Mountain View Voice

News - July 23, 2010

'Following' food

Locally run restaurant on wheels pulls in patrons with Twitter

by Nick Veronin

Steve Guasch is getting by with a little help from his friends. Or, more precisely, with a little help from his "fans" and "followers."

He is one of an emerging group of restaurateurs who are ditching their fixed-location eateries in favor of boutique food trucks, which broadcast their exact location on Facebook and Twitter.

The trend emerged in late 2008 and has recently been gaining traction in San Francisco and the broader Bay Area. According to Guasch, who runs The Louisiana Territory, a Mountain View-based food truck, social networks have played an integral role in resurrecting a business he gave up on more than a decade ago.

Guasch opened The Louisiana Territory in 1988 on West El Camino Real, near the intersection of South Rengstorff Avenue. He served spicy gumbo, jambalaya and other Gulf-coast concoctions for five years, before shutting down to pursue what seemed like a growth opportunity.

Mountain View lost its only Cajun restaurant when he moved The Louisiana Territory to the top of what was the San Jose Arena, now the HP Pavilion.

That venture failed in just three years, and Guasch turned his attention to Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, a catering company which he continues to run from his home office in Mountain View.

Restaurant on wheels

About a year ago, Guasch began paying closer attention to specialty food trucks, like Kogi Korean BBQ-to-Go, which is largely credited with kicking off the food truck-following trend in Los Angeles. Guasch said the idea appealed to him. He decided to reopen The Louisiana Territory, this time putting it on wheels.

"It was a way to get back in the restaurant business without opening up a new restaurant," he said.

The proposition also came with unique benefits. The truck's fans could help him decide where to send The Louisiana Territory — an option he never dreamed of when he was stuck atop the San Jose Arena.

"That means better revenues," he said. "We're serving the public in a better way than we could ever do if we had a stationary kitchen."

Guasch said he is saving money and wasting less by purchasing only enough food for an afternoon of cooking. He is also able to close up shop on days he anticipates will be slow, a measure that isn't as easy to take with a restaurant, where customers expect uniform hours of operation.

And if the truck needs repairs, "it's very easy with social networking to say 'Hey, we're going to be closed,'" he said.

Scott McReynolds began following The Louisiana Territory shortly after they started their Facebook and Twitter accounts in October of 2009.

A self-described "tech hound" with a Twitter handle to match — "grillgod" — McReynolds was an early adopter of both Twitter and Facebook and has been following food trucks since the trend began. He has pushed for many food trucks, including The Louisiana Territory, to make stops at his Mountain View company, Conceptus, located off of Evelyn Avenue near Highway 85.

McReynolds said he sees advantages for both the business and the customer when it comes to food trucks that utilize social media.

It gives the businesses "the ability to cheaply reach an audience and let them know where they are at all times," McReynolds said. It also gives consumers more options, and delivers those options "practically to their door."

"You're getting good food fast, instead of crappy fast food," he said. "And it saves people gas."

McReynolds has been giving The Louisiana Territory feedback, via Facebook messages and in tweets. "I like that they actually bring a table to eat off of," he said.

On July 1, when The Louisiana Territory stopped at Conceptus, Guasch had three tables for customers to stand around while they ate.

Tech companies targeted

It's not a coincidence that this trend has taken off in places like San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Guasch said he specifically targets tech companies.

"These are the people who have an interest in interesting, inexpensive food," he said.

But not only that; they are also more likely to be active on Twitter and Facebook, or know someone who is, like McReynolds, who serves as a miniature social network at Conceptus — sending out e-mail blasts whenever a food truck is planning on stopping by the office.

Guasch appreciates it when people like McReynolds offer him feedback, because it is immediate. "If something isn't working, you hear about it right away," he said.

Carmen Ionescu, who works at Conceptus, said she doesn't follow The Louisiana Territory on Facebook or Twitter, but saw McReynolds' e-mail and decided to head out to the truck when it stopped outside her workplace on July 1.

"I love it," Ionescu said. "It's different. As a vegetarian, it's hard to find Cajun food that is delicious. This is delicious."

Adina Avram works with Ionescu. She said she tried the "po' boy" last time she ate at the truck. "It was so good," Avram said. "I wish I hadn't had lunch today, so I could get another one."

Both Ionescu and Avram said they felt the Louisiana Territory's prices were fair — red beans and rice, blackened chicken pasta, and the fried catfish po' boy, range from $4 to $6.

McReynolds, who follows many Bay Area food trucks, said two of his favorites are the karaoke-capable Treatbot, and Sam's Chowdermobile, which serves lobster rolls and clam chowder. Treatbot, which has 442 followers on Twitter, allows customers to sing karaoke while they eat ice cream. Sam's Chowdermobile boasts a hefty 2,391 followers on Twitter, and, according to McReynolds, needs no gimmicks to supplement its tasty dishes.

With 195 followers on Twitter, The Louisiana Territory has some catching up to do, but Guasch is not looking back. He is currently working to open two more trucks in the coming months — a Mexican food truck, which he said would be called No Way Jose, and an as-yet unnamed specialty dessert truck.

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