Diary of a New Food Truck Owner, Part 8: Loud Generators Make Neighbors Hate You

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 wrangle with the Health Department, learn how to make window screens, and explain how easily they could become the scourge of a new neighborhood. Read all the installments.

So much stuff has happened since the last time we talked, I don't even know where to start. Let's see. We've been making fruitsicles, which are truly, truly fantastic. We make them out of really ripe fruit we get at the farmers' market. We did a strawberry with a little slice of berry tossed in sugar frozen in the middle. And something I got a little creative with and called summer salad. It was blueberries, cantaloupe, and sweet corn. It sounds gross but It. Was. Delicious. The corn was raw and puréed, and gave a little toothsomeness to the popsicle, and they were sweet, and a really beautiful purply-blue color. We did three different kinds of peach 'sicles: peach with riesling, peach with brown sugar, and peach with a little blueberry frozen in the middle.

We submitted a proposal to the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department to sell on city property. It was 36 pages long! We had to describe the business, and we had to say how we'd benefit park and rec, and how we were going to promote the city's culture of interesting artisanal food, blah blah blah.

We also had to make a financial proposal, because the city charges you $1,000 in rent, and if you don't think you can pay that you propose a lower rate, and if you think you might make more you have to propose an "if we make a lot of money" rate. My proposal is that if we made over X amount, we'll pay the city a flat 9.5 percent of what we make.

The rent sounds low, particularly considering we'd thought about going up to $5000 for a storefront, but you have to pay for kitchen space, you have to pay for gas, you have to pay for parking. Yeah, we've decided if we end up operating in San Francisco we've got to have a space here. If we parked in the East Bay and drove over and back every day, you know, bridge tolls would make it so expensive that we might as well have rented that storefront.

We're cutting it close any way you look at it. We had a discouraging conversation with the Seoul on Wheels lady recently. She has been up for three years, and she was finally starting to make money, this was the first month she was going to do more than break even. And then her fire extinguisher system went off, so she has to pay to have it re-set. There goes the money she was going to make that month!

Anyway, we haven't heard back from the city yet. I sent the proposal and heard nothing, and then I emailed the guy again, and got an "out of the office until July 12" message. We don't know when the meetings are, we don't even know if they've looked at our proposal! If they accept our proposal, we've asked for a couple of spots in San Francisco, at Justin Herman Plaza and Ocean Beach. One positive thing about hooking up with the city is they're cool with us having two spaces for one rent. So if it's fogged in at the beach we can be at Justin Herman. We can go with the weather.

Our generator is noisy. We're going to run it on biodiesel, but we need to be in a place where there's ambient noise to cover ours. We're not like a nice quiet taco truck that cooks on propane. We have a refrigerator, a freezer, two big ice cream machines, a milkshake machine, lights. We need power! We should not be in the park right by a quiet picnic spot.

I happened to read something online about the vegan taco truck in Dolores Park. It was a really sad story: the guy tricked out his truck with solar panels to run his machines but then the spot the city gave him to park in was shady! So he started running a generator all day long, and now his neighbors hate him. They hate, hate, hate him. I don't want to be that guy.

What else? Oh we heard back from the health department. Oh, did we ever. The cart would be approved, provided we paid a $439 fee, but the truck, no go. Our sinks were too small and our windows were too large. Panic! Panic!

But here's what we did. I wrote the health department lady a letter, and I took a picture of our sinks with a milkshake cup in it, lying down with plenty of room to be submerged. She was very prompt! She got back to us the very next day and said it was fine. Phew. The windows we can fix by adding screens and sealing a little stopper in the window so you can't open it further than the code says.

I tell you, the one thing I've learned more than anything else is that as a business owner, you just have to plow through the problems. You just have to keep going, not let problems stop you. You have to plug away. You have to be the person who perseveres.

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