fries are the best they've had in the Midcoast. (You can stay up to date with press items relating to 'Wich, Please on our official website.) This real-time praise and feedback, in direct response to a real thing that you've crafted with your actual carved-up, battered hands, is unlike anything I experienced sitting behind a desk, and I can see how it can be totally addictive.

In fact, that's one of the biggest pleasures of this work. I'm not pushing pixels around, creating banner ads that no one wants to see or ghostwriting marketing materials that no one wants to read, all of which will be destroyed with a keystroke in one moment and forgotten in the next. This is feeding people. And feeding people, particularly feeding people good things, matters to me.

There are definitely tough days. Sometimes, everything goes wrong all at once. Two dozen people will appear out of nowhere to order lunch at the same time, just as I realize I forgot to prep any tomato confit, and the lettuce has frozen because the refrigerator's thermostat has gone haywire. Just then, the grill will go stone cold, because the propane tank has been leaking for a week without (by what can only be some divine intervention) blowing the truck into a billion fiery pieces and sending Nick and I soaring into the depths of Rockland Harbor. Oh, and the delivery guy from Morse's needs you to sign for the 5 gallons of Sour Mustard pickles you ordered on credit, because "pickle debt" is something you incur now, and someone at the window wants to know why there's no corned beef in the vegetarian reuben. 

Sometimes, those days feel like they get the better you, and I definitely don't sail home on the emotional high that I do on most other days.

Because when it's all clicking along the way it should? When you're cranking out 100 sandwiches a day, and they all look exactly the way you want them to, and customers approach the window with a big smile of anticipation, and then circle back after their meal to tell us how much they enjoyed something? There's no better feeling in the world.

This has been a big, scary thing to do. Going from making one sandwich a day in the comfort of my home kitchen, then obsessively lighting it and photographing it, or even the limited amount of cooking demonstrations and competing I have done, to a real, live kitchen environment, with lots of hungry customers who I could never bear to disappoint, has been a crazy transition. And it doesn't get less scary, as summer traffic winds up, and the production numbers go up, and we work on introducing our new menu for the new season. 

I still have no idea what happens to 'Wich, Please at the end of October, when the water lines freeze and my lease is up in Buoy Park. I will find a way to keep it going, and to stay on this path. But in the meantime, I am incredibly proud of what we're doing right now, and so grateful to have the chance to do it.

Our breakfast sandwich
Our breakfast sandwich

Most of all, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, a million times, and from the bottom of my heart. I am still in awe of what this campaign accomplished, and it's due entirely to the support of people like you who believed in putting real, concrete dollars behind something that a lot of people would have thought was just another silly pipe dream. Thanks to you, we've built a real business, and one that I hope we can all continue to be proud of for many years to come.

Now, onto new business! This will likely be one of my last updates, within the Kickstarter ecosystem. Sooner or later, the campaign must come to an end, and the focus has to switch to the day-to-day management of the business you helped create. We are still behind on several of our reward tiers (though we have sent out more than 300), and so updates on this site will probably be limited to news about those items, as they continue to go out. 

But you don't have to stop following us! We're posting every single day on the social media accounts for 'Wich, Please, including daily specials, photos of new ideas we're cooking up, and more. Check us out on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, even though I freely admit I still don't understand quite what the hell Twitter is for. I'll also be continuing to update From Away, our blog, though content will probably be a little more sparse than usual, until I figure out this whole work/life balance thing. 

In the meantime, if you haven't been to visit us on the truck yet, be sure to stop by for lunch! I'm anxious to show you what we've got going, and to thank you again in person.

'Wich, Please Soft Opening Announcement!

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This is it. Nearly seven months after the launch of the Kickstarter campaign to bring the 'Wich, Please truck to Rockland, Maine (and fulfill my dream of getting out from behind a computer screen to make food for the world), we're ready to kick open the service window door and get started.

And because you are one of the Kickstarter backers that made the whole thing possible, I wanted to make sure you knew about it, first, before I announced it anywhere else. So here goes:

On Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at 8:00 A.M., we will begin our "soft opening" for 'Wich, Please.

What does this mean? It means we don't expect everything to run 100% smoothly, during this first week. We'll be offering a limited menu, slowly introducing new items as the week wears on. We'll be cash-only, at least for a little while. We probably won't have as many drink options as we'd like. Maybe something will catch on fire. Maybe we'll run out of propane. We'll probably run out of certain ingredients, and our speed getting your order ready probably won't be where we'd like it to be.

But that's what a soft opening is for! We'll work out the kinks, with the goal of having our full menu available by Memorial Day weekend.

In the meantime, come say hello! Have a sandwich! And give me the opportunity to thank you, one more time, from the bottom of my heart. This time, in person.

Ordinance Amendments, Website and Spring Menu Reveal, Reward Update, and MORE!

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It's been another exciting month, with lots of dramatic, high-tension twists and turns, and at least three high-speed pursuits, and by "high-speed pursuits" I mean "long city council meetings." As we get closer and closer to realizing our food truck dreams here in Rockland, Maine, I wanted to update you on a few exciting developments.

First, and most importantly, we managed to convince the Rockland City Council to amend their current ordinance governing the number of food vendors allowed in Buoy Park. I know, right?

As you may remember from our previous update, we weren't guaranteed a place to park the 'Wich, Please trailer anywhere even close to downtown Rockland, because a maximum of two vendors were allowed in the park. After two months, and thanks to the efforts of Councilor Louise Maclellan Ruf and everyone on the Rockland City Council, that ordinance has been changed to allow for three vendors. Thanks to this change, and thanks to the wisdom and foresight of our City Council, we will be allowed to set up shop and start slingin' sandwiches in a beautiful waterfront park. The park could turn into a real food truck mecca, as it sits at the perfect intersection between local and tourist traffic, and I couldn't be happier with the outcome. Plus...what a scenic place to get to spend the Summer!

You can watch the City Council meeting here, and be sure to check out the dramatic twist ending, where nearly half the Council (including the Mayor) have to recuse themselves from the vote, since they were all backers of our original Kickstarter campaign (parts relevant to 'Wich, Please begin at 3:40 and 53:30):


What else has been going on? Today, we launched our official website! It's the first time we've publicly announced both our location and projected opening date, as well as revealed our Spring menu (complete with photos), so be sure to check it out. You'll also find a roundup of the press we've received so far, and a link to buy a 'Wich, Please t-shirt.

Speaking of t-shirts, we've decided (based on the success of our "Back in the Day" campaign), that instead of selling a boring ol' t-shirt with our boring ol' logo on it, we'll change them up from time to time. Each month, we'll unveil a new limited edition design, which will only be available for that month and only printed once. We haven't rolled out April's shirt yet, but keep checking back by clicking the "Merch" link at the top of the 'Wich, Please website.

Breakfast 'Wich, Please
Breakfast 'Wich, Please

Finally, I thought I should mention what's happening with Kickstarter backer rewards. As of this writing, we have shipped all rewards up through the $80 backer level (that's almost 300 rewards!), which means we still need to get out book rewards and lunchbox rewards. As much as I'd like to get them shipped, if I'm being realistic, I have to admit that they will likely not ship until we get the truck opened. We promised a March and April delivery date on these, but they are going to have to wait until May or early June. Believe me, I wish it could be sooner, but I need to focus on getting the truck open, and let the Kickstarter rewards sit on the back burner for a few weeks. Thank you very much for being patient and for understanding.

So what's next? In about a week, I'll be taking my test to become a "Certified Food Protection Manager," a requirement both here in Maine and for anyone who would like to avoid poisoning their customers, which is a pretty high priority for me. I'm also meeting with a couple of wholesalers, to set up suppliers for things like "bread" and "pork." The trailer still needs a health inspection, as well as an inspection by the Fire Marshall and Code Enforcer. It's a lot, but we're still on target for a mid-May opening day. Keep checking back, and I'll keep you in the loop!

Update! Interior Truck Photos, Location Announcement, and More!

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As you, our backers know, we managed to raise just shy of $30,000 in one month (making our campaign the seventh most-funded food truck in Kickstarter history), in order to launch a new sandwich empire here in Rockland, Maine. It’s been a few months since our last update, chronicling the details of launching the business and getting the doors open, and as usual, a lot has changed, along with a few unexpected surprises that have popped up.

The biggest issue is location. After my original location fell through, I hoped to be able to open ‘Wich, Please in Buoy Park (the town landing), a harborside stretch of grass that is already home to two other food trucks: Pho Sizzle and Duo’s Seafood.

This is a desirable location for a few reasons. First, it meets my goal of being central to downtown, to serve Rockland’s local workforce, as well as Summer tourist traffic. This Summer, Rockland is expecting at least eight cruise ships to anchor, which will bring hordes of hungry customers exhausted by the on-board all-you-can-eat crab leg buffets and bottomless rum punches to our shores. Obviously, the sheer numbers here are exciting, as well as the opportunity to spread the gospel of ‘Wich, Please far and wide, when all of those tourists go home and hopefully have good things to report about the sandwiches they ate on vacation.

Buoy Park also happens to be a gorgeous dining room, for a bargain price. We’ll have to pay rent at the park (an unexpected expense), but it’s a fraction of what waterfront real estate costs. We’ll also be able (for an additional fee) to join the Maine Lobster Festival, the North Atlantic Blues Festival, and the Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors shows, once summer gets in full swing.

Finally, there’s a ton of benefit to “clustering” with other food trucks. If we can form a kind of outdoor, seaside food court, with a reputation for great food at an affordable price for families, we all benefit, and any marketing any one of us does can only help the other businesses. It’s a big win, all the way around.

I submitted my application for Buoy Park, and thought all was ready to go. Exceeeeeeeept…

As it turns out, Rockland’s new mobile food ordinance only allows for two food trucks in Buoy Park. Not three. My choices were to petition for an amendment to the ordinance, or move the truck outside of the “downtown zone,” which would make marketing the truck depend entirely on word of mouth, and would probably cost me a lot of tourist business.

So what am I doing? I’m trying to get the law changed. Here’s the video of this week’s City Council meeting. Relevant ‘Wich, Please parts start at 5:50 and 23:51:


If you don’t feel like sitting through that video, basically what happened is this: The Council voted unanimously to add the item to the agenda for that week. Then, they voted unanimously to amend the ordinance, to allow for three trucks (including mine!) at Buoy Park, instead of two, citing a desire to “bring more families to the park and increase its vibrancy.” Then, they set a public hearing date for April 13th. This means that if all goes according to plan (and I think it will), we are looking at an opening date 30 days later, somewhere in the first half of May.

You heard it here first, folks. ‘Wich, Please will be opening in early May, in Rockland, Maine’s Buoy Park.

Probably.

What else has been happening? Ah, the trailer! The ‘Wich, Please trailer has spent this horrific winter behind a friend’s barn in Cushing, where it has had somewhere around 50,000 pounds of snow dumped on it, making it impossible to access or move.

Thanks to warming temperatures this week (as well as a neighbor’s commercial tractor, and a ridiculous but effective scenario involving lots of bags of rock salt, and daisy-chaining a Jeep Liberty to a Chevy Silverado 1500, and then to the actual trailer), I was finally able to dig it out and get inside to start cleaning and throwing old stuff away. I need to get the junk thrown away (like the case of individual Coffee-Mate coffee creamers that had frozen and exploded) so I can start to decide on an equipment layout, since this needs to be submitted for the health inspection. I thought you’d want to see the first photos of the interior, before I get everything cleaned and organized, so here they are:

I also kicked the service window open for the first time, which was an exciting moment:

As you can see, we’ve been able to do so much with the money we’ve raised so far. We’ve got the truck almost ready to go, except for a serious deep-cleaning. We’ve bought a van to use as a tow vehicle and for dry goods storage, like take-out containers and staples that don’t need to be refrigerated on the truck. We’re edging closer to opening day, and we have almost everything we need to get started.

When I take a hard look at spending needs over the next month, though, I have to acknowledge that we are a tiny bit short. There have been some unexpected expenses that have popped up (including having to pay rent on the Buoy Park location, which is due up front in advance of the season, needing to buy a second convection oven and an induction burner, signage, etc.), that I hoped I would be able to cover using any spare scraps of money we have. And of course, I could keep spending on the truck forever (A vinyl graphic wrap! A vertical rotisserie for tacos!). But even when you strip out all the wish list items, I’m realizing that I am still going to need to find another five grand or so, in order to accomplish all of the essential things I need to before opening day.

The bright side? We’ve rolled out these awesome t-shirts, to help make up the funding gap between now and opening day. And just in case there’s any doubt about their being 100% legit, here’s a totally unretouched, not-at-all-Photoshopped photo of RUN-DMC sporting one of our shirts back in the day, that we found in the 80s archives:

My goal is to sell 150 of these t-shirts between now and the end of March. After the end of the month, they will never be reprinted, so if you want to pick one up, now is the time! And of course, even if this shirt doesn’t catch your fancy, I’d appreciate it if you could share the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

What else is on the to-do list for this month? I’ve got to complete my tax registration for the state (a daunting, ten-page document filled with terms I don’t at all understand), as well as get my Victualer’s license from the city. Then, I’ll need to schedule a health inspection, as well as get the trailer registered and insured. I’ve got to scrub the inside of the truck from top to bottom, and plan any “soft-opening” events. Then I’ve got to buy a few extra pieces of equipment, buy inventory, finalize the menu, and find a baker to provide bread for the truck, as well as set up wholesale accounts for all other ingredients. Oh, and finish fulfillment of the Kickstarter rewards. Phew! It’s a lot, but we are moving forward every single day. I know there are more surprises on the horizon, as we get closer and closer to launch. Thank you all again so much for all of the support you have shown me, and for following along with this story.

And on December 6th, 'Wich, Please Was Born

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This is it, Kickstarters. The moment all 400 of us have been waiting for and working toward for the last two months. Because on a drizzly Saturday morning in a small seaside town just outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey, I bought the 'Wich, Please kitchen.

As I tap out this message on my phone, it is being hauled by a friend (who has a long, hard day ahead of him), the 500 miles back to Maine, to await the Spring. I couldn't be more proud, nervous, and excited about what's to come, and I don't know quite what to do with myself. For now, I think I'll drive to Philly for a cheesesteak, and spend some time daydreaming. See you all soon, and in case I don't say it enough, thank you.