Diary of a New Food Truck Owner, Part 9: Local Honey and Taxable Sodas

Diary of a New Food Truck Owner is an ongoing series where we talk with Meg Hilgartner, co-owner (with Siri Skelton) of a fledgling San Francisco mobile soft-serve ice cream business called Twirl and Dip. In this installment, Meg and Siri meet a beekeeper, learn how to make ice cream sodas with a really cool tool, and discover what is taxable (but not why). Read all the installments.

I don't know how many times I've said this but we're really almost ready to go.
We haven't heard from the San Francisco Recreation and Park guy yet, so we don't have a city spot. But we're actually getting a lot of calls for different events, private events and festivals and things that want us to come out with the truck. We know people who are events coordinators, and they know people who know people. Someone found us on Twitter and contacted us asking us to do a corporate party. I told her we weren't exactly permitted yet. She said, "Oh no, we're corporate, we have to do everything by the book. But you're so honest, I'll hire you again."

We're doing the Folsom Street Fair; we're supposed to bring the truck to the Japantown festival in San Francisco, that happens in August. We don't have our Health Department permit yet, but apparently when you do that event you're under their umbrella and all you need is a seller's permit. So we went and got one of those; they're a lot easier to get than a Health Department permit. They don't require an inspection.

We'd been putting off getting our seller's permit, because once you do you have to start paying sales tax. You estimate how much you will sell, and you pay tax on that. The guy at the tax office explained it to us. Food, ice cream, popsicles, that's not taxable, not if you're not a restaurant and people are sitting to eat the food. But sodas are. I don't know why this is, but that's the way it is. So we estimated we'd sell $200 worth of sodas a month and that's what we'll pay taxes on. Who knows how much we'll sell, really?

We did buy a siphon, and we're going to do old-fashioned ice cream sodas.
You put syrup in a glass, say, chocolate syrup if you want a chocolate soda, and then you put some vanilla ice cream on top and you mash it together with the syrup. Then you put water and a cartridge into the siphon—it's chrome, it's kind of style-y looking—and you bubble the water and put that on top of the ice cream and syrup. Then more ice cream, then whipped cream, and then a cherry. I thought about making our own cherries. I've made brandied cherries before, but it's really not what I want to spend my time doing, so we'll just buy those.

So with all this stuff going on, it was time to move out of American Steel, which we're doing tomorrow. We found a place to park in South San Francisco, which means we don't have to go over a bridge and pay tolls. And it's affordable. And they're going to let us plug in for the night. Every day when we're done, we empty out any unused product in the soft-serve machines and rinse through soapy water, but whatever's stocked in the fridge and the freezer stays there for the night. So you have to have power. We have a transformer, so when we pull into our spot we'll turn off the generator, flip the transformer to electric, and pull out the plug that's at the back of the truck and plug it in.

We got license plates for the truck today, which has me way more excited than I should be.
I thought we had to go through some kind of rigorous inspection, since the truck is from out of state, but all they needed was for it to be smogged and for us to be weighed. Even without the machines in it, it weighed over 11,000 pounds. It's a big-ass truck. The generator is 5,000 of those pounds. It's a giant industrial Onan; it's 33 kilowatts and it's bigger than a washer and dryer set next to each other. It runs on diesel, but we're switching it to biodiesel. Supposedly it's easy, you just start using the biodiesel instead of regular diesel. But the biodiesel is more lubricating than the regular diesel, so all the gunk that's hanging out in your engine shifts around, and you have to change your filter several times. There happens to be a biodiesel station right on our route, so filling up won't be a problem. It's no cheaper than regular diesel but it's more environmentally friendly and it smells better. Some people say it smells like french fries.

We also found a source of local honey. I had asked this friend who keeps bees and she asked around and I got this email with the subject line "Local Honey." It went straight to my junk mailbox. But later I thought, "Huh, maybe that's actually not a porn site." And it wasn't! It was this woman Rebecca in Tiburon who has eight hives with her young daughter Ruby. They started it just for fun and then suddenly she has eight gallons of honey sitting in her house. We looked at the hives and we talked to her; she says she and her daughter get stung all of the time but after a few times your body doesn't react that much anymore. Her honey was really delicate and floral and pretty, so we paid $40 for a gallon. Now there are two half-gallon milk cartons duct-taped shut in Siri's kitchen. We haven't played with it yet. But whatever ice cream we make out of that we're going to name it after Rebecca and Ruby.

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