Pizza Mike’s Says Goodbye — The Great Food Truck Race

by in Shows, September 2nd, 2012

nonna's kitchenette and pizza mike's

The third season of The Great Food Truck Race took the remaining six trucks to Amarillo, Texas, this week, and while the contestants are starting to learn the ropes of the food truck industry, they weren’t without newbie difficulties this challenge. With a grand prize of $50,000 on the line and the chance to keep their truck, each team tries to pull out all their tricks to stay in the game, but ultimately one truck must go each week. Every Sunday night, FN Dish will bring you exclusive exit interviews with the latest Food Truck contestants to get the boot.

There’s no doubt Pizza Mike’s is used to hardship: Mike’s restaurant career ended three years ago with a fire that destroyed his restaurant completely. But that didn’t stop him. Along with friends Pat and Gino, Mike battled through challenges on his food truck, and Pizza Mike’s even secured second-place spots two weeks in a row. Even though they had to hand their keys back to Tyler this week, this team has much to be proud of and many lessons to take back with them.

Tyler gave each truck $500 worth of seed money this week, and you followed up by saying, “I can make $500 last three or four days.” You ran out of food during the first challenge while everyone still had strong lines. What happened?

leg of lambThe first challenge was to create and sell a ballpark special at the Amarillo Sox baseball stadium, where we served our Italian beef sandwich. I don’t think you can get more all-American than baseball and beef. We were prepared to sell over the weekend and our pizza crust was being prepared by a local baker. Considering the “curve ball” Tyler threw at us, and having no pizza to sell on a pizza truck, we were behind probably a few hundred dollars compared to the others. At that point I really wasn’t too upset because we had the entire weekend left, and I was confident we could make up for it.

The reason we ran out of food was because we were busy, and I believe we outsold the others at that point. We did have some waste that wouldn’t happen in my restaurant. This was attributed to using a flat-top grill to grill pizza instead of baking it. Along with Under the Crust, we were the only team that needed to bake our products.

Between running out of food and having a boot on your car, your team was up against some pretty difficult barriers this week. In the end, you were only $400 apart from the second-to-last-place team. Did you ever try to use social media (Twitter, Facebook) to raise awareness of your location?

The boot was the killer because we had three great locations lined up for Sunday. First, we started out near a huge church on the outskirts of Amarillo, but it was too far off the grid. So that put us behind the eight ball time-wise. Next, we drove back into town to a great family event called Muttfest, a dog festival in a park with very few competing vendors. It was awesome. We were doing about $300 an hour. For the few hours we had left, the plan was to meet up with the other trucks for the final three hours. But, when they put the boot on us, we knew we were in trouble.

Looking back, using Facebook and Twitter to get the word out might have helped some, but I don’t believe it would have been enough to keep us in the race. Besides, at that time we were just learning about social media and weren’t too savvy with it, to say the least. Remember, Pat tagged us the “Rolling Grandpas.” All we needed was more time at any one spot this weekend and we would have been moving on in the competition.

What do you consider the most important tool in the food truck industry: active social media accounts or the perfect location?

I still believe location is the most important factor in being a successful food truck operator, after the quality of your food, of course. I know social media is changing the way the world communicates, but if you’re in a bad location or your food is poor quality, Twitter and Facebook won’t make people track you down or build repeat sales.

Any plans for a Pizza Mike’s brick-and-mortar or food truck in the future?

Yes! Actually, my truck is being completed as we speak. It is outfitted with double-deck stone Blodgett ovens, just like I had in my restaurant in Westerville, Ohio. So, Pizza Mike’s will be taking it to the streets real soon. We even have a Twitter and Facebook page now!

We thank Tyler for a great experience and a wonderful adventure.

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