Food Truck to Full Service
When people ask Chef Eric Silverstein how he managed to open his restaurant, he tells them he made his startup money on the streets. He means this literally, and has two food trucks and five years of service to prove it. Only now, he also has a thriving catering business and a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Austin, Texas.
Silverstein is the founder, owner, and chef at The Peached Tortilla, which opened as a food truck in 2010 and went on to receive a steady outpouring of recognition from both local and national critics, including being named Austin’s Food Truck of the Year in 2011 by Eater. Before his foray into Austin’s nascent food truck scene, Silverstein worked as a litigator—a path in which he did not see much in the way of future happiness. Instead, he found a way to marry his passions for food and business by combining the culinary influence of his two childhood homes—Tokyo, Japan, and Atlanta—creating Asian- and Southern-inspired tacos and sliders.
Silverstein, being the high-strung, details man that law school taught him to be, was realistic about the fact that he couldn’t reasonably go from knowing nothing about the restaurant industry to starting a full-service operation from scratch in an unfamiliar city. Hence the food truck, prompted by the decision to start smaller and try to raise extra capital while learning the ropes slinging inventive tacos in a mobile unit.
In retrospect, he says that if anyone came to him now with the well-intentioned idea of opening a food truck to fund brick-and-mortar dreams, he would let them know a few things. First off, he would tell them that it’s a stupid idea. But he would also add that it is possible, if they’re willing to prioritize the business over every other thing in their life.
For the first two years, he operated day-to-day, breathing an exhausted sigh of relief every time he crossed another day off his calendar and knew the business was still afloat and that chasing customers from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. was paying off, even if the payback was small at first and physically demanding.
“There was a moment when I started thinking, maybe everybody else is doing this the wrong way,” he remembers. “I was killing myself to hawk tacos to drunk people and follow crowds, and that wasn’t doing anything from a marketing standpoint.”
Silverstein decided to start working smarter. The Peached Tortilla invested in a sales team and began to focus on catering and private events, which offered better profits, more marketing opportunities, and more sustainable hours.
“So now the trucks have become cash cows for private events, whereas when I started, they were like black holes for me,” he says.
Despite the fact that the stress of those years may have taken a few off his life, he says it taught him invaluable lessons he later brought to the table when The Peached Tortilla finally opened a brick-and-mortar location in late 2014, bringing along his sous chef, lead prep, general manager, and line cooks from the trucks. Even with a wealth of new knowledge on hand, Silverstein had plenty of anxieties about the logistics involved in keeping a full-service space successful.
“I think there was a learning curve for everybody, and I brought in people to train the team and help everybody transition,” Silverstein says. “Luckily, from the food truck we got to learn our clientele—who they are and what they like—before opening.”
In order to remain committed to its catering arm, The Peached Tortilla is only open for dinner, with special Sunday brunch hours. The average entrée runs around $12, and guests also have the option of choosing from an extensive whiskey menu and a full selection of craft cocktails, wine, beer, and cider. The space gives off an airy upscale-casual feel with white décor, vibrant orange accents, plenty of natural lighting, and a separate bar area.
Silverstein was responsible for crafting all of the recipes, selecting the new equipment, locating the right vendors, and determining how to adjust service for the full-service landscape—a task he readily admits was overwhelming but rewarding.
Now Chef Silverstein is back in the kitchen everyday, just like those first days in the food truck. And to his surprise, he has come to realize that while he was successful in using the mobile business as a stepping-stone to his ultimate idea, the trucks will forever be a central aspect of the business.
“You can advance your business beyond the food truck, but at the end of the day, if you start as a food truck, you’ll always be known as a business that started as a food truck,” he says. “So if we’re going to be known for that, we might as well continue to carve out that identity.”
Silverstein and his staff still open the trucks for lunch four days a week, and catering continues to be a top priority in the business. He says he has learned to love the trucks not only as symbols of hard work and grit, but also as the perfect marketing tool for The Peached Tortilla.
In fact, although the full-service spot offers unique shareable plates such as the Lush Pork Belly Bowl ($13) and the Southern Fun braised brisket plate ($13), Silverstein has found that the “Street To Table” section of the menu—which replicates tacos, burgers, and fries from the truck for the dinner table—remains the most popular.
After driving through the barriers of entry to this tough industry, the food trucks continue to pull their own weight, and then some, for The Peached Tortilla.