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INSIDE DISH: 'Edibles' team returns with moveable feast

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Inside Dish

Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”

Our subject this week is Duos, a mobile concept in the new tradition of food trucks with a pedigree going back to the 1990s downtown vegetarian hotspot Essential Edibles. After said eatery met its demise in 1997, husband-and-wife founders David and Becky Hostetter went into a long period of mourning, with no desire to start another business. But the restaurant bug returned a couple of years ago when Becky began considering going mobile, which had significantly lower entry costs and afforded more control over the eatery’s fate.



“We’re able to make whatever we want, when we want, and go out when we want,” said Becky, 56, the culinary mind behind both Essential Edibles and Duos.

“It’s such a great idea to have food that people want and to sell it directly to them, instead of having a restaurant,” said 60-year-old David, who also has worked for St. Elmo Steak House, primarily as a server, for more than two decades. “The costs are less. Just the romanticism of selling food and having people come up to you on the street and buy it is really cool.”

The duo behind Duos applied lessons learned from the implosion of Essential Edibles, which grew more quickly than its capital reserves could support. “We weren’t very good business people,” David said. “When we knew we wanted to do this [Duos], the first thing we did was hire an attorney. The second thing we did was hire an accountant.”

Duos got off the ground without the weight of significant debt, as the Hostetters used their savings to buy a $30,000 custom-made trailer outfitted with a full operating kitchen. They also socked away $30,000 for start-up expenses.

“I wanted to have at least three months of operating expenses in the bank,” David said. “And we didn’t know for sure what our operating expenses were going to be.”

One obvious expense would be renting kitchen space. Marion County health regulations require mobile food vendors to perform the majority of their food preparation in an approved and licensed stationary kitchen. (The truck or trailer also must meet health code requirements.) The Hostetters enlisted the shared-use facility Indy’s Kitchen at 2442 Central Ave. Its kitchen-use rates range from $14 to $24 per hour, depending on total time per month and peak or off-peak usage.

The Hostetters settled on offering a lunch-time menu that changed every week, with both meat and vegetarian options. The emphasis would be on seasonally appropriate grub, with ingredients from local farms and other vendors, when possible.

“Food cost is a particular issue for us,” Becky said. “You have to keep a particular price point, but I’m also trying to use as much local product as possible, and sometimes those two don’t speak together well. Local organic produce is expensive.”

The Hostetters invited local chef and former Essential Edibles employee John Garnier to become a third owner, with a sweat-equity contribution. They first hit the streets in December, which provided a rude introduction to outdoor vending.

“We went out maybe once a week in December, just getting the feel of it,” David said. “It snowed a lot. Our first big gig in early January was a First Friday event. It was 8 degrees out. The water froze. It was horrible. But we had lines of people coming to our food, so we knew the demand was there.

“It just took us to May before the weather cooperated with us, for us to go out and be successful. We’ve seen really steady progress through this year and think we will until the end of the year.”

The Duos trailer has developed a regular rotation of lunch-time sites during the week, including the Wishard Hospital Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays, the intersection of Vermont and Alabama streets on Wednesdays, and White River State Park on Thursdays.

The owners hope to hem to a strategy of controlled growth. Gross sales have increased from $3,262 in January to $14,724 in June, with $10,000 per month currently being the break-even point.

“We’re making a little bit of money now,” David said, noting that new expenses await, including about $20,000 for a used truck to pull the trailer. (It currently is being towed by Garnier’s overtaxed 1995 Chevrolet Suburban.)

Duos also employs a third chef, as well as a part-time kitchen staffer for food prep. David Hostetter said he hoped to bring on four more employees by year’s end, which would allow the trailer to add a second daily shift. “We’d like to be out twice a day by next year, and Becky and John can’t be everywhere all the time,” he said.

In the video at top, the Hostetters describe their entry back into the restaurant game, developing the Duos concept and trailer, lessons learned from Essential Edibles, and their plans for slow and steady growth.
 

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Duos
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Mobile food trailer
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(317) 508-8614
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www.duosindy.com
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Concept: A mobile food trailer with seasonally appropriate, health-conscious cuisine made from ingredients supplied by local farms and other vendors, when possible.
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Founded: December 2010
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Owners: Becky and David Hostetter; John Garnier
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Startup costs: $60,000 , including $30,000 for a custom-built trailer with a fully operational kitchen.
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Gross sales: January, $3,262; February, $5,273; March, $6,727; April, $9,129; May, $10,793; and June, $14,724. Currently, the break-even point for the business is about $10,000 per month in sales.
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Employees: 2
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Goals: To purchase a new truck to haul the trailer, ideally less than $20,000; to add four more employees by year's end, which will allow the trailer to add a second daily shift.
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Good to know: Becky and David Hostetter owned and operated the downtown vegetarian hotspot Essential Edibles from 1989 to 1997.
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  1. I think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...

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