Food Trucks R Coming! Conversation with James DiSabatino, Roxy Gourmet Grilled Cheese

08/21/2011

"Amazing bread does great things for the world. Great bread is inspiring." - James DiSabation

Food truck_james and truck

James DiSabatino has a love affair with bread and cheese. It makes total sense when you find out that he's the owner of the Boston based food truck Roxy Gourmet Grilled Cheese

Barely 3-months out of the gate, Roxy was a contestant (and eventually a finalist) in the Food Network Great Food Truck Race.

James kindly agreed to juggle his packed days to judge Diva Marketing's marketing tips contest re: food trucks (sponsored by MSN Business On Main). The winner is highlighted below. Toss of a pink boa to Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe for the intro to James.

Last week James chatted with me about Roxy's back story, his philosophy on the food truck biz and of course using social media as a marketing tactic. We discovered that in addition to sharing a love of food and food trucks, we are also Emerson College alums .. and the world continues to spin smaller!

Diva Marketing/Toby: Roxy was so new why did you apply for a competition that put you up against more seasoned food truck owners?

James  DiSabatino: We didn't .. they recruited us. We thought it was a joke until we got the casting email. They were searching online and we kept coming up in their searches. Guess they liked the Boston focus and brothers from Boston who grilled cheese sandwiches and were in a rock band. 

Diva Marketing/Toby: So it seems that social media networks works. Twitter, Facebook not only pulled Roxy up in the search rankings but created an image the producers thought would make good TV.

I found it interesting that the Roxy guys were the only team wearing t-shirts that promoted their city not their brand. James told me although he pushed hard to wear Roxy t-shirts, the Food Network insisted the guys wear "Boston" shirts. They never really found out why. Who knows how producers' minds work?

Diva Marketing/Toby: What's the story behind the name Roxy?

James  DiSabatino: A tribute to someone in my life that I want to keep a mystery. People would come up to us and not ask who Roxy was but say things like .. so is Roxy a fill in the blank. They were making assumptions. I thought it would be a good idea to leave it up to their imaginations. Roxy could be anyone they wanted her to be.

Diva Marketing/Toby: Quite naturally grilled cheese lends itself to nostalgia positioning. Roxy's fun branding reflects what I'd call -- retro with an edge.

The Icon/Logo: An innocent young girl, wearing 1950's style pigtails, happily munches on a grilled cheese sandwich. But look closer and you'll find a skull and cross bones tatoo on her arm. The tat pays homage to Blood For Blood a favorite Roxy Boston band.

James was cautioned not to add the tat. Some people thought it could be risky. However, as James said to me, "We don't do safe."

Nope .. they sure don't. Not in their logo design nor in their food. As it turned out the icon fits perfectly with the positioning of a retro feel with contemporary flavorsFood Truck _Roxy twitter
So who are Roxy's clients? They run from college students to grandparents who bring their grandchildren along. Grilled cheese, even gourmet grilled cheese, crosses generations, "It's not a hard sell," James assured me.  

Diva Marketing/Toby: So James, what's your marketing deal? 

James DiSabatino: We never planned to spend any money on advertising and we never will. We wanted the experience to create awareness through our community and using social media. 

We take time to interact with our customers to help create an experience for them. It’s more than getting the food out the window. Our #1 priority is getting to know our customers one person at a time.

Our wait line is longer than most food trucks. It takes 3.5 minutes per side to grill the sandwich .. it’s just part of the experience. Customers hang out with each out and engage with each other .. creating community. I engage with people on line. I respond to tweets. I ask questions and sometimes get flavor ideas. We’re building culture online and offline. 

Diva Marketing/Toby:  Perhaps one day we'll find a Roxy grilled cheese sandwich named for a Twitter @! 

In addition to building community with and among Roxy's customers, James has a strong focus to support and give back to the communities that host the Roxy truck. Watch for the Roxy team to soon be involved with offline events. These events provide opportunities to earn money which will be donated to local causes. One of Jame's favorite causes is early childhood education. 

Diva Markting/Toby: What would you tell people who have not tried food truck food?

James DiSabatino: It's some of best food and the best food experience you'll have. No where else can you interact directly with the chef who is making your food.

Diva Marketing/Toby: Never thought about food trucks in quite that way. I might call food trucks a with the people food experience!

Drum beat please ... the moment we've been waiting ... for the winner of the marketing tips contest re: food trucks is Jane Genova! Jane $100 prize is sponsored by MSN Business On Main.

James DiSabatino's Food Truck Marketing Tips Response 

"As a food truck owner, and having spent years of research before opening, I never once asked myself "What should my marketing budget be?" While this may play an important role in restaurants, food trucks take on a different culinary role in the neighborhood.

Rather than wondering what you should be spending on marketing, a food truck owner should ask him or herself, "What do I need to fully engage my community?" If you're planning on opening a food truck, whether you're going to be the chef, the order taker, the expediter, you will be interacting with your customers directly. And to remain successful, you have to be an important part of the community you're serving in.

So based on my ideology, I choose number four, who suggests feeding the homeless. Rather than giving your money to someone else, you’re using your money to feed people in your community who can’t afford to eat themselves. It's all about community engagement, and bringing a community together is the number one priority a food truck should have if they want to stay in business. 

Runner up would be number two (Debra Gaynor), creating alliances to cater weddings. While 10 food trucks will split the money up quite a bit, two or three trucks offering catering services for weddings is an excellent idea. It gets a group of closely interconnected people (with large networks) excited about your business. This is a great grassroots marketing idea, because you have a public ready to spread the word, all while making money for the wedding!"

Jane genova
Jane Genova's Winning Food Truck Marketing Tip

TRUCK KITCHEN. One day a week for two hours, the truck distributes free servings in a neighborhood for the poor and homeless. But there’s more. Give a man a fish he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he eats for life.

The food truck owner can teach a poor or homeless person to blog about the experience at the local public library. That account could be aired on television. Also, a poor or homeless can be taught to use a video camera and record how it is to be homeless. That could be edited for a documentary.

Thanks to all who participated .. you all offered ideas that could help Food Trucks roll into success .. or something like that. 

Continue the conversation with James and the Roxy Team!

Roxy's Grilled Cheese on Twitter

James DiSabation on Twitter

Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese Website

Food Network Great Food Truck Race

Marketing Eating on the Street: Food Trucks

07/13/2011

Food Truck _Yum Yum I love eating on the street! Really I do.

 A hip urban "Indie" alternative to a traditional restaurant meal is (literally) hitting the streets. From the City of Angels to Hot'lanta to cities across the United States food trucks are validating our less formal life style with a unique sense of fun. (Photo of Atlanta pink food truck Yum Yum cupcakes)

However, don't think for one second these food trucks are like the old corner prezel stand. They're part of a growing luxury food trend. Ray Choi, owner of the Kogi (which draws an almost cult following in LA), was awarded the Food & Wine 2010 Best of New Chef award.

In our tight capital investment economy, entrepreneurs are getting creative with parameters of limited cash flow and investment dollars. Food trucks have become one of the hottest small business ventures.  

MSN's News On Main video highlights a few of the approximatley 600 (!) food trucks in Portland OR. As Chris Cashman reports, "Every food truck owner has a unique story." One of my favorites from is Ziba from Bosnia who sells pitas based on her family's 100 year old recipe. 

This is not a cupcake walk nor for the faint of heart. Developing a successful food truck business takes more than passion and talent. It takes as much hard work and savvy as any company plus add to that the challenges of a roaming location. Oh sure, at the end of the day it still has to be all about the food but .. 

As you would expect, social media marketing plays a huge role in not only creating awareness but in building the brand and a loyal customer aka fan aka like aka circle base. For food truck owners it is especially critical for their customers to feel they are part of the entire experience. Here are a few ideas (many can be used in any business setting).

Six Food Truck Marketing Tips

1. Concept On The Tweet Street

The concept must be easily understandable without a lot of explanation. If people find you through Twitter the first (and sometimes only) introduction to your culinary point of view is your name. Does it confuse or hinder or intrigue?

2. The Truck

The "wrap" should support your brand concept with unique visual interest. In addition, the cleanliness of the exterior is as important as the interior of your kitchen. Don't forget people can see into at least part of the back-end of your operations. 

3. Pressure Cooker Service

How you and your staff relate to your customers is paramount in creating loyal fans. How will you let your Twitter followers or Facebook likes know you care and appreciate them? Success can lead to long lines = a long wait = unhappy customers. Consider taking orders while people are waiting in line (before they reach the truck window). A few .. "glad you're here" "thanks for waiting" "we promise it will be awesome" .. is a good idea too. 

4. Presentation 

 Do your serving plates reflect your brand or are they just a boring (yawn) white? Boston based Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese uses bright yellow checked paper linings that reinforces the retro and the yellow in their truck. 

Social Media Marketing  

5. Facebook: If your menu is consistent build out a "menu tab;" status updates are great when adding new items to your menu. Photos .. photos .. photos and a few videos too. Encourage your customers to post their photos to your page .. don't forget the tags!

6. Twitter: Talk to your customers .. just don't message out your menu. Make it easy for your customers to find you. Google map link your location. 

 Business on Main/Diva Marketing Food Truck Marketing Contest

Let's have some fun. MSN Business On Main is providing me with $100 to run a monthly contest. Thank you kindly.  Here's the deal. Let's create a list of marketing ideas for food truck owners. The suggestion that Max & I choose will win 100 dollars.  Food Trucks_BOM Ziba  

Rules of The Business on Main/Diva Marketing Food Truck Marketing Contest

1. Post your marketing idea for food trucks on this Diva Marketing post And on this post on Business On Main

2. Identify your post on Business on Main with the words Diva Marketing

3. Winner is at the pleasure of Diva Marketing

4. Contest ends midnight July 31, 2011

5. You must be at least 18 years of age

6. A valid eMail address must be included on the "Post a Comment Section"

That's it .. now it's your turn!

Roxy food truck_james
Update!
Excited to tell you that James DiSabatino, Roxy’s Grilled Food, finalist on the Food Network Foodtruck Race will be our guest judge. Toss a pink boa to Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe for the intro.

Update! Interview with James DiSabatino and announcement of the contest winner!

Diva Marketing is part of an online influencer network for Business on Main. I receive incentives to share my views on a monthly basis. All opinions are 100% mine.

Twitter Twisted Recipes For The Fourth of July

07/04/2010

Peachtree road race 2010 t shirt  Celebrations for the Fourth of July are wrapped in tradition. In Hot'lanta the 41st Peachtree Road Race again closed Peachtree Street in Buckhead through Midtown to accommodate 55,000 runners, joggers and power walkers. 

Tonight there will be over 800,000 people, with blankets and picnics at the Esplanade on the Charles River, who will enjoy a night of Boston Pops, fireworks and @craigyferg

There will also be millions who will turn on the grill and kick back with family and friends. Kids will be running through sprinklers, jumping into pools or building sand castles on the beach creating their own memories of the day.  Fourth of july charles river  

Although the day is framed with the familiar there are often a few new elements that occur. Maybe it's a surprise guest to your BBQ. Perhaps it's an unexpected fireworks design. Or did you set a new time for the Peachtree? 

  • Social media is a little like that. It takes the traditions of strategy, segmentation, customer insights, branding, service and wraps it in something new .. authentic digital conversations.

To celebrate the Fourth of July I've taken a few of my favorite traditional recipes and added a dash of social media spice by turning them into Twitter recipes. This July 4th Twitter Menu also includes a few recipes from foodie tweeters - Martha Stewart @marthastewart, Julie Tharalson @foodierd, and Lucy Waverman @lucywaverman. Enjoy! 

Twitter recipes_2
Twitter recipe_ h20 mellon  
 Read more - Martha Stewart's Twitter Recipes complied by Diva Marketing.