We have been operating our food truck for a few months now. We’ve gained a lot of new followers recently, so I thought I would write a little about who we are, what we do, and I will try to answer some of the most common questions we receive. I know there has been some buzz about us on social media lately, and while this isn’t how we would have preferred for things to have gone, we are hopeful that the concerns of small businesses in the Town of Lexington will be heard and positive changes can be made.
Who are we?
We are DJ and Teresa Stone. We own and operate The Blended Bakery, along with our six children. We are a blended family in that DJ brought four children to our marriage, and I (Teresa) brought along two children. We have been married just over three years and are still trying to figure out this whole “blended family” thing.
The business started as a home-based bakery in 2016, and expanded to a fully mobile food truck this past summer. This has opened up what we are allowed to offer our customers. We are a bit unique from most food trucks we have seen in that we do all of our food preparation, cooking and selling directly on the trolley. We do have a commissary (as required by DHEC) that we can use for larger prep when needed, but generally speaking, everything is made on our trolley. When we found this trolley for sale, we immediately fell in love with the unique character that it offers. The previous owners fully outfitted it as a bakery, which definitely makes it unique. We have made a few modifications, and have a list of improvements we want to make, but the charm is undeniable.
We both work full-time jobs during the day, so most of our business is done on Saturdays, or in the evenings. We do our best to keep Sunday’s devoted to our family, though on occasion, we will book a Sunday event. When the trolley is not out and about, we still take custom online orders for delivery or pickup, so even if you don’t see us, we are still working hard to meet our customers needs. We also keep Rhoten’s Country store stocked with fresh baked goods, so pop inside to see him as well!
Where are we located?
We are based in Lexington County, and support many other small business in the area. Part of the heart of our business is helping other small businesses. Our trolley is eye-catching, and people will stop just to see what it’s all about. It can increase foot traffic into the local businesses, thus increasing revenue not just for our business, but for those near it. We purchase our eggs and seasonal produce from local farms and our sausage from Rhoten’s Country Store.. We partner with Rustic Chic Interiors to bring you “Breakfast with Santa” events, which create wonderful memories for your children. We have a local potter who makes coffee mugs for us, and obtain our gourmet coffees from another small business. We sell chocolates made in Graniteville by yet another small business. Our vintage sodas, while not local, are purchased from a small family-owned bottling company, many of which you can’t even find online.
We have been trying to find a consistent place to set up the trolley on weeknights. We have heard you, our customers, asking for this. We want to stay local to Lexington. You should not have to drive to Columbia to find us (though you can find us at Soda City on Saturdays, on occasion)! Unfortunately, there are many challenges in this area. Specifically, within the town limits of Lexington. Some of these issues have been brought to light recently, and are discussed in this article from The State. While we have gotten some positive feedback from a couple of the town council members, I can’t say that the town administration has been quite as helpful. I hope that future conversations will result in options that lead to a solution instead of just throwing up roadblocks.
We understand this issue related to allowing food trucks within the town limits is on the agenda for the January 16th working session, and we fully plan to be there to participate in the conversations. We hope the larger issue of ordinances that block small businesses from being successful will be looked at as well, as we have heard from other small business owners that there are broader issues than just this one ordinance. As the town continues to look at annexing in additional areas, these ordinances are going to continue to be unduly burdensome on small businesses. We encourage you to reach out to your council members and tell them where you stand on these issues. We are looking forward to seeing how this working session goes, to seeing how this specific issue is addressed and how we can move forward together.
We actually got our “big start” at the Lexington Farmer’s Market (it was run by Our Village Project at the time) when we were still home based. We got our feet wet with the Trolley this past September at the Lexington Farmer’s Market as well, and I know that there were people who stopped at the market solely because they saw us parked there. We are grateful to the town for these opportunities, but think there are better ways for us to help grow the town than just at town-sponsored events.
If you want to know where we will have the trolley set up, make sure you check out our Facebook events. We keep them updated with where we will be. As always, you can also place orders online. If you want something that isn’t on our online store, just end us an email or Facebook message and we will work up a quote for you! We hope to see you around town very soon!
Isn’t a food truck cheap?
In short, no. Most food trucks cost significantly more than you probably think. We were fortunate in that we found our food truck fully built out, with minimal modifications needed to meet SC DHEC requirements, so we were able to get up and running fairly quickly. However, we have a long list of things that we want to do to improve our food truck, both for productivity, safety, and aesthetic reasons. Our food truck has a full bakery kitchen in it: ovens, stove, griddle, proofer, refrigeration, prep tables, 3-compartment sink, employee hand sink, 20-qt mixer, storage, and more. Not to mention that it drives, so we have auto maintenance and repairs to make regularly. I think our mechanic loves working on it (it is pretty cool), but he doesn’t work for free! Of course we have licenses and permits to pay for, but not just one set like you’d have for a brick and mortar; we pay those fees in multiple counties and municipalities. There are places we can’t go because it hasn’t been economically feasible for us due to the limited number of days that we operate. We will likely eventually begin to expand our areas of operation, but it has to make business sense. Our equipment is on a bus, basically. It gets a lot more wear and tear than I’m sure it was designed for, so we likely have higher maintenance and repair bills for our equipment as well. Plus, the gas mileage is not exactly stellar. And of course, then there’s the generator. Our power requirements are higher than most food trucks (though some of our improvements will reduce that significantly, but that also requires additional funds). We just had to invest in additional products to reduce the sound level of our generator as well… Unfortunately, that one jumped a few places in line and became a “have to have” instead of a “nice to have” so that bumped down some of the other things on our list.
We also make our items from scratch, so that adds time to the process, which generally increases costs. When we run out of bread, we can’t just run down to the grocery store. We have to make the dough, proof it, and then bake it. (It’s totally worth it though; if you haven’t tried our sourdough bread, you are missing out.) We purchase as much of our produce in-season from local farmers as well possibly can. We believe that you can taste the quality difference, and that is why we have chosen to operate our business this way.
We have heavily invested in our trolley, as do most food truck owners. The operating profit is probably lower than most brick and mortar restaurants, which is why I shake my head when someone suggests that we are competing with other local restaurants. I believe we (and other food trucks) fit a unique niche market, and we can fill a need that a brick and mortar just can’t fill, in most cases. I read this article in the Wall Street Journal recently, and this food truck owner captures very well the struggles that we go through.
I know aesthetics of a food truck can be a hot topic. However, I can also see how the exterior of the truck will always come last to ensuring that your food is handled properly on the inside. A DHEC inspected food truck will have a letter rating, just like a brick and mortar restaurant. If you don’t see one, they likely aren’t permitted.
We are family owned and operated.
You may see kids working with us on the trolley. They are ours, and they only work when they want to…usually running the register or making your drinks. We are a blended family with six kids in total. They all help to varying degrees. They are truly some of our best marketers! We rarely post their faces publicly out of concern for their own privacy, but you can see their smiling faces at events. They currently range in age from 8 (almost 9) to 12 (almost 13). We also have one amazing employee who helps us at larger events, like Soda City. The kids work hard at school during the week, and we believe that family time is important, so Sunday is generally our day of rest and quality time. We hope this business is something that one or more of the kids will have an interest in pursuing culinary school or a business degree and continuing to help grow the business.
We are grateful for each and every one of our customers who has helped us get to where we are today. We hope that you will speak up to the town about what you want to see. In the meantime, look for us in other areas! Take a picture and tag us when you see us!