In the Oct. 29 issue, we looked at the life of a food truck owner from two different perspectives: the newbie (Roaming in the Raw) and the old-timer (Gypsy Queen). Following that story, Bill Drake, owner of the Decrepit Old Geezers Sausages (D.O.G.S) hot dog and sausage truck, responded to Xpress, “It seems like all the articles about the food-trucks lately have focused on the negativity — how hard it is, how much time it takes and how little money they make. How about an article about the other guys — those of us who are doing well, making money and not working 70 hours a week.”
Xpress sat down recently with Drake to get his take on the business. Featuring a variety of sausage flavors, including andouille, alligator and crawfish, along with a huge assortment of inventive sauces like berry-chipotle, curried lemon and apricot-mustard, D.O.G.S can be found at many area festivals as well as at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain on Saturday afternoons. Drake and his wife, Marlene, have been running D.O.G.S. for about five years.
How how did this all get started?
Bill Drake: We were cooking for different re-enactment groups we were involved with — Civil War and some medieval — and everyone was scattered about trying to eat during the weekend, so we started cooking for them. Then one day I told Marlene that I was going to stop at A-B Tech culinary school to see if there was a couple of classes I could take to pump things up a little bit. At the end of the day I walked out of there enrolled in a two-year course.
Then about four years ago we bought a hot dog cart. Last year I had the hot dog cart over by the Grove Arcade ,and it was OK, but it was a lot of work for not a lot of money. That’s when we decided to go big time with a food truck, and it’s been doing good. We use the trailer and haul it with our van so if something breaks down, we can still pull it with something else; I’m not out of work.
For someone getting into this business, what’s more profitable: the festival circuit or a regular spot at a brewery or somewhere else?
I’d say the festival circuit if you could be doing something at least every couple of weeks. It makes good money.
Do you have any future plans that might involve a bricks-and-mortar location?
Right now I’m just going to play it out and see how this works. We almost had finalization to move into Loretta’s old space, but the owner decided to refurbish the building. I’ve worked at the Lobster Trap long enough to know about the headaches of a restaurant. Every time you turn around, you’re writing another check for an inspection or duct cleaning or lots of little things that can nickel and dime you. There’s a lot less overhead with a food truck.
What advice would you give someone who has stars in their eyes about starting a food truck?
Check with the health department first, find out exactly what they want you to do. Everything’s got to be NSF [compliant with National Sanitation Foundation food-truck equipment guidelines]. And I’d say do something different. I often get comments that I’m not doing the whole farm-to-table thing, but you can only do that so many months a year. And it seems like there’s quite a few of them out there. So if there are 20 other people out there doing what you want to do, come up with a different idea that’s really your passion.
Also, money’s a big thing — can you afford your trailer? Does your spouse work so that you have money on the side? A food truck won’t initially pay all of your bills, even though ours does now.
What’s the key to your success?
A lot of food trucks have what they want to do and how they’re going to serve it. I’d say to keep your mind open and roll with the flow.
I think the average plate at food trucks is $7-8 like our sausage plate. But a lot of times you’re at a food truck with your kid and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something he’s not going to eat. So I’ve got a $3 hot dog. And we do french fries, just commercial fries, but people really like them. They’re nice and crispy. Everybody’s doing fresh-cut sweet potato fries, but the thing is that everyone does them.
So what’s up with your name?
We were at a very slow and boring event one time and we just sat there and tried to come up with an acronym for a dog. And we’re both handicapped [Editor’s note: Bill has fibromyalgia and Marlene has a back injury], so that was the decrepit part. And we’re both in our 50s, which isn’t necessarily old but pushing it. And geezer was just kind of an attitude.