These days, it is pretty difficult to get Frank to sit down for a few minutes – for anything. Between building a restaurant, planning the food truck schedule and overseeing operations downtown at the Expo Market location, he is a busy man. Fortunately, he has a solid team behind him that helps get things done on the daily. This past week, we sat him down to reflect on the past couple years.
What is your coffee order?
Black coffee. A lot of black coffee.
How did you end up in the hot dog business?
After graduating from SUNY Geneseo, I spent some time in the Hamptons. It was far from glamorous, but it was fun. I worked a bunch of different jobs, just hustling really – running a restaurant, trying to sell real estate, working construction, driving rich people around. After a while, it was time to come back home to Buffalo. Upon return, I worked at a bank for about a year, then ended up back in the restaurant industry serving tables at Sinatra’s. I loved that job. I knew I wanted my own business. So, while I figured out the details, I got a second job working overnights at Dicks Sporting Goods at the Galleria Mall. I saved for about a year. Then one day, when our parents were in Italy, Paul and I set out to Brooklyn, New York and bought a food truck. And here we are five years later.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I typically leave the house around 7:30 every morning and head over to Kenmore Avenue to check on the construction. I am there all of the time, but prefer to be there in the morning when the work is set to begin. I made a little war room where I can answer emails and make phone calls. Around 9am, Paul checks in and we make sure we know the schedule for the day. He will head to the kitchen and get the trucks moving. I’ll check in with our team at Expo. Until this winter, I spent the last five years working and growing this business out of the back of a food truck. Today, my focus is getting this restaurant built. I spend a lot of time talking to all of the contractors, plumbers, electricians, town officials, brainstorming with vendors – I do a lot of talking. There are a lot of in-person conversations, seeing what people are up to and making sure the job is getting done according to plan.
How have things changed since 2013?
The business has certainly evolved a lot in the past few years. Paul and I started with an idea about hot dogs and thought that the food truck was the perfect vehicle to test proof of concept in this market. I really didn’t have a business plan. But, we knew how to work hard. We learned a lot from the food trucks. For all of the headaches, it was an incredible education in service, community, display, food, seasonality, and communication.
Today, there are a lot more moving parts. I have a small but amazing team behind me. We have grown from one food truck to adding a downtown location and a now we are building our headquarters on the corner of Kenmore Avenue and Starin. It is about five minutes from the church commissary where this all began. It is also right down the street from Sinatra’s. It’s pretty wild.
In other ways, things really haven’t changed that much since the beginning. Sure, mistakes were made along the way. And Paul and I have learned some difficult lessons. But, we continue to challenge ourselves and strive to do better every day. We have always put ourselves in a position to have a shot at success. The emotion of the day-to-day is still the same. It is definitely a rollercoaster of good days and not-so-good days. The vision is probably still the same as well. It just keeps getting bigger. I remember how much I stressed about things like getting a permit, finding a parking space, forgetting the pickles at the kitchen – things like that.
How has the food truck landscape changed since you started?
When we started, Frank was the 10th food truck in Buffalo. Everybody was doing something different and interesting. Today, there are at least fifty food trucks in the area. I stopped counting – as more and more continue to be built. At this point, the market is saturated. It is much more difficult for new food truck businesses to get noticed today. Food trucks are certainly less foreign today than they were a few years ago. I think overall, food trucks have been good to the community.
What’s most critical in a business like yours?
I think the most important thing you can do is have an amazing team and excel at customer service. It makes all of the difference. I have a small team. But, they do an amazing job telling our story and remembering each and every customer by name. I have never been interested in having a huge company with a lot of employees. I much prefer to have a small company with the right people that gets things done. There was a time we ran two food trucks & Expo with six people, myself included. Crazy, but this team can hustle with the best of them.
Any advice for would-be entrepreneurs?
Yes, make sure you like to work – for real. Being an entrepreneur or small business owner requires long hours seven days a week. And when you find an idea, just get started. The idea doesn’t have to be perfect, there’s a good chance it will evolve over time. And if you take the shot and get started, stay in your own lane. Don’t worry about what others are doing – they’re all trying to figure it out too.
What is the best advice someone’s ever given you?
Never give up. Assess the situation and move forward.
Local Restaurant: Oliver’s
Nonprofit: Embrace the Difference
Favorite Dish to Make: Charcuterie & Cheese Boards
Favorite Dish to Eat: Chicken Milanese
Must Have Pantry Item: It’s a tie between Alcohol and Apple Cider Vinegar