FOODSERVICE E&Q: Born From The Lime Truck Hopes Franchising is Fruitful
One of the great things about the foodservice industry is the way it continues to draw entrepreneurs. That is because the foodservice industry still has a place for someone with a vision and passion to pursue it. Such is the case with Daniel Shemtob, founder and executive chef for Born From The Lime Truck.
The California-based concept hit the ground running with a scratch-made Cali-Mex menu from a food truck in 2010. Since then, Born From The Lime Truck has continued to bear fruit in the form of a second food truck well as two brick-and-mortar restaurant locations in the California cities of Irvine and Westwood. (The Westwood location is closed for COVID-19-related reasons but is expected to open in the fourth quarter of 2021.)
Despite this success, the company’s appetite for growth is far from satiated. Born From The Lime Truck intends to grow by adding its own stores as well as through a newly launched franchising initiative. “We want to open three more stores in the next two years,” Shemtob says. “I am passionate about entrepreneurship, too. The idea of working with other entrepreneurs as franchisees are so compelling to me. It is also scary because not everyone will treat my brand the same, but some will take it and make it better. So, our growth plan is a combination of how can we serve the most markets in a way that matches my core values.”
Of course, Shemtob is no stranger to life in the restaurant industry’s fast lane, having won the FoodNetwork’s Great Food Truck Race. “That win was for our whole organization. Our whole organization gets to excel because of it,” he says.
While excited to grow his company, Shemtob understands the road ahead likely contains plenty of unknowns and that will shape the way he and Born From The Lime Truck will work with franchisees at the onset. To start, the company will encourage franchisees to open individual locations that over time could grow into area development deals. “In the early stages, I will probably change the company a little based on how the franchisees do,” Shemtob says. “I would be dumb not to. I like the idea that we can grow these franchisees into area developers but it’s important that they uphold the standards of the brand before growing to store two and three.”
In terms of unit development, Shemtob and the Born From The Lime Truck Team have some specific requirements. For example, franchisees can opt to open only a brick-and-mortar location. If they want a food truck, though, franchisees must also open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. “And the food truck is highly encouraged for those opening brick-and-mortar restaurants,” Shemtob adds. “Year in and year out the food truck has been one of the most successful parts of my businesses. When you enter a market, you can introduce the concept as an entrepreneur. It becomes a billboard that can drive traffic, and it’s an incredible catering tool.”
With respect to unit location and design, Shemtob understands exteriors may vary from one location to the next, but the expectations are the interiors will remain consistent. “One thing I love about QSRs, especially with our concept, is you can take over a restaurant and it saves you lots of hours,” Shemtob says. “If I can get a franchisee into a space that was previously a restaurant it can get franchisees to profitability quickly. Now there is an opportunity for real estate that was not there before. I want to help operators get into these places as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
One design element that will remain integral from one location to the next is an open kitchen, which will take 30% to 35% of the restaurant’s total space. “I believe in open kitchens because seeing is the most important thing,” Shemtob says. You will see the tortilla-making equipment. The rest of the equipment package is based off a food truck because that’s where our roots are.”
Key pieces of foodservice equipment include a flattop, fryers, and salad bars. The equipment package also includes a chip warmer, a nod to Shemtob’s preference to eating them that way. “The equipment we use is pretty inexpensive,” Shemtob says. “So long as the franchisees match the SKUs, we should be OK. As long as they can afford it, they should buy it new.”
Born From The Lime Truck team spent some time adjusting the concept’s menu to make it easier for franchisees to execute in a way that consistently meets the brand’s standards. “I just did our last menu change a couple of weeks ago. The menu has been revised throughout our history but the last one was very franchisee focused,” Shemtob says. “I am a chef so the first thing I do when I walk into the kitchen is taste the food. I altered 3 or 4 items out of the 22 we have.”
Like many QSRs, lunch remains a crucial daypart for Born From The Lime Truck. That said, the menu has some appeal for the dinner crowd, too. “We have a really sophisticated beer program and a fun margarita,” Shemtob says. “In the evening hours, lots of people seem to want to linger. Lunch is a bigger part of our business, but the dinner vibe is something we like to lean into.” He anticipates customers dining on-premises will account for 65% to 70% of revenues of a typical location’s revenues.
While Shemtob remains enthusiastic about Born From The Lime Truck’s future, he is also a realist, understanding the company could not have gotten to this point without the hard work and dedication of his team, many of whom have been with the organization for more than 10 years. He also understands franchising represents a new and very important chapter in the history of Born From The Lime Truck, which is why the company added someone with experience in this area. “I want the entrepreneurs to be successful. I am meticulous about the food and the service so I know we will be able to get it right.”
So what would getting it right look like in the near term? Naturally, Shemtob has a vision for that, too. “I would love to see 100 stores sold, not opened, in five years,” he says. “That includes having great franchisees and access to great ingredients for them. I love this brand and being able to give it to people. It’s the fruition of an idea that is my ultimate goal.