Dropout Food Truck Millionaire Part I
Tough Start on the Road to a Million Dollars
Today at 38 years old, Joe Woodel and his wife Lauren are on their way to being millionaires with a restaurant and a food truck. Joe grew up in the south, mostly in Tennessee. He would never have been voted most likely to succeed in high school. He was a rebel and hated authority. He just flat did not like anyone telling him what to do, so he dropped out of high school at age 17 and went to work- that was 1994.
After leaving high school Joe has had a very interesting and varied path. His life wasn’t really going anywhere and at age 27 he had just gotten divorced, and decided to move to Chicago. There were not a lot of opportunities for a comedian in Tennessee, which is the path he thought he was going to follow, and he thought maybe he could start over in Chicago. My first telephone interview with Joe was when he was on his cell phone as he was driving his food truck in 2 feet of fresh snow in Chicago trying to get some catering orders delivered. He was not sure he had all the dates right, but he started telling me his fascinating story.
Who is Joe?
Joe has changed over the years, he has tried many things, got more education, then fell into a passion that looks like it will make him a millionaire..
Joe the rebellious drop out
– Joe was just ready to go out into the world, as I said he did not like being told what to do and dropped out of school at 17.
Joe the comedian
-Joe tried stand-up comedy first in Tennessee, then in Chicago, joining the Second City Troup for a while.
Joe the student
-Just because he dropped out of school was no reflection of his ability or love of learning. He did go back and get his GED and then went to Columbia College in Chicago for 3 ½ years earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts finishing when he was 31. After that he went to the Washburne Culinary Art Institute in Chicago and graduated with honors two years later. When he graduated in 2009 he also won two awards, the American Culinary Institute Student Award and Charlie Trotter Student Culinary Award. It should be noted that Joe always worked to pay his way through school, sometimes 2 jobs at once plus attending school. Much of the time while in culinary school, he worked at Home Depot and was a chef at a restaurant. It did not leave much time for sleep.
Joe the actor
-After he got his fine Arts Degree he was an actor in the small theaters around Chicago. But when the economy turned down, many of the small theaters closed and he was out of work.
Joe the unemployed
-There was more than one time where he was unemployed. The most fruitful was when he had to have carpal tunnel surgery on his wrists. He pretty much had to sit at home and do nothing, he could not use his hands for 6 months. But that let him find barbeque competitions on BBQ Pitmasters. He loved the show. He could not wait to get well; he remembers telling his wife “I can beat those guys.”
Joe the barbeque sport competitor
-Joe talked his wife into letting him try a barbeque cook off competition just like he had seen on TV. It was a blast, but he only finished in the middle of the pack for his first competition. He was a little humbled, but excited to try it again. He kept doing better and better in these competitions. He even went to barbeque schools to improve his cooking style.
Joe the Businessman
Joe was ready. The business idea became serious because Joe could not afford to keep going to these barbeque cook offs, they cost about $2,000 a weekend if you did not win. He talked to Lauren and wanted to try and make some money cooking here in Chicago to have enough money to go to the competitions. The Husky Hog BBQ started as a business in 2012 as a catering company. There first full year was 2013 and they made about $60,000, once they paid for his fees in completions out of the proceeds, there was no other money left. He told me they broke even, but I think what he meant after they spent their profits supporting his barbeque completion, there were no profits left.
Joe Meets Lauren
Joe met Lauren about 2004 when he moved to Chicago. They later got married in 2011. Lauren was and is very good for Joe. Joe told me he was an action guy and chased many interests, but then often got bored or side tracked. He told me every time he would come up with some crazy idea, Lauren would ground him. She would not really say no, but she would ask lots of questions and make him really commit to doing something if he said he wanted too. He feels that saved him a lot of false starts. He always liked to cook for friends, but she really quizzed him on his level of commitment before he started the Culinary School. But as his cooking progressed to the barbeque, she could tell he had found his sweet spot.
Lauren Beefs Up Her Skills
Joe and Lauren were still stumbling along, not really sure where the business would go. The couple decided that Joe would do the cooking and Lauren would run the business side of Husky Hog. She was told about a course at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in Chicago and she attended. It was a 12-week Jumpstart your Business Program. She felt it was very helpful and was glad she took the course.
The Decision to Get a Food Truck and Paying for It
Joe decided to get a food truck to do double service. In his mind the food truck would help him in his barbeque competitions as sort of a rolling kitchen plus be a part time revenue source when he was not competing to make enough money to enter competitions. But the project took on a life of its own.
Chicago had just passed an ordinance approving food trucks, so after some research they decided a food truck might be the way to go. Joe got the licenses and did a lot of the research, but they did not have the $125,000 necessary to buy a food truck. And then to retrofit and bring it up to code could cost another $50,000 and it could cost another $50,000 for everything else from insurance to the actual permit.
Joe sold his car, cashed out their 401K plans, maxed out all the credit cards, and scraped all the money together they could, it still only came to about $60,000. Then Uncle Norman stepped up and gave then a loan of about $30,000. The final piece of the resources was a $10,000 loan from the WBDC’s Micro Finance Program. The WBDC was working with them because Lauren was a 51% owner and that qualified the business as a woman owned business. So now Joe had $100,000, but was still way short of what he might need.
Joe thought maybe he could put a truck together much cheaper piece by piece of used and new parts. Joe was very resourceful and he started scouring craigslist and running ads looking for a food truck and the equipment he would need. It took him a year, it took a lot of separate pieces, negotiating for the lowest price on every part he needed and hiring contactors to do a few things he couldn’t do, like welding. He was able to bring it in way under $100,000 and still gave him some funds to get all the other necessary purchases to get them into business.
Read Part II Next Week
Next week in Part II, read about how the business starts rolling and turns into three businesses. See what the economics of the businesses are as well as the marketing, the business plan, and additional resources if you want to try and be a food truck millionaire yourself or see how Joe spun out three businesses.
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One Million in the Bank
: How to Make $1,000,000 with Your Own Business, Even if You Have No Money or Experience
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Veteran’s Guide to One Million in the Bank
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Women’s Guide to One Million in the Bank
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For my long time followers, this is my first book/s, and I have honestly thought I was very close many times to being ready to publish. I really am in the final stages now. The book is at the proofer (2 weeks), then the layout and design (4-5 weeks), put the cover on it and publish. That is about 60 days, maybe May 1st.