Munchies, in Memoriam

It’s been exactly one year since the grand opening of my old food trailer, Munchies. Anyone who’s opened a business and then later let go I’m sure can relate – it’s hard for me to write about this. I have so many mixed feelings about the whole experience. Part of me wishes I had dismissed my crazy idea and just moved on with my life. But part of me smiles at the memories through the tears.

In the summer of 2016, my husband and kids and I were in downtown Schenectady, NY. I was excited to show my husband a metaphysical store there I had just discovered, Crossroads. But he was more interested in a sign out front that I had completely ignored.

The sign said that they had a commercial kitchen in back and were seeking someone interested in opening their own vegan restaurant to start up a business in their store. My husband went up to the owner’s daughter and volunteered me, without asking me what I thought of it. I was so mad!

But of course it got me to thinking. What if? It wasn’t the world’s worst idea ever. I loved to prepare vegan, gluten free food. Over the past 6 months it had become my passion. And I was in love with that store.

I thought about it. I wrote about it. I meditated about it. And the universe kept saying “YES!” In fact I believed that this was something I was being called to do.

It started to sound fun. Then it started to sound amazing. Unbidden, my brain started dreaming up all of the delicious snacks I could make and sell. Then one night I had an incredible brainstorm.

Arguably the world’s most popular restaurant, McDonald’s, sells burgers and fries and soda and shakes. Many of their close competitors have become equally profitable restaurant tycoons. Wendy’s, Arby’s Burger King. I would open a restaurant just like theirs. Fast food. We would sell organic, vegan, gluten-free veggie burgers, sweet potato fries, coconut milk milkshakes, and drinks 1,000 times healthier than soda. We’d call it Burger Queen.

a business card for a business named "Burger Queen llc" that serves healthy fast food including vegan burgers, sweet potato fries and shakes. a burger with a crown and a bottle of ketchup with a squeeze of ketchup decorate the card.
I was so proud of my BQ business card, designed on Vistaprint.

By this time we had decided to move to Colorado Springs. It felt like the perfect place to launch a healthy restaurant chain.

When a friend sent me this article about the expansion of plant-based “burger joint” Amy’s, I said, “They stole my idea!” But it only added more fuel to the fire that was my faith that this idea was going to knock the socks off the whole world.

For exactly 9 months after conceiving of the idea, we were Burger Queen. I created a secret group on Facebook of my closest friends and advisors. It was called BQ Brain Trust, and remains a memoir and an archive of my journey to this day.

a word cloud with words like passion, drive, motivation, timeliness, patience, pitch, epic, courage, focus, perseverance, created, and gratitude.
the cover photo for my brain trust.

All of my friends were so excited for me, and so supportive. It was my favorite place to be for a long time. In September I had decided to begin a year-long Health Coach Training program through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. So every day I was studying my IIN coursework, and also working on making the BQ dream a reality. In November, I created a vision board on the wall in our kitchen.

A vision board for the opening of a healthy fast food restaurant.

By January, we had decided that we were going to sell Beyond Burgers on Outside the Breadbox buns with Vital Eats ketchup and we had three shake recipes finalized. The only think that would continue to stump us for the next 6 months (and never get resolved) were the sweet potato fries.

Food photography of two Beyond Burgers with cartelized onions and sweet potato fries with a Colorado mug full of chocolate shake.
sometimes the fries would come out amazing, like in this picture, but sometimes they just weren’t quite right.

The chocolate shake (aka All Over My Banana):

1 can of full-fat coconut milk, chilled
1 frozen banana
1 T raw cacao powder
1 tsp local honey

The vanilla shake recipe:

1 can of full-fat coconut milk, chilled
1 frozen banana
1 T coconut nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract

It was the winter of 2017. I was having a blast with R&D, going to business classes, reading books, and talking to anyone I could about their experience in the restaurant business.

 

As my IIN coursework progressed, many of my ideas evolved. I went from planning a fully-fledged (though small) drive-through building to a food truck. Since food trucks were so much more expensive than trailers, and trailer windows were at a much better height to accommodate being a drive-through, I decided on trailer.

Originally, I had experimented with vegetable juices mixed with sparkling water as an alternative to soda. Then one day I picked up a kombucha while I was grocery shopping for myself as a treat, and realized how dumb I’d been not to consider kombucha. It was brilliant.

We tested several local brands and decided that our favorite was High Country Kombucha. I talked to the owner Steve, bought a used commercial kegerator in Denver, and worked out a plan to start selling kombucha on tap.

kombucha full of bubbles in a plastic cup is in front of a kegerator and the word "Love."
just look at those bubbles!

On February 28th, I drove 2 hours southwest to Cotopaxi where I saw for the first time what would become the Munchies food trailer.

A red food trailer in Cotopaxi, CO.
February 28, 2017, Cotopaxi, CO

A few weeks later I drove to Aurora, CO and bought a white Ford SUV that would be our tow vehicle. Funny story, I’ve always hated white cars because whenever one is driving behind me I start freaking out that it’s a cop car. When I saw The Ford and saw that it was white, part of me wanted to look at other vehicles, but I  told myself that that was silly, that this was the best option on the market for us right now.

Ironically, weeks after we bought The Ford we realized that it had all the telltale signs (automatic window buttons removed in the backseat, cut out in the top of the driver’s door) of having been a cop car. I don’t believe in manifesting anymore, but back then when I did I was so sure I had called The Ford to me because of how much I told the Universe I hated it.

Over the next few months I continued to research and plan. Of course we had to get all our business licenses in order. That was a huge project in an of itself. In April I spent hours developing a menu that would eventually be almost entirely scrapped.

A draft of a menu written with black ink on four pages of paper taped together for a healthy fast food restaurant.
the first draft.

 

The next few months, mostly May and June, would be a difficult, chaotic time for our family, as we were forced to move the trailer three times (we weren’t allowed to park it at our apartment complex). We moved out of “the shithole,” my endearing term for the apartment we lived in. We bought a beautiful house and moved in, relieved finally that “Queenie” had a place to be home.

A white SUV backs a red food trailer into a driveway in front of a big blue house at dusk.
Queenie coming home.

And so did we. We had nothing holding us back now from opening this business once and for all.

It really wasn’t until early July, after our children left for 5 weeks to Grandma and Grandpa Summer Camp, that we made the switch from being Burger Queen to being Munchies. When babies come out they’re always a little bit different than we were expecting, and this brainchild was no exception. I know it sounds crazy to make such a drastic business plan move just days before opening, but trust me, crazier things happen in this business every day.

We had to do it. We still couldn’t figure out a way of making sweet potato fries that we really liked, and I just wasn’t thrilled about our burgers either. Something about the whole menu wasn’t right. José and I talked and decided to stick with the menu items we were MOST excited about: the shakes, kombucha, waffles, and salads.

We had joked about naming the business Munchies before, but hadn’t taken the idea seriously. Since we planned to park outside of cannabis clubs instead of breweries, it felt apropos.

Now that we had to get serious about who we were, it was time to bite the bullet, er, waffle, and make an official name change. I went on the Secretary of State website and paid $10 for a name change. Munchies on Wheels, LLC dba Munchies was born.

A business card for Munchies, organic, vegan, and grain-free treats. A waffle shortcake and fork are superimposed on a black background.

I remember how excited I was the day we cleaned the trailer. Installed the kegerator. Painted the chalkboard on the outside. We joined a commissary and stocked our shelves inside and outside the walk-in fridge with all the supplies and food I thought we’d need.

Metal shelves in a commissary kitchen store boxes of disposable products and foods.
in the commissary.

After doing countless hours of price comparison and calculations, I ordered a lot from nuts.com, but got most of the rest of the food we needed with bulk discounts from Wholefoods. Shockingly, it was way cheaper than UNFI.

I had ordered a lot of supplies from Webstaurant (curse them!) 3 weeks prior that still hadn’t arrived. It was the night before our first gig, and I was tracking the order as I had been for the past week. And I was freaking out. It was in Denver, with no guarantee that it’d be in Colorado Springs where we needed it tomorrow. So I drove an hour and 50 minutes north to pick up my order.

A pallet of boxes of biodegradable and recyclable disposables is wrapped up in cellophane in front of a warehouse.

After battling Denver traffic for an hour, I finally arrived at the warehouse where my order was located, butt numb and throat sore. I had been on the phone yelling at Webstaurant half the drive up until they finally granted me permission to pick up my own order.

I had to wait 45 minutes for them to dig it out from all the other boxes around it. When they did, I realized that there was no way it was going to fit in the Jeep. So I sorted through and took about 2/3 of it. Everything I could stuff into the Jeep and everything I really needed for tomorrow. I drove home starving, exhausted, and triumphant.

Our first gig was scheduled for 7/10 at The Lazy Lion. For those who don’t know why 7/10 is cause for celebration in Colorado, here is a definition: “Just like 420, 710 is a stoner term used to celebrate dabs and cannabis concentrates on the 10th of July. The number 710 spells oil when placed backward; a word used to describe potent concentrations of marijuana like hash oil, honey oil, wax, shatter etc.” 

As we drove to our first venue, happiness rose up in me like the bubbles in our kombucha on tap. I played Best Day of my Life by American Authors and squirmed in the bumpy seat of The Ford.

A quote graphic reads, "That tingly feeling is excitement, not fear."
I made this on July 10, 2017.

There were plenty of hiccups on our first day in business. At first, the waffle iron wouldn’t even work! Then the kegerator wasn’t working. It was one thing after another. And of course we had lots of problems while we navigated the learning curve of our beautiful new Revel POS.

Stacy Mojica leans through the window of her food trailer holding a sample of lilac cake shake.
Grand Opening Day.
IMG_1572
Munchies red food trailer with chalkboard menu sits in the parking lot of the Lazy Lion.
A view through the window of the food trailer shows the Colorado sky at sunset.
my view from inside the trailer window was a happy one.

But there’s always a learning curve, and over the next few months we got better and better about avoiding the mistakes we’d made in the past. The most challenging things for me were being on time and not double booking, but I got better at those too.

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 2.26.15 PM

I’ll never forget how much we had to pack into the refrigerator in the trailer.

A fully stocked refrigerator in a food trailer holds Califia farms coconut almond milk, waffle batter, coconut yogurts, strawberries, prepped salads, and Essential waters.

And I’ll never forget the day we drove across town in pouring rain, in a mad rush to get to our second-venue ever on time, only to open the trailer door and find this:

When everything fell out of the refrigerator in the food trailer because we forgot to lock the fridge door, everything was covered in salad. There is a huge mess.
we forgot to lock the fridge door, and EVERYTHING fell out.

When we got home that night, I wrote about what had happened.

“So this happened today… disaster. When we rushed over and arrived late at Yoga Studio Satya I opened the trailer to discover that the fridge had actually TIPPED OVER (this pic was after José righted it) and EVERYTHING had fallen out of the fridge. I forgot to lock the fridge door 😭 The worst part was that I had made a cake shake and put it in there to drink later and it was splattered over everything. We tried to clean the salad boxes off under running water and ended up getting water inside them. I have all the kale salads out on paper towels all over our kitchen right now drying and I’m going to drop them off as gifts to friends early in the morning. The peas are browning and the Bernie’s lettuce is browning (thankfully there are only four of those left). Next time we won’t prep so many salads. So anyway it took us about 45 minutes between the two of us to clean this up well enough to even open. It was raining the entire shift and the studio had put their old address on the FB event so the whole event was kind of an epic fail. We only made six sales, but we did get a great pic of one of our customers with her peanut butter cup shake- and she left us a five star review on our fb!! We learned a lot tonight. After salad deliveries I will be in the commissary with my love prepping fresh salads again for our long shift tomorrow. 3-7 farmer’s market at Banning Lewis, an extremely huge affluent community here, and then their summer concert series afterwards 7-idk late. I know we have the potential to do very well tomorrow so I am excited and looking forward to another fresh day 🌈

A customer sips a vegan peanut butter cup shake through a straw in front of Satya yoga studio.
our first customer pic

We discovered very early on, after having to eat way too many of them, that salads are not a smart thing to sell in a food truck. They are just too perishable.

José Mojica eats a Cosmic Kale salad in the food trailer.
José eating a cosmic kale

A few days later at the Lazy Lion we receive the best tip we ever got.

A screenshot of a Facebook post where Munchies food truck was tipped in a nugget of flower, cannabis, weed.

I worked hard every day, basically never taking a break. There just wasn’t time.

A Mac screen displays analytics from the backend of the POS Revel. Next to the computer is a stack of beverage napkins stamped with the word "CHEW," a box of strawberries and a Vega maca chocolate.
Checking out our stats on my Revel backend.
beverage napkins stamped with CHEW are next to a CHEW stamp.
After months of musing on how I could order napkins that said “chew” without having to order 100,000 of them (the minimum order I could find anywhere), I had a lightbulb moment and ordered a stamp from vistaprint and cheap beverage napkins from Webstaurant.

Queenie evolved as we did more and more gigs, honing our marketing and customer service skills.

A red food truck with a banner that reads "Munchies. vegan, grain-free waffles, shakes, kombucha, & more."

I was so proud of all our menu offerings. The strawberry shortcake was by far our bestseller.

A vegan grain-free strawberry shortcake made on a sweet potato waffle with coconut whipped cream.
Our bestseller, the strawberry shortcake: vegan, grain-free sweet potato waffle topped with fresh strawberries and house-made coconut whipped cream.
Three pieces of a Belgian waffle next to a Califia farms cold brew coffee and a CHEW napkin.
The “old fashioned,” a plain waffle with earth balance and real maple syrup, was our go-to meal on busy days in the trailer.
A jam-packed Belgian waffle on a wooden cutting board.
The “jam-packed waffle,” a waffle stuffed with locally made raspberry blueberry paleo jam, was another favorite. Also very popular with peanut butter.
Chik'un curry sandwich lunch box with Way Better tortilla chips, an apple, and a wild root bear float made with wild root kombucha and coconut ice cream.
towards the end of the summer I experimented with “box lunches,” which were various vegan sandwiches on your choice of whole wheat sourdough or gluten free bread, with your choice of Way Better chips and fruit.

The rest of July was epically challenging and epically fun, as my husband and I traveled to the Jefferson County Fairground for Veg Fest Colorado and to Keensburg, CO for a Tiny House Festival.

José Mojica and Stacy Mojica sit in a Ford Explorer towing a food trailer with a queen sized mattress in the back, a green cooler, and a box of 12oz clear plastic cups.
Driving to the Tiny House Festival in Keensburg. We slept on our mattress in the back of the Ford.

From running out of product to our generator crapping out under intense heat and sun, to battling hoards of flies at the Keensburg Animal Sanctuary, we collected stories that we will never forget.

A customer holds a jam-packed waffle and a kombucha at Veg Fest Colorado 2017.
jam-packed waffle + kombucha at Veg Fest
customers at Veg Fest Colorado 2017 eat vegan strawberry shortcakes with coconut ice cream in front of food trailer Munchies.
after experience unsurmountable technical difficulties with the damn whipped cream canisters (it happened more than you’d think) we started serving strawberry shortcakes with coconut ice cream.
A chalkboard sign reads "We make 2 waffles at a time. Each waffle takes 4-5 minutes. Thank you for your patience as we make everyone's waffles to order."
a sign I made in an attempt to quell the hangry crowd waiting for their waffles.

At the end of every day, I would come home, dump everything in my bag on the floor, and collapse in a fog of happy exhaustion.

Stacks of crisp dollar bills, trailer keys, an essentia water bottle, cup of water with a yellow curly straw, bottle of wine, two tin camping mugs, a lighter, a fan, and a roll of toilet paper on a carpeting floor next to a mattress.

It was a crazy time. Crazy in a bad way and crazy in a good way. Also, crazy in all the ways.

José Mojica and Stacy Mojica stand together wearing Munchies on Wheels aprons.

José Mojica and Stacy Mojica stand with a fan of 20 dollar bills.
José and I goofing off at home after one of our first gigs.

On July 21, 2017 I went to Great Storm Brewing for my first attempt at vending at a brewery. Even though we were only 2 weeks in, José had started to freak out that we were killing ourselves and were never going to make ends meet. So I’d booked at the last minute and went there on my own. I wanted to show him that we could work hard and make money and make this work. It way my first time navigating the trailer on my own. I made two sales, and when it was time to go home after 20 minutes of inching back and forth stupidly, I still couldn’t back out of my spot, so I decided to try to go forward around the building.

A food trailer hitting a gas main.

Yep, that’s a gas main, and yep, it was leaking. That was a disaster, and unlike the fridge tipping over, this one made me cry for the rest of the night. By some miracle, we didn’t have to pay for it, but we didn’t find that out until weeks later.

UPDATE: On August 2, 2018 I was mailed a letter via Certified Mail with a series of bills attached to it claiming that I owe $1,630 for the damages. I contacted my insurance agent to file a claim. I left her a voicemail and sent her an email with scans of all the pages I was mailed. I have not heard back from her at all and I have not heard anything from the property management company trying to extort me for this outrageous sum. I am hoping that the charge will just go away.

And then everything changed.

When our kids came back in August, everything changed. Suddenly, two crazy people couldn’t run around the state of Colorado in a food truck doing festivals with no help. Things got a lot more difficult.

IMG_3897
José Mojica squats with daughters Mia and Lizzie in the food trailer.

At first I tried to give the girls jobs, feed them waffles, and stock them up on snacks and toys, but they were still bored, annoyed, and annoying.

A girl puts stickers on cups in a food trailer.
Lizzie putting stickers on cups

A girl holding a waffle smiles. Behind her is a three part sink that says "wash," rinse," and "sanitize."

We hired our first and only employee, Ben. Ben was amazing. He’d worked in a food truck before and nothing phased him, a vital skill to have in any fast-paced food service environment.

José and Stacy Mojica stand with employee Ben Davis in front of Munchies food trailer.

Life was hard, but two things kept me going: my resolve, and all the customers who came up to our trailer every day and told us how awesome we were and how amazing our food was. So many customers were so, so grateful.

We did a lot of memorable gigs in August. We even had a visit from the ghostbusters!

The Ghostbusters stand in front of Munchies food trailer at Comic
Comic Con August 2017

I’ll never forget the worst day of my life, Saturday September 2, 2017, when I arrived at Labor Day Liftoff at 5:15am, alone, with the Ford full of food I still had to unpack, and the entire trailer still to set up. At 5:30 I already had a line of 10 families waiting for breakfast, and by 5:45 the line had grown to 40 families. I was in WAY over my head and I knew it.

I consider that day nothing short of traumatizing. People can be nasty when they’re hangry, trust me. But I received the best compliment I’ve ever received in my life. When Ben arrived 3 hours later (when I told him to show up, because I had no idea what the morning was going to be like), he was awesome. He jumped right in and helped me catch up. Later that day, he said to José, “Stacy is tough as nails.”

It may have been the most traumatic day of my life, but it taught me a lot about who I am as a person. I don’t take things personally, I suck it up and move on when I make mistakes, and I work really, really hard.

Munchies food trailer in operation early in the morning at Labor Day Liftoff 2017.
Early Sunday morning, Labor Day Liftoff. I was slightly more prepared.
Hot air balloons at Labor Day Liftoff 2017.
the ONLY picture we took at Labor Day Liftoff.

A screenshot of a Facebook post by Munchies food truck of vending at the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off.

That night, still awake after 48 of prep work and serving and cleaning, still making waffles and serving shakes, 10 feet in front of our trailer window, hundreds of hot air balloons glowed into the night.

A month later, on October 1, 2017, we would vend for our very last time at the Denver Pagan Pride celebration at Cheesman park. We were 3 hours late because of a flat tire on the trailer, and on the way there Mia got sick. She spent the whole day curled in a little ball on the backset of the Ford, sleeping off a high fever, while we worked and took breaks we couldn’t afford to check on her.

Lizzie was bored as heck without her sister and ran away pretty much immediately. A woman we didn’t know at all ended up babysitting her almost the entire time for free. I’ll never forget telling the next person who’d already waited 25 minutes in a line of 20 people that I had to stop taking orders for 5 minutes while I took my 5 year old to the porta potty.

A pumpkin pie waffle short cake with coconut whipped cream is next to maca hot chocolate and pumpkin on browning autumn grass.
pumpkin pie shortcake and shake.
a root beer float made of wild root kombucha and coconut ice cream on a wooden cutting board in front of a brick wall.
one of my absolute favorite menu creations was a fall seasonal treat: Wild Root Float. This was wild root kombucha with no sugar added coconut ice cream. SO GOOD.

I’ve had so many people ask me why we stopped doing Munchies, and we have so many reasons, I could never think of what to say. To this day I still ask myself that same question, and to this day I still can’t sum it all up.

One of the biggest reasons is that I was sick. All of the time. We were pulling triple all-nighters for these festivals every weekend, and without fail on Monday I would be sick. It was never just a cold either. It was fevers and 2-day long headaches and illnesses that kept me in bed. And it was also colds. On top of those.

This made it extremely difficult to keep up with accounting and scheduling and ordering product and food. I was constantly falling behind, constantly stressed, and constantly blaming myself for not doing better.

Stacy Mojica looking very tired.

Another of the reasons I would be remiss to omit is that José and just couldn’t keep our shit together. He hadn’t been too keen on the whole idea of my business from the beginning, and felt like he’d been dragged through the muck of it all summer. He hated it, and nagged me constantly that I needed to quit because I was always so sick. My response was always an appalled, “Quit?! Without even trying to fix the problems?”

So I thought long and hard about completely re-structuring my business. I had had a ton of women already tell me that they would love it if I could do a meal delivery service for their families. Fresh, organic, vegan, gluten-free dinners and desserts. It seemed like a smart business to do in the winter, when food trucking isn’t exactly the most fun. The idea piqued my interest quite a bit, and to be honest I still dream about doing it.

But in the end I was tired. I was so tired that I couldn’t think straight. I was still months behind on accounting, and I just needed to sleep for about a month. So I made the difficult decision to take a one month hiatus from Munchies.

Somehow that felt like the end, even though it was only supposed to be a break. I remember the way our commissary owners looked at each other when we told them we were going to take a break for a month. They didn’t believe we’d come back. Throughout October I tried to focus on resting and having fun with Mia and Lizzie. They have two weeks off of school in October (district 49 is weird). So we went to some festivals, and glory be we did not vend at them! It felt so good.

But it also felt bad. José kept talking to me about real estate. I lost count of how many times throughout that summer he told me that we should have done real estate investing for a year in order to save money for this venture, instead of taking out a loan to do it. He really got under my skin. We have alway fought about money, but at that time our arguments were at a record high.

I resolved to put aside my childish fantasies of following dreams into Hell, and get a real job in the real world. The days of making money with Munchies were so far in the future still, I couldn’t even see them. When things are far away, they look much smaller. Sometimes they are so small we can’t even see them yet.

vanishingpoint

I just wanted to make some money to shut up my husband and hold my own. For the first time in my life. It felt so possible. So much closer at hand.

In the end, it wasn’t really because I was sick that I closed Munchies. That’s what I told everyone, because the real answer would have taken 4,000 words for them to understand.

A piece of burnt waffle that looks like a heart on a waffle iron.

As November reared it’s sad, gray head into our lives, it felt more like the end than ever, and a very real, bright part of me died. I lost my hope and my faith. I decided that dreams were demons and that I would never trust them again. I told José that I felt like I would never be happy again.

That was a very dark time in my life, and if you’d like to read more about it, you can read about it in Failure.

 

I hope this blog post has been both entertaining and enlightening. I’d love to hear about other major projects you’ve tackled in your life that didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped either. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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