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MASHED PART 3: Daniel Shemtob Talks The Great Food Truck Race; The Lime Truck – Exclusive Interview

The unexpected ingredient that Daniel Shemtob loves the most

You’re a big proponent of lime in your food. Can you tell me what other ingredients are “must-haves” in your food truck and restaurants?

I think one of the things that I love absolutely the most, is I really love tomatillos. [They’re ] part of the gooseberry family. They have a nice punch, great texture, a little bit of tang and acid and sweetness, which just creates really great types of dishes. I love that for our salsa, for our pico de gallo. I love sambal … That’s my thing. I love it more than anything. Then, garlic chili paste. Oh, and zest. Whether it’s lime zest, lemon zest, whatever. I love zest. Well, kosher salt, but I also like to balance sweet, salty, and acid.

Those are my things. We [also] use a lot of pickles. Pickled miso radishes, pickled red onions, that stuff really does well. And then organic masa to make our own tortillas from scratch. That’s huge. We didn’t do that on the show, but we do that in our restaurants. And then I think my favorite thing at home that I can never live without is shallots, green onions. I like that family a lot. I don’t do that much garlic, [it’s] just a little hard on my stomach, but it tastes great.

You believe in “mental health through food.” What does that look like for you? Can you give our readers a go-to simple recipe that you cook at home for yourself?

Everything’s quick. For instance tonight … I’m having shabu-shabu. But a normal Monday night, I go to the farmer’s market on Sunday. I get fish, I get whatever produce I think is good. And then let’s say, it was last Monday or whatever. What I would be doing is, I would just take the fish. I would make some kind of sauce for it, which typically is dijon, olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, whatever. I would just baste the fish in the oven at 375, and at the same time, I would cut up mushrooms, squash, asparagus, whatever that I know will cook around 12 to 15 minutes, which is the same as the fish. And I just put it all in the oven and go back to work … and then for lunch, I always do a chop salad or leftovers depending on what I made the day before.

Why Daniel Shemtob is franchising his food truck

Your food truck and restaurants are coming hopefully to a city near everyone soon. What is the one menu item that everyone should try?

It depends if you eat meat or not. If you eat meat, the Vegas taco with short rib. It’s a taco I put on the menu eight years ago and it’s just magical. It’s a six-hour slow braise red wine, short rib. It’s got horseradish crema and then arugula [and] buttermilk fried onions. When you get the combination of [it] all, it’s pungent, it’s bright, it’s rich. It’s got umami, it’s got great texture. It’s a gringo style taco, but it’s just so good. 

And then our ponzu-marinated shiitake mushrooms, I go crazy about it. We marinate them exactly for four and a half hours and then we wash them. If you do four hours, not strong enough, you do five hours, too strong. So, it’s really important. We do that with furikake, which is a Japanese seasoning. Cilantro chimichurri and queso fresco. And it’s like … Oh my God, it’s just magical. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever had. 

To get to where you are right now, you talked to a lot of well-established franchise owners. Can you let me in on some secrets? 

It was at Sweetgreen, with John. I think the better I’ve gotten as an entrepreneur, the more vulnerable I am with telling great people that I’m there to learn. I reached out to [John] and I walked into his office and I said, “Listen, you’ve created this huge, amazing company … What do you think is the best thing you bring to your company?” And his eyes lit up and he was like, “Look at this core values book.” … What he was already seeing is how important people are to your organization. 

I started my business when it was easy to get employees, it was right after a recession. People wanted to work on the truck. The trucks were hot and I never really had a hard time getting employees. And because I’m so hands-on, the culture is exactly me. In the past few years, we started to expand. Employees are harder to get, especially right now, it’s insane. Culture has played a bigger role than it’s ever had, and having him to help guide that — it was just the right time. … And then, I talked to the owner of Firehouse Subs before I started franchising and he taught me how to do my franchise business. 

When I go into a room, just assume that … that everybody in the room knows something about something more than I do. And so let me tap into that. I feel through mentorship, I’ve become a 10, 20 times better human on top of being an entrepreneur. That’s really where the secret sauce is. And I think everybody’s different, but for me, I learned a lot from doing and I learned a lot from being, and so that’s really helpful. I didn’t go to school. I didn’t go to college. So, [my education’s] much more practical.

Daniel Shetmob’s Born From From the Lime Truck dream

What’s the franchisee-selection process like?

 I do want one in every city … but in 10 years. So I think the thing is for me right now, I really took a hard look at why I wanted to do franchising over opening my own stores. And the idea is to work with entrepreneurs and create a really amazing entrepreneurial culture. And the idea of having an entrepreneur fail, it happens. I failed, everybody’s failed, but I don’t want to have it happen. I want them to be successful. And when they fail, they hurt the brand and they, unfortunately, hurt their own lives and typically their savings. There’s a lot of damage that it can cause. My dream is that I get to make sure every franchisee is successful…

I’m really selective about who I pick … I just have to be patient. It’s crazy. I’ve had the brand for 11 years considering my age and just like my ADHD with everything that I do … It was when I hit the 10-year mark. It was a real wake-up call like, “Oh, 10 years can go by”… What do you want your legacy to look like? What do you want to be for those next years?

And that’s why at first I was like, “Franchise, let’s sell as many as we can.” Then I was like, “Wait, wait, wait. If I do that, most likely, a lot of them are going to fail.” Or maybe they won’t. I don’t know. But, I think the odds of it failing are higher. So, let’s go slow. I hired the most amazing person who has 40 years of experience. Because I figured, that’s, what’s going to counter me really well. And we’re going to take our time. And our goal is to only sell two franchises in one year, which is pretty small. But if I find the right two and they’re really successful, then next year we can go out for five. I’m just going to

do it the right way and slow. And if it picks up steam, I’ll only do it if it feels like it’s sustainable and ethical.

Is there any advice you’d give your 21-year-old self today?

Go with my heart. This is still my advice to myself that I have the hardest time with. I like to be really analytical in business because I feel like that’s what gets people to a great place … but almost every time that I avoid my heart, it comes back to hurt me, doesn’t matter what it is …

 And so trusting my heart is a daily exercise. In fact, when I wanted to start franchising, there’s somebody who’s really successful in the food franchise industry … He picks brands very sparingly … he wanted to do it with me. And I know he’s a very difficult person. I sat there and I was like, “I know I’m going to make a ton of money with this guy,” which it’s still important for me to make money, and I didn’t do it.

I was like, “I don’t want to work with somebody that I know I’m going to have trouble with later in my life, just because I’m going to make some more money. I want to enjoy the work that I’m doing. I want to feel like I’m doing it for purpose rather than that empty feeling of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” That’s a big one.

 Considering that Daniel Shemtob and his team captured the win on “The Great Food Truck Race All-Stars” July 11 finale, if you spot a Born From the Lime food truck in your city, you should definitely try a taco — or three.

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