Student Cooking Up Success With Her Own Food Truck

Sarita's Food TruckIt’s often said that the best way to learn is through experience, and one business student at SUNY Poly’s Utica campus is getting her experience first-hand, running and expanding a business of her own creation.

“Many of us, at one point or another, have thought about starting our own business,” said Sarita Ruiz, junior, the owner of Sarita’s Empanada Food Truck. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and enjoy the challenges that come with it. In 2007, I established a party and event planning company called ‘Never Thought of That Events,’ and in 2010 I began to offer my strategic marketing services to local businesses in my community. My motto is ‘Why make someone else wealthy, when I could be making myself wealthy?’”

The idea to start a food truck came to her while having a conversation with a friend who is also a business owner. The two were chatting about their plans for the summer of 2013 when the friend mentioned an interest in starting a food truck. Sarita’s eyes immediately lit up, her mind swirling with ideas on what would work and what wouldn’t. While working as a waitress in a Spanish restaurant the winter before, she noticed that empanadas and smoothies were popular items.

“I’m much more of a businesswoman than a cook, and I knew I could make a good return if I focused on those particular items instead of the more commonly sold hamburgers and hot dogs. The idea that I could feed people, have fun and make money at the same time kept me in focus. Even better was the possibility that this business would be sufficient enough that I wouldn’t have to work for another individual other than myself.”

Drafting a simple business plan, Ruiz plotted out a path and calculated if her projections for success were even possible. She says that creating a business plan as soon as the idea for a business hits, can be the make or break point of the venture’s success.

“Many people don’t understand the importance of drafting a business plan before you actually start the business. It is a vital ingredient when you’re starting to think about an idea, rather than waiting until after you’ve already begun a project. I also asked the advice of a few individuals that I knew I could trust, who also presented me with the questions that needed to be asked, like ‘how will I fund this,’ ‘do i know about the permit process’ and ‘is it an attainable goal?’”

She spent several weeks researching the mobile food truck business itself, without restricting herself to upstate New York, since the southern part of the country has an abundance of food trucks, food rallies and food festivals. After her research and projections for profit, she concluded that was fully capable of success, but she just had to figure out how to get her hands on a food truck. A new truck can run anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 while a used truck can run between $20,000 to $30,0000.

“After one of our frequent brainstorming sessions, my friend and I began doing research on building a mobile vending unit, since there was no way either of us would be able to afford a truck. Following an ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way approach,’ blended with the philosophy that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ we took the small budget we had and built a food cart. We then purchased a used truck to tow it with, obtained the permits, licenses and insurance and I got my foot in the door of the mobile food business!”

After two years, the popularity of Sarita’s, especially the empanadas, has grown immensely, making Ruiz’s short-term goal of an actual food truck nearly complete.

“Hard work and dedication will surely pay off once I am in the driver’s seat of my new food truck. Within the next five years I would like to acquire more trucks to add to my fleet, with the ability to offer individuals jobs with a bright future. One day, Sarita’s will become a household name, and my empanadas will be sitting on a shelf in your local grocer’s freezer. The only thing that will get Sarita’s to maximum success is hard work, dedication and daring to be different. I have worked my business from the ground up, literally.”

Often taking suggestions from the business’ Facebook Page, Ruiz calls her customers a very large part of the support system that keeps her going, not only because they purchase her food, but because they give her the strength and encouragement to keep working hard. It’s made customer service a high priority for her.

“I know that a vast majority of my revenue is from repeat customers, and I make sure to treat everyone with respect, no matter who they are, what they look like, or if they pay with cash or card. Everyone gets top treatment.”

As she continues cooking up empanadas and success with her business, Ruiz says that it wasn’t just number-crunching, marketing and the typical business practices that helped her turn Sarita’s from idea to reality, to a sustainable business. It’s the lessons she learned to never give up.

“There are similarities that can be correlated between owning a business and attending a school, including the knowledge one can gain, as well as the obstacles one can encounter. It is easier to give up than to keep going, just as it’s easier to blend in a crowd than to stick out. Every day there’s more knowledge to be gained and every day there’s another obstacle to be overcome. It is what we choose to do with that knowledge and those obstacles that is important.”

Tell us YOUR story