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MASHED PART 1: Daniel Shemtob Talks The Great Food Truck Race; The Lime Truck – Exclusive Interview

BY HANNA CLAESON/JULY 26, 2021 11:48 AM EDT/UPDATED: JULY 27, 2021 2:51 PM EDT

If Daniel Shemtob hadn’t founded a food truck at 20 years old, with a drive like his, he might have been Hollywood’s next big name in fashion. (We’re just speculating here, but more on that later.) Shemtob heads a growing food truck business and sat down with Mashed for an exclusive interview, along the way revealing that if there was anything he could go back and tell his self a decade ago, he’d advise adopting a better financial system. The young entrepreneur put $15,000 into Born From The Lime Truck when he started, and admits to losing “all my money a few times,” before finding his footing. Even when he won season 2 of “The Great Food Truck Race,” and started making $2 million in revenue, he had a hard time turning a profit. While he did hit a few bumps on the way, Shemtob — who is franchising his business — has clearly arrived.

After winning the “Great Food Truck Race” the first time you said something like, “I was expecting Bobby Flay to call me up and offer me a show.” Obviously, that didn’t happen. Are you still waiting on the call? And if so, what kind of show do you want to do?

Daniel Shemtob discusses the kind of TV show he’d like to create
After winning the “Great Food Truck Race” the first time you said something like, “I was expecting Bobby Flay to call me up and offer me a show.” Obviously, that didn’t happen. Are you still waiting on the call? And if so, what kind of show do you want to do?

I’m always waiting on the call, I love Bobby. For me, I think the things that I get the most joy out of in life is travel and food. So if I got to merge those two experiences and be able to come up with a cool storyline behind it. Very Anthony Bourdain vibes, but maybe a younger generation of that. Because I don’t think anyone could replace him. Something like that would be incredible — but no. No calls. I got to do a lot of TV. I got a good agent. I got to do a lot of little fun things, but to get my own show didn’t happen yet.

So, a travel show. Where are the top three places, you’d go?

So, if it’s places I’ve been and I think it would be incredible, it would definitely be Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Singapore. And that’s because I had a restaurant in Singapore, I got pretty involved in the restaurant scene there. And then Mexico city is incredible and I think there’s a good scope. And then Hong Kong, it’s the mecca. There’s so much variation there, it’s so good.

Daniel Shemtob’s food truck origin story might surprise you

What was your light bulb moment? Why start a food truck and not something else?

Why I chose food trucks was I had a real estate services company, and I hated going to work. And so it was really obvious that passion was a big part of my ambition. They were one and the same. If I wasn’t passionate my ambition goes away. The concept of knowing that really woke me up and then I was like, “Okay.” I was only 20. And I was like, “What do I love?” At the time I only loved food and fashion. That was it. And fashion felt very far away from me.

I had a mentor when I was thinking about doing fashion when I was 17, because I worked in fashion until I was 18. And he basically told me not to do it. I don’t know if it was the right advice at the time or whatever, but it definitely skewed me away from it. Then, I thought about food and at the time, the idea of opening a restaurant didn’t seem even feasible. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s so expensive. And I don’t know anything about it.’ A food truck seemed really doable and they were just coming on the scene. And then I went to go talk to the owner of Kogi, which is Roy [Roy Choi]. And I go to Roy, we meet at this food truck line in Irvine. There’s 40 people in line. And everyone’s talking to him and I’m like, ‘Hey man, I’m thinking about starting a truck.’ He was like, “Oh, f**** yeah. You got to start a truck. Oh my God, you got to do it. Like, whoa, whoa.”

I was like, “Wow, I’ve got to do it… so awesome.” That was it. He was the final push, just having this guy so excited about it who owned another truck. And that’s what’s so cool about the food truck community, is they’re very supportive of each other.

Daniel Shemtob talks about what it was like to watch the edited show

You flew back from a detoxification vacation to watch the season finale with your crew. What was it like for you watching that win?

So I flew back from Colorado to watch the finale with my teammates and then Waffle Love from Utah came, which was really cool. It was emotional. My mom was in it and my mom passed away shortly after that filming. To have her on the show was probably the coolest thing out of the whole show for me to watch and see. It’s like this amazing … I’ll always be able to reference that point, which I thought was really cool. It’s nerve-wracking, too. You don’t know how you’re going to be presented. Of course, you want to make good TV. They’re going to make it look as close as possible. So he had these insane lines, which they didn’t show on camera and stuff like that…

But what they didn’t talk about was, in the second to last episode, we had a 14 or 15 item menu and we charged $200 for it. That was a little bit different than Seoul Sausage’s strategy of charging $30 and doing three items. So, they were more expensive per item, but we had a lot more items. In the last episode, they wanted us to price match. Because they said it was too much of a variance between the two teams. So we did and still beat them by a lot… It was cool to watch how that didn’t get presented, even though it was a big change for us. We changed our whole strategy, the whole show. And so it’s just interesting to see like how production finishes it.

You’ve said you changed your entire strategy. How did that affect you going into it?

Literally, the night before we had to change our strategy. Like the night before! And we’re a very organized team. The reason why I think we’re so successful on that show is all of us come from backgrounds of doing large, large-scale events. Jessie manages three wedding venues. That’s the hardest job in the world. I have four catering companies. Literally, all we’re doing is menu planning and strategizing — and Marco the same thing. That’s our special sauce. 

[And] the night before at nine o’clock like, you say, “Hey, you guys have to change your pricing strategy.” … And honestly, I think it might’ve helped us a little bit in the last episode, because it was so busy that if we had a 14-item menu, I think we would have been crushed. I think we did like six or seven, I think in the final. Versus 14, which is honestly a huge difference when you’re talking about working in a line and creating that many dishes at the same time… But I think one thing about being a food truck operator is that if you’re not quickly willing to adapt and be flexible in these moments you’re going to fail… What we did is we took the information and we just said, “Okay guys, this is what we need to do. This is what production wants. So, let’s make it work.”

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