Food Trucks: Did the Dragon’s Get it Wrong?

Food Truck

By Gloria Hong

While watching a recent episode of CBC’s “Dragon’s Den”, I was delightfully surprised to see local business owner Zane Caplansky of Caplansky’s Deli pitching to expand his business. The Dragon’s drooled while tasting the sandwich and proclaimed the product to be capital “D” Delicious; however, there was an all stop when they heard how Caplansky planned to expand his business nationally.

He unveiled a giant branded food truck and grinned like the preverbal cat with canary. He wanted the Dragons to help him build a fleet of food trucks. With expectant eyes he scanned the Dragons to see who would be the first one to just lay the money at his feet. But none of them did. Not one. In fact, they told him he had it all wrong. They didn’t agree with the financial evaluation. They asked him why he wasn’t satisfied with the money he was already making. One Dragon even told him that the trucks would “cheapen” his brand image and he should stick to brick and mortar restaurants. Sidenote: Caplansky admitted he lost money on the restaurant last year, but brought up his numbers with his mobile catering business – i.e. his food truck.

Now I can’t speak to the financial evaluation Caplansky provided, but I found it quite irritating that the Dragon’s couldn’t see the bigger picture. Food trucks are hot. In cities like New York, L.A. and Chicago, some of the most hyped eats come from a truck.

Kogi BBQ in L.A. will tell you that being in a truck has been the key to their success. They were one of the first food trucks to leverage their mobility by Tweeting their location everyday so customers would know where to find them. Newsweek proclaimed them “America’s first viral eatery”. 

Why are food trucks a hit? Well to begin with they have micro-focused menus. The quality of truck food has also grown in leaps and bounds. Full kitchens on wheels can now prepare restaurant quality meals on the street. On a recent trip to San Francisco, the only eatery I visited twice was an Indian food truck in Golden Gate Park. They had a tandoori oven right in their truck. IN THEIR TRUCK. 

I also see the appeal of mobility, for both vendor and customer. The vendor can literally bring their food to the people, to festivals, to stadiums, to your work! Meanwhile customers get a food court with restaurants that can change every day/week.

Toronto has already hosted a three part “Food Truck Eats” festival packed with trucks and people. Also, the Food Network has two shows devoted to food trucks – “Eat Street” and “The Great Food Truck Race”.

So did the Dragon’s get it wrong? Should they have backed Zane Caplansky’s plan for food truck domination? I think they got it wrong. They missed a huge opportunity because they weren’t on top of the food truck trend. Keep your eyes open and your stomachs hungry as there will be more food trucks in the near future, with or without Caplansky’s face painted on the side.

Gloria Hong Published by Gloria Hong This entry was posted in Blog, Resource Centre, Targeting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

  • Mraheja

    Gloria I love it!  You’re taking on the Dragons!  This is why you’re our “in the know” correspondent :)

  • Kerry Roberts

    Great blog – could not agree more!  Just left San Fran where a group of food truck vendors have banded together and “pop up” in surprise locations around the city.  Perhaps the Dragons need you as their trend advisor!

  • Amber

    I agree with you, they got it TOTALLY wrong!  I love, love, love this idea and I think Toronto needs this.  Forget the Dragon’s, Zane could have used predictive markets first to show the PEOPLE want this!

  • http://twitter.com/EatStTweet Eat St. Tweet

    Love this article, Gloria! We’ve definitely seen some proof contrary to the Dragon’s Den thinking – The Butcher’s Son (a food truck in Dallas, owned and operated by the son of the Johnsonville Brawt mogul) are planning to franchise across the U.S. They only launched their first trucks a few months ago and were so popular, they’re launching their second truck soon. I can definitely see Caplansky’s having a presence across Canada, particularly if he opens in cities/provinces with scant if non-existent food truck offerings. Thanks for a thought provoking piece!

    • Gloria

      Thanks for the response Eat St! I’m very excited to see more food trucks roll out across Canada.

  • http://www.slowfoodfast.ca TheSoupJackie

    I was also really surprised to see Kaplansky’s idea tossed out. Food trucks nimble, replicable, trendy as all get go, and with a product that’s so good and with such low overhead, I really think the Dragons missed the mark. I hope he seeks other, more intelligent funding and goes ahead with it. I operate a food truck in Ottawa and it’s working out quite well…

    • Gloria

       Hi Jackie – Great to hear an opinion from someone actually living out what we are talking about. Really glad to hear your food truck is doing well! Best of luck to you!

  • PG

    I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the food truck business, but I would at investing in Caplansky’s food truck. The fact that his one restaurant is losing money is very troubling (though not surprising considering a walk by there tonight at dinner hour found the place to be nearly empty-can you imagine Schwartz’s being that quiet at any part of the day?). Further details of high staff turnover and confidentiality agreements (http://www.thestar.com/living/food/article/1025725–smokin-on-the-street) are also head scratchers and really begin to make you question an investment in his company. But when even Corey Mintz has turned on you (http://porkosity.blogspot.com/2011/07/ps-final-word-on-caplanskys-deli.html) I can see why the Dragons passed.

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  • PG

    I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the food truck business, but I would at investing in Caplansky’s food truck. The fact that his one restaurant is losing money is very troubling (though not surprising considering a walk by there tonight at dinner hour found the place to be nearly empty-can you imagine Schwartz’s being that quiet at any part of the day?). Further details of high staff turnover and confidentiality agreements http://www.thestar.com/living/food/article/1025725–smokin-on-the-street are also head scratchers and really begin to make you question an investment in his company. But when even food writer and early Caplansky convert Corey Mintz has turned on you http://porkosity.blogspot.com/2011/07/ps-final-word-on-caplanskys-deli.html I can see why the Dragons passed.

    • Gloria

      Hi PG – Thanks for your reply. You do raise some interesting points re: Caplansky. I think what really troubled me was the incredible lack of knowledge the Dragons seemed to have on the food truck trend. To tell someone that they are hurting their brand by expanding into food trucks seems misinformed. Who knows, maybe it was edited that way for better TV. I think with the collective brain trust of the Dragons and the great product from Caplansky, they could have made something work.

  • C. Hall

    Totally agree – Food Trucks are an undeniable trend right now. They also meet the current macro trends of a time-starved society, and the increase of premiumization.

  • Ethelslounge

    They got it right and wrong , like everyone did . Food trucks have been  around for 100 years , nothing new here .Franchising across Canada , ok how ? I can go buy my own truck and find my food item be it beef or chicken or whatever find a location and start selling . They got it wrong with a resturant as thats a whole different animal .How could he control a franchise system when a cash business like this would be impossible to control .

  • trewq

    People, trends are no basis for investing in a business. if several truck operations in major US cities are popular, it doesn’t mean that they are profitable or that Caplansky can make it work in Toronto. There is simply no connection. Worse yet, the resto lost money even with an outstanding product and seemingly high revenue. They gave him the right advice by asking him to focus on his current business and making money there before expanding. Caplansky’s prospects look good, so the prudent path is to bank some money and use that to grow. On the other hand, asking for a very high valuation for a money losing operation still generates publicity with little chance of actually getting a deal. Just sayin.