What I wish I knew before starting a food truck.

Apr 04, 2022 7 min read

"You need resilience, stamina, a fantastic sense of humour, oh, and spatial awareness!" Grace Hepwood, Super8

Super8 launched in December 2020 (proof a lockdown and Christmas madness doesn't need to stand in the way of fulfilling your business dream!). With her background in hospitality and inspired by the rise in popularity of food trucks, Super8 owner and operator Grace Hepwood set out to do things her way. 

We caught up with Grace to find out more about what motivates her, the lessons she's learnt along the way and the advice she'd give to other people who may be thinking about starting a food truck or small hospitality business.

First things first, Grace, can you give us an overview of Super8?

Super8 serves up whole pizzas and slices of our HUGE 20" authentic New York-style Pizza from our big red pizza wagon in the beautiful Lune Valley, Lancaster - we slice the 20" pizzas into 8, hence Super8!

We hand make our pizza dough to our secret recipe and slow-ferment it for up to 72hrs to let the flavour develop, then hand-stretch it and cook it on our Cuppone deck oven on the Super8 Pizza Wagon. Quality is key; we use the best fresh produce on our pizzas from Italian & local suppliers and sometimes even from our garden! 

What's your background? What led you to start your business?

I've worked in hospitality since I was 14 when my Mum catered for weddings and then had a country house hotel in the Yorkshire Dales. There have been various stints in PR and marketing, but I seemed to get drawn back to hospitality, always working for events companies and pubs.  

In 2002, my brother and I opened a gastropub in Islington, London. Within a few months of opening, we were named Time Out London's best Gastro Pub and immediately got very busy!  

In 2006, after having my first baby, I left London for Lancashire, where my husband's family is from. I took up more marketing positions and ran a pop-up catering business with a friend. In 2017, after having two more children, I decided to go back to work full time. I landed a great job as a Front of House Manager setting up and launching a new daytime high-end café/restaurant in the South Lakes. I worked with a fantastic chef and built up a great front-of-house team, winning another award less than a year after opening - Cumbria Life's 'Best Newcomer' at their food & drink awards. We were open for just over a year before the pandemic hit, and the owner sadly decided to close just before Mother's Day in March 2020.

I didn't hold out much hope for a return to work in the coming months, so my husband suggested mobile pizza. I didn't want to do wood-fired pizza – I always found it messy and difficult to eat at events and festivals. I'd also had the most fantastic pizza by the slice at Voodoo Rays in London - so good; I kept going back for more!!! Nothing like it was available to us up here, so I decided I would do it! 

How did you go about turning your dream into a reality?

I set about practising. Loads of YouTube videos and countless burns to the arms later - I nailed our recipe. We found our dough mixer and second-hand trailer (new or purpose-built were so expensive!) on eBay. We sourced our pizza oven from Facebook Marketplace – it didn't work, but somehow my husband got it going, and it's worked like a charm ever since! My husband is brilliant at building things, fixing up the trailer, and making me various equipment. We thought of the name, and a designer friend in London did all of our branding.

Even though we got the trailer in August, pulling everything together was time-consuming. We decided just to set a date and go for it! So on December 19th 2020, we took out the trailer and advertised our location on social media, selling slices for just £1. The second time was on New Years' Day 2021, at the height of the pandemic. It had been snowing, and we weren't even sure we could get the trailer to the location – we did, but we couldn't get the oven working. People must have waited an hour in the snow for a slice of pizza, and we were dying of embarrassment and working as fast as we could even though we wanted to close and run away! Everyone was really lovely and supportive. Not our finest hour, but we've managed to gain and keep a loyal following since. 

It's hard work but fun, and I'm proud of our product, and I love our customers. We've had a lot of support on social media and great comments from customers. 

It sounds like it's going well! Do you have any plans for the future?

I want to find permanent premises now to build our brand awareness. We're looking in central Lancaster as it has the footfall, university, hospital, residential and offices, but there's also Morecambe to consider and even Preston as possible locations.

Since starting your business, what has been your biggest learning?  

Ultimately it comes down to you. 

You have to be and do everything. There are few days off, and you have to be committed. You need resilience, stamina, a fantastic sense of humour, and spatial awareness(!). You have to be friendly, organised, a good problem solver and a diplomat.

What would you say is key to delighting your customers? What do you do to ensure a great customer experience?

Have a great product you believe in and offer value for money. We always strive to give excellent customer service, and we provide them with value with our free final flourish of flavoured oils, which elevates the flavour of the pizza and is a nice gesture. We also have set deals, e.g. A meal deal and our double up offer – so two slices are slightly cheaper than if you bought two pieces separately. We offer pizzas for different dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, halal and vegan. We make these with the best ingredients we can source, so everyone has a good pizza experience and no one misses out. We also go out of our way to accommodate special requests – people want what they want and who are we to be the judge of that!? 

Is technology essential to your business - what tech do you have in place? 

We rely hugely on social media for all our marketing, which is essential to us. 

At first, we just used WhatsApp business to take orders as it was free, so we managed orders from Instagram/Facebook/text/phone and WhatsApp. It was confusing and messy, and mistakes were made!

A year in, we signed up with Onvi. It was a bit of a learning curve as we and our regulars were stuck in our ways, familiar with just sending/receiving a text. However, I wish we had got this sooner!!! It's so much easier; the ordering is centralised, I don't have to navigate my (or anyone else's!) bad writing so we can see what the order is, what extras there are, what time the order is for etc. And customers can see what is available in terms of extra toppings, half and half, meal deals, and so on. Much better communication all round, and our average order has gone up, so revenue is better!!

Any final advice you'd like to share which might inspire others looking to start their own business?

Do your research on who your customers will be, where they are, and what they want. Provide them with a quality product, love your brand, keep it simple and don't lose sight of what you're doing. Also, be prepared to work very hard, get a great team, and look after them. Don't overspend on start-up! It's easy to get carried away. Hopefully, after that, everything should fall into place!

Looking to start and grow your food truck business?  Get in touch with Onvi’s friendly team to see how Onvi POS can help your business thrive. 

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