Jacksonville loves food trucks. Over the past few years there have been many innovative ideas for new trucks in terms of the type of food being offered. Now Chef Robert Field of The Gastro Gnome would like to introduce a new way of funding the start up costs for a food truck business. Robert has launced a Kickstarter campaign that runs until August 15th. This innovative approach may pave the way for other new business ventures in Jacksonville. You can meet Robert to learn more about his Kicskstarter and sample free items from The Gastro Gnome on August 3rd at 7pm at Bold City Brewery.
Robert Field. Photo courtesy Outside The Den
1. Tell us about yourself.
I started working in restaurants when I was in high school. My jobs throughout my schooling have all involved the culinary industry. I worked at The Jacksonville Landing for a long time - about seven years - where I moved up into a management position and traveled around the state of Florida working in different restaurants for The Silverspoon Cafe and The American Cafe as a culinary manager and a front-of-the-house manager. When I left them I went to work for Rare Hospitality and Darden Restaurants in their training department and ended up opening 30 restaurants all across the country. I learned a lot about different regions and different cooking styles, just from the fact of being in so many different cities and eating at so many local restaurants.
That's what inspired me to eventually have something like The Gastro Gnome. I didn't want to go the brick and mortar restaurant style because I really feel that you can expose more people to your style if you're on the go with great food that can be enjoyed in Riverside one day, Southside another day, and then downtown, and Saint Augustine on the weekend.
2. What kind of food truck is The Gastro Gnome, and how is it different?
First of all it features Mediterranean and North African style food. That's not being done as a full menu here in the northeast region of Florida. It's naturally a vegetarian and vegan friendly style of menu, which is definitely not being done. There are some great food trucks out there with a few vegan or vegetarian items but not to the extent of our menu. The great thing though, is that although we'll have a lot of vegan and vegetarian dishes people will think of them as great food first, and vegan or vegetarian second, or not at all if that's not important to them. That's what the Gastro Gnome is all about - spreading great food.
3. What's North African style food?
It is food from the Middle East and surrounding areas. There's some debate about who came up with certain things first – Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Israel or somewhere else. The dishes all share similar ingredients and often resemble each other even if each area may make a dish slightly differently. Because of the ingredients the dishes are more alike than different, and that's how they get grouped into the North African and Mediterranean style.
4. Can you tell us about Kickstarter and how the Gastro Gnome is involved with it?
Kickstarter is the first crowd funding website. It launched in 2009 and has since raised over $5 billion for different projects. There are categories within Kickstarter, such as technology, film, art and food. To be involved with Kickstarter you need to undergo a vetting process to ensure your project meets certain Kickstarter criteria. For example, you can’t make firearms. If people think you have a great product they can pledge financial support to you in exchange for a reward of some sort. Rewards can be a final, finished copy of something or it can be as simple as a "thank you!". There is generally a mixture of small, medium and larger rewards.
When you create a Kickstarter account and pledge funds to a project the funds don't come out of your account right away. The pledging system is set up to end on a certain date at a certain time. If the funding goals are met by the end of the pledge period then everyone who's pledged will have their credit cards charged. If the funding goal isn't reached then nobody will have their credit card charged.
5. How do you make a pledge?
You need to log onto the Kickstarter website or start up their app on your phone. You then look up the particular project you're interested in. You can search by the name of the person running the project or the name of the product. Once you've located the project you want it will show you the business plan along with a list of pledging levels. You select a level you want to support and the reward that goes with it.
6. How much do people normally pledge and what sort of reward do they get?
The average pledge is between $25 and $50. For a $25 pledge to support The Gastro Gnome you'll get 2 vouchers for lunch off the truck along with a tub of our homemade hummus and a bag of Gnome Caps. For a $50 pledge you can have your name put on the border around the specials board or on a corn hole set we've created for people to play with while they wait for their order. In either case, when people come up to the truck they're going to see your name as a supporter.
7. How much are you trying to raise, and what will the money be used for?
$26,000 is the goal of the Kickstarter. 5% goes to Kickstarter for hosting the event. 3-5% goes to Amazon for collection of the credit card fees. That leaves about $23,500 for the purchase of a truck and to get the licensing switched over from the previous truck owner. About 10% will be used to purchase the food and supplies for the initial launch.
8. When does your Kickstarter end?
I chose for our Kickstarter to go for 40 days. It ends on August 15th at 10am.
9. If the Kickstarter is successful, how long will it take to get The Gastro Gnome on the streets?
It will probably take about 4 weeks in total. That's the amount of time to receive the funds, buy the truck and finalize the licensing.
10. Is the menu set?
Yes (menu). I've probably spent the last 7 months working on the menu and testing dishes. I'm still working on getting a local produce farm that will supply the majority of produce used by The Gastro Gnome. I want it to be local and organic, wherever possible.
11. Can you tell us about your relationship with Sweet Theory Bakery?
We eat at Sweet Theory a lot. Although they produce only vegan and mostly gluten free items, I see them as just a great bakery. I'm not a baker, so I wanted to find someone who could provide a few sweets on the truck. I approached the ladies over at Sweet Theory and after they watched the video on the Kickstarter website and we chatted a bit, they thought we had a great vehicle to get more exposure for their food and make it more accessible to more people. It's a win-win for both of us. We'll be on Southside and in areas closer to the Beach, which has generally been too far for many fans of Sweet Theory to come from on a regular basis. This way, we can make Sweet Theory treats accessible to people who love them but can't always get out to the bakery.
12. Can you tell us about your public tasting to raise awareness of the Kickstarter?
We're really excited to be working with Bold City Brewery to host a public tasting on August 3rd at 7pm. The Miller family has been great supporters of Jacksonville small business entrepreneurship and food trucks in general.
I approached them and worked out an arrangement where I can offer free samples to the public to let them taste some of the items while promoting the Kickstarter. This will give me an opportunity to talk face to face with people and answer questions about both The Gastro Gnome and the Kickstarter. A portion of the pint sales will be donated to the Kickstarter, which I think is extremely generous. I was just hoping for a public spot to host the tasting. I wasn't expecting them to donate, but they've been very generous and I'm really appreciative of that.
13. Anything else?
We're getting really, really excited about the launch. Every day we get closer, more things come into play, like our partnership with Sweet Theory. We'll have our local farm and a local bread baker finalized soon too. All that just makes me feel more and more a part of Jacksonville as a community. I'm really looking forward to everything happening and the launch of the truck.