Lesson Learned: Use a combination of food truck and brick-and-mortar business to maximize daypart potential, boost revenues and grow a larger customer base.
The mission of Le Cordon Bleu graduates Dustin and Kristin Stewart is to showcase the best of California's Central Valley small-farm and organic foods at any cost.
After the 1,500-square-foot, 49-seat bistro location opened a year ago, Dusty Buns began to pick up speed; tightening operations to make both parts of the business more efficient became necessary. "We needed the space and extra staff to bake and make all the food and still have the truck go out during the day," Dustin Stewart says.
On the truck, the Stewarts eschew fryers for their fingerling Bistro fries — instead blanching and searing the potatoes on a flattop until brown and crispy. Staff use the same griddle to sauté fresh vegetables, potato cakes and more. A single burner heats homemade soups, stocks and sauces. Kristen Stewart uses the three-shelf convection oven for the bread baking, timing it just right to also roast the chicken and other foods for California-inspired meals. "We could only serve 200 people a day max because of having to make the buns from scratch," Dustin Stewart says. Kristin, a trained pastry chef, bakes all buns and pastries every day using a 1970s soda display case that came with the truck but was converted into a proofing box.
Dusty Buns drives to or receives regular deliveries of local farm produce frequently during the week, which means the operation does not use freezers to store food items. "I always wanted a walk-in, but actually using three reach-in refrigerators allows me to keep the meat and produce more organized," Stewart says.
The duo started with a kitchen-less commissary to park and take on fuel and water, but all the prep and cooking had to be done on the truck. "Once we got the restaurant, we still continued to use the commissary because it was easier for us to legally store and clean the truck and to dump oil and water," he says. "Until I own a property — we're renting right now — I'm not going to go through putting in a sewage line for the truck." All the food gets unloaded off the food truck into the restaurant at the end of the shift before it heads to the commissary for a deep cleaning.
The brick-and-mortar space served another growing need — an ability to break into dinner service and grow a new daypart. "We started with lunch on the food truck and dinner at the bistro, but people started to line up outside the door at lunch while we were prepping food," says Stewart. "We knew then we had to open for two services."