Building a food business can be like raising a pet…it takes time, patience, and love.
The Moody Dog owner Raymelle Moody-Guthrie, started a gourmet hot dog and sausage restaurant based in Belfast, Maine. It’s one of many businesses transforming franks from basic bun, ketchup and mustard to a hybrid delight with gluten-free and vegan options. Think smoked bleu cheese, pickled ginger, wasabi or tika masala sauce and wraps like flatbread, corn tortillas or steamed green leaves.
Moody-Guthrie has over 20 years’ experience working in the restaurant industry as a server, bartender and manager. Since her restaurant’s start in 2014, she rose from push cart to event catering to food truck and made enough to pay back all startup loans and costs.
Here’s how she built her business:
Out of the Dog House
“I landed on the hot dog concept because of the low overhead — hot dogs, buns and condiments are easy to obtain and not too expensive,” says Moody-Guthrie. And she did a lot of research before jumping in. She found that the a year-round hot dog cart vendor in her area can gross $100,000 a year. She found a hot dog cart for sale on Craigslist ten minutes from her house, and it was just the push she needed.
Spreading the Word
Moody-Guthrie harnessed social media to launch and grow her business. It all started with a Facebook post: “Who wants to invest in a business I would like to start?” Within days she had three investors who provided the money to buy the cart and capital to get started. She got a license for her home kitchen to make condiments from scratch. “I found a location to set up, licensed the cart through the State and the City, and opened in less than 8 months — It was amazing.”
From Downward Dog to Best of Show
In the beginning, she lugged her hot dog cart, equipped with steam table, refrigerator compartment, counter top and sink, to a regular location five-days a week — and she struggled. “People loved my hot dogs, but my location was a terrible, loud and dusty environment that no one wanted to be in — let alone try to relax and enjoy a meal.” So in 2016, she focused on local events and gave up her street location. “Events were always lucrative and I was able to have more time for myself.” And this year, she’s renting a truck with a full commercial kitchen in a busier location, and she’s expanding her menu from hot dogs to include sausages, sliders, salads and breakfast sandwiches.
Moody-Guthrie says: “If you want to start a food cart or truck business, do your research. Make sure you have a unique concept to fill what’s lacking in your target location. Find out about all of the licenses and insurance policies you need. Look for a class in your area that might teach you the ins and outs of running a small business if you have never run one before. Knowledge is power. Finally, start small. Don’t jump into a huge menu. Do a few things really well and then go from there.”
Thanks to Raymelle Moody-Guthrie for speaking frankly!