Food on wheels: a foodie blogger dishes with food truck owners

Molly Moon Food TruckFood trucks are not a fad. There are over 80 operating in Seattle currently and the number continues to grow. If you want to know what it’s like to start and operate a food truck, this is your chance. SmallFoodBiz.com blogger and author of Food On Wheels, Jennifer Lewis, will lead a panel discussion with food truck entrepreneurs Molly Neitzel, Molly Moon’s; Josh Henderson, Skillet; and Marshall Jett, Veraci Pizza. Jennifer, along with the panel, will cover everything from permitting and budgeting to executing on your idea to becoming profitable.

The challenges of owning a food truck are real. Food truck restaurateurs have to worry about competition, not only from restaurants but also from other food trucks. There are also other considerations: cost, location, rules and regulations, and marketing a business that moves. We’ll also talk about the amazing food truck craze. The initial impression was that it’s low rent food, but it’s actually delicious, high quality cuisine sought by foodies all over the Northwest. Join us for this insightful panel discussion about the business of operating a food truck.

Food on Wheels Panel Discussion
Wednesday, October 17 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in Anthony’s Forum, 320 Business Hall

Food trucks will also be open for business! Molly Moon’s, Veraci Pizza, and Monte Cristo will be serving food from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. on October 17 on the Business Hall Promenade.

EntreWeek: Film premiere celebrates China’s Jack Ma and Alibaba

Since Jack Ma first launched the business in his apartment in 1999, Alibaba has transformed into one of China’s largest internet companies and Ma has become known as China’s Steve Jobs. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is excited to be hosting the Seattle premiere of Crocodile in the Yangtze a film about his life and start-up adventures, as part of the annual UW EntreWeek. The film presents a strikingly candid portrait of Ma and his company, told from the point of view of Porter Erisman, an “American fly on a Chinese wall” who witnessed Alibaba’s successes and mistakes along the way. This insider story captures the emotional ups and downs of life in an online start-up, including Ma’s battle with eBay, when the Internet was bringing China face-to-face with the West.

Don’t miss this film, which recently sold out its San Francisco Premiere and was awarded “Best Documentary” by the United Film Festival jury. With Erisman in attendance as CIE’s special guest, this Seattle premiere will include a lively Q&A session, so attendees can learn even more about his eight fascinating years working with Ma.

Seattle Movie Premiere: Porter Erisman’s Crocodile in the Yangtze: The Story of a Westerner Inside China’s Alibaba.com
Monday, October 15
5:30-7:30 PM in Shansby Auditorium, Paccar Hall 192

Watch the movie trailer.

Learn more about all EntrepreneurWeek events.

Making shabu “chic”

Kien Ha describes himself as a risk-averse entrepreneur. And given that restaurants are notoriously risky start-ups, Ha went with a concept he knows well – shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu, or Japanese hot pot dining, is a trendsetting phenomenon that has long driven technology transplants  from California to expect its healthy, simple, and affordable food on almost every street corner. Ha’s discovery that Washington is the fourth fastest growing state for Japanese-style restaurants convinced him to launch Shabu Chic at the UW’s 2008 Business Plan Competition.

Open Friday through Sunday in Seattle’s International District, Shabu Chic boasts fans who are true devotees talking and sharing photos of the restaurant and the unique food presentation. Yelp gives Shabu Chic a 4.5, and the restaurant got 200+ Facebook “likes” when it posted the possibility of adding a Kimchi sauce in the fall. “Word of mouth has been great,” Ha says. But once a customer is in the door, he relies on wait staff training and social media to share little morsels of Japanese food history along the way.

Still working part-time as an advisory manager for a Seattle accounting firm, Ha is content taking things a bit more slowly than his tech entrepreneur peers. “Most restaurants fail in the first year because they’re under-capitalized. Having no outside funding from the outset has kept us on task and deliberate in all that we do,” he said. His hope is to break even in year two, make a profit in year three, and go full-time with a second location.

Ha sees tech start-ups and restaurant start-ups in the same light. “Whether it’s a tech or food,” he says, “you have to own everything from end to end.”  By serving Seattle’s unmet shabu-shabu need, Ha is developing a market for something people in Seattle never knew they’d love. An entrepreneur’s dream.

Less pivot, more mountaintop

Erik Viafore, the CEO of Mountains Plus Outdoor Gear is Mr. Focus. His small Seattle-based start-up has seen 237 percent three-year sales growth by focusing on core competencies: delivering excellent gear, emphasizing customer service, and tending to vendor/supplier relationships. Since founding the company in 2003, Viafore has clearly kept his eye on the mountaintop. So much so that the 2012 INC Magazine 500/5000 rankings listed Mountains Plus at  #64 in retail, #24 in Seattle, and #1,301 overall.

Though there have been temptations along the way to “pivot so much we’d end up going in a circle,” as Viafore puts it, he chose to step back from an extremely successful product line in the economic downturn of 2008 to stay true to the “outdoor gear” of Mountains Plus’s core mission. Car rooftop rack boxes had been selling like crazy, but Viafore recognized that shipping them all over the country was not a smart business decision.

Viafore’s experience in the 1998 Business Plan Competition with “Personal Jukebox” won his team second place. The process, he said, did two things: it “helped round out the rougher edges that younger entrepreneurs have,” and it drilled into his brain that an entrepreneur should “never undercapitalize his business.” What Viafore has loved about the growth of Mountains Plus, which has doubled its number of employees this past year, is the experience of “growing up” alongside a few now-great outdoor gear brands that were also very small and just starting out. “It’s fun to look back and see how much we’ve all contributed to one another’s success along the way,” he says.

Being named to the INC Magazine list (for the second year) certainly is a marketing boon, making Mountains Plus Outdoor Gear more credible in the eyes of its customers, vendors, and competitors. But, as Viafore wryly notes, “It also means my phone rings more often, with very cold calls.” Good thing he has his choice of gear and so many happy customers to keep him warm.