Sparks flew from the vintage, aluminum airstream trailer as workers buffed and polished the aluminum shell. In about three weeks, the trailer will be ready for business, carrying out the vision local entrepreneurs Daniel Dennis and Lee Krassner imagined a month earlier.
Like many before them, Dennis and Krassner, both 26, chose to open a food trailer because the flexible business model offers them an easier opportunity to venture into the food industry. The highlights of their food trailer, Dock and Roll Diner, will be an original bread recipe, a funky retro vibe and mobility.
“There is a lot less overhead than a brick-and-mortar restaurant and a lot less risk,” Krassner said.
Krassner, a former chef, had the idea in January when he was living in New York and originally planned to open a food trailer in the Hamptons with another friend. Realizing the venture was not for him, Krassner reworked his original idea and presented it to Dennis, a fitness center manager, to create a trailer in Austin. They decided to move forward with it together and put their plan in motion.
The mobility of the food trailer opens it up to many possibilities, providing the ability to take the business wherever there are new opportunities, Krassner explained. The rough start-up cost for a trailer in Austin, Dennis added, is about $35,000; substantially less than starting a restaurant.
They wanted the trailer to have a real vintage feel, but still hold a fresh, unique vibe. They purchased a rare 1957 airstream trailer from a collector; one of only 300 made in that particular model. The trailer is already retro, but the stripped walls inside give it an industrial quality not normally found in food trailers. Krassner said they aren’t just looking for a box on wheels to serve food in.
They believe the trailer itself is as vital to the business as the partners themselves.
“There are really three partners in this venture,” Dennis said. “Lee, myself and the trailer.”
After finding the right trailer, the next step was to complete retrofitting. Krassner said he was lucky to acquire the services of the guys who outfitted Hey Cupcake! trailers. Renovation of the food trailer includes stripping down all the interior’s many layers of paint, installing kitchen appliances and re-buffing the exterior.
Making sure the trailer is ready for their opening day in mid-July is a top priority, Dennis said, but he doesn’t want to rush the process just to meet a deadline. It is better to take the time to make careful decisions and avoid shortcuts than to finish faster and run into problems down the line, he said.
“You can always go back and fix things,” Dennis said. “But we want to do it one time and do it right.”
While the trailer is under renovations, Dennis and Krassner have been using the time to develop their menu, handle the legal work and find a location. They set up a limited liability company, and once the trailer renovations are complete, it will have to be inspected by the health department. They will also need to take a food handler permit test.
The trailer’s name, Dock and Roll Diner, plays on the concept that the duo are able to dock at any location, provide great food and, if necessary, roll out, Krassner said. The menu, which they are keeping under wraps until the opening, will be based around a bread roll recipe that the two originally created.
For their first location, Dennis and Krassner have settled on a spot in the Westlake area, though they hope to eventually cultivate a rotation of locations. They chose the area because they felt it was a relatively untapped location, leaving opportunity for growth.
Dennis said this is reflective of the food trailer industry itself.
“Although the market has become much more saturated with food trailers in the past few years, it’s still growing,” Dennis said.
With food trailers becoming less of a novelty and more of a business model, Dennis said he and Krassner will have to find other ways to set themselves apart.
“We have our concept,” Krassner said. “But it’s about constant revision and tweaking, finding more and more what we have to offer.”
They say unique and quality food, combined with a willingness to lean and take customer input will be their keys to success.
“We work 27 hours a day on our business,” Krassner said. “We’re always finding new ways to improve and our minds never really shut off.”