With a predicted market size of $1.4 billion in 2023 says Ibis World, a global market research firm, the US Food Truck business is one of the fastest growing industries going. In fact, the number of businesses in the industry has grown an average of 5.2 per cent per year between 2018 and 2023, with 32,176 Food Trucks in the US this year. One Food Truck venture is certainly taking advantage of the potential.
Fin’s Kitchen Food Truck, operated by Findler (Fin) Charles since 2019, is part of the growing trend and has been recognised for his high quality and business acumen. A recipient of the Comcast RISE Investment Fund which awards grants to Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Women small businesses owners, Charles received $10,000 to help grow and market his burgeoning enterprise. But, his flourishing business went through growing pains, which taught him valuable lessons.
“Since I was doing it on my own and using my own money I reached out to someone to help me establish the food truck. I had saved three years of tax refunds, sold all my motorcycles, my toys, everything. But, reality hit me hard when I got scammed for $30,000. That was a big blow, and it actually killed my spirit for a time,” Charles revealed.
The entrepreneur at heart was not down for long. The African-American born to Haitian parents, tapped into his Caribbean tenacity. He started again, did the necessary research and due diligence, going through all the requirements to open a food truck business in Oakland Park, Broward County. As sole owner of Fin’s Kitchen Food Truck, Charles received his certification and licence in 2019 and officially opened for business in 2020, before the pandemic hit.
“The food truck was my full time job, exclaimed Charles. But, the pandemic helped me in a good way because it showed how versatile I was. I started reaching out to apartment complexes knowing that a lot of people were indoors. So I started selling my Haitian infused cuisine to them, and of course, offering curbside pickup once the food was ordered online. They would get a text telling them when the food was ready for pickup; no worrying about social distancing or crowds of people around the truck. It worked, and they loved it.”
Today, with two staff members, and help from his mother and sister at times, Charles’ delectable offering of Haitian infused cuisine is one of the few Haitian food trucks in Florida amidst the plethora of Jamaican and Hispanic food sellers on the streets. His aim is to please the taste buds and the soul with Haitian food, culture, and hospitality. With fond memories of his visits to Haiti enjoying the local dishes, and his mother preparing Haitian dishes at home like white rice and black beans, called Sòs pwa, Charles’ passion for food preparation with a Caribbean twist peaked.
“Growing up, I was always inspired by my mother's traditional dishes. With my business, she has given me so much help and encouragement. She also critiques my food,” said Charles.
His offerings are based on the traditional foods he grew up with including conch fritters, pork (or griot) tacos, fried ripe plantains.
“We are known for our Griot tacos, which is fried pork tacos. The griot is chopped and placed in a flour tortilla. We make an Island sauce out of ketchup, mayo, hot sauce, fresh squeezed limes, salt and pepper. We drizzle it on the taco and top it off with a Pikliz, a spicy cabbage.”
Importantly, to widen his customer base Fin’s Kitchen Food Truck also offers Haitian cuisine for non-meat eaters. His Caribbean Rice Bowl can be served sans meat, with roasted vegetables drizzled with a sweet Thai chilli sauce, served with sweet plantains.
Charles is determined to stand out from the crowd of food trucks on the market today. Besides his food offerings, it is all about how he operates, about good customer service he noted. He starts with the seasoning and cooking of the food that draws customers’ in. Caribbean music adds to the vibes and a friendly welcoming smile tops off the experience.
“I try to do everything from scratch. We try to be original and fresh about how we cook. So we make our island sauce, we have our in-house chipotle sauce that we make, we actually buy cases of lemons and hand squeeze them. We use vegan sugar. My motto is, if I'm not going to enjoy it why should I put it out for people to enjoy?”
Living his purpose and adding to his uniqueness, Charles is putting his Comcast RISE investment grant to good use. He is in the R&D phase of creating three new products, one being a brand new seasoning profile. He is also creating an online platform that will allow him to ship food products to other states. The idea is for customers to be able to order frozen foods stuffs online then prepare a full meal based on recipes sent with the order.
Later on down the line, this young restauranteur will own a brick and mortar restaurant building. But, that’s not all. He wants to develop a production line to help young culinary chefs with a similar passion find the right resources to open their own businesses.
His advice to aspiring culinary business owners?
“Do your research. You don't want to jump in head headfirst, because that's what I did and it cost me $30,000. that’s money I'm never getting back. Besides the research, envision yourself actually doing the work and see if it's your passion. Being your own business owner is not for the weak. But, once you make a plan and you're ready, execute it. Don’t let anyone stop you. Going forward and pushing for what you believe in, you will become successful.”