In the last decade, mobile businesses have become increasingly popular, with food truck revenues reaching over an estimated $800 million in 2014. The reasons for this huge appetite are pretty obvious -- trucks are usually way less expensive than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. (The average difference is about $75,000 versus $250,000.) Couple that with the added mobility and deciding to go the food truck route was a pretty obvious choice for me.
I knew I wanted to do something a little more offbeat than just a traditional food truck, but I just wasn’t sure what that was until I stumbled on a converted VW bus while I was traveling in Europe this past fall. When I saw this retro food truck, I immediately thought two things: the first was, “Wow, that is so cool” and the second was, “I have never seen anything like this in the States before.” The 70’s throwback, coupled with its newfound purpose, was in line with my concept for Lola’s Blue Farm, my Rhode Island truck that makes fried oysters and fried clams, all gluten-free. Both the food – and the truck -- take something traditional and make it a little different.
I began researching VW conversions. To be honest, I was not even sure that there would be a company that did this, but after a little digging, I found Dub Box USA. (Dub is slang for the “W” in VW.)
The Oregon-based startup manufactures lightweight, fiberglass trailers that look like VW minibuses. It specializes in campers and food and event trailers. Dub Box also restores old VW vans and converts them into food trucks.
The conversion of a 1977 VW Kombi is what I worked on with Shane Medbury who, along with high school friend Heather Bauccio, started this company in 2012 after both left different careers.
“I have been into vintage cars most of my life. Owning, driving, building them,” said Medbury. “My father had a VW when I was younger, and as I grew up, my love for this goofy car increased. Fresh out of high school, I bought my first one and I have had owned VWs ever since.”
From the start, I knew I wanted to work with like-minded small businesses. Dub Box’s laid-back vibe but serious attitude towards VWs matched the overall sentiment I am going for with Lola’s Blue Farm. So from the beginning, I felt an extra comfort knowing that I was working with another small business that had a similar style to mine.
From helping me scout out the right VW on Craigslist, to going over what appliances would fit in the truck (since VW’s have less room than a normal truck), Medbury has helped me through each step. In fact, if you judged friends by how much you emailed one another, you might think he was my closest friend. But to me, that just shows two small businesses working together can help create something special. I appreciate his meticulous approach, and I think he appreciates that I am trying to build something unique.
That being said, the road to getting this bus has certainly had its bumps. Shipping from Oregon to the Northeast, especially when you’re on a tight deadline, is not easy – and the bubble top on the bus made it harder to fit on many trucks. Thankfully, we hired two drivers -- a very nice husband and wife team – who were able to get it to us within a week. As they traveled from one coast to the other, they continually updated us on their location and said that all along the route, people would stop and take photos of the VW (and that, funny enough, nobody paid attention to the 2015 Mercedes they were also hauling cross-country).
Another challenge has been in its size. Since the VW is smaller than other food trucks, we have had to think of ways to cut back on appliances and in some cases we chose certain machines because space was so limited. For instance, we need a fryer but getting the right ventilation system put on the bus would have been near impossible. Instead, we opted for a ventless fryer -- but that cost a lot more and it takes up way more power than the average appliance.
Since there is so much power required, we needed to buy a much bigger generator than would normally be used, which is also complicated since the bigger the generator is, the louder the noise. And nobody wants to order their chia-seed and gluten-free beer-battered oyster roll when they can’t hear themselves speak. So that side of things has certainly made for some interesting conversations I never thought I would be having about watts and amps and volts. But riding down the road, with smiling people constantly beeping and waving at the little VW (we always beep back), I can say undoubtedly the pros outweigh the cons.