Downtown D.C. has become the land of the food trucks. Make room for one more truck that is something out of the ordinary. Capital Chicken & Waffles is looking to set the city on fire with the classic soul food combo meal. Capital Chicken & Waffles (CCW) is DC’s first food truck specializing in the famed chicken and waffle cuisine. Founded in 2012 by DC-area natives, CCW will open on Jan. 21, 2013 to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Sharisse Barksdale is the creator of this concept. She was gracious enough to talk about the food truck industry, the once in a lifetime chance of opening her business during the Presidential Inauguration and the importance of strategy in an industry that is still defining itself as it goes.
The demand for the “Chicken and Waffle” combo has increased across the country. How did the idea of serving this combo on a food truck come about?
My brother & I were brainstorming ideas for the food truck cuisine. We initially started with just ‘soul food’, but after doing some research. I didn’t think that was a good idea. There are a lot of ‘soul food’ trucks in the DC area and successful food trucks generally have a more focused, specialty cuisine. After a few more brainstorm sessions, we came up with Chicken & Waffles. I absolutely LOVE Roscoe’s in Cali and have always wished that one would open in this area. Since Mr. Roscoe never took my suggestion I decided it would be a perfect fit to create my own, lol.
The food truck regulations are still evolving in the District of Columbia. Talk about the process of getting the business off the ground.
Surprisingly, even though the DC food truck regulations are constantly changing, the process is actually pretty simple. Licensing steps are clearly listed on their web site and DCRA/DoH employees were extremely helpful in answering my questions and they were very supportive during the process. I think that Maryland and Virginia can learn a lot from DC, and should definitely implement better ways to disseminate information on how to get licensed in their respective states – a task I am still trying to figure out.
The menu is broader than just chicken and waffles. Do you have any predictions on other items that will be “standout” favorites among customers?
My vote is the “CCW Cheesy Mac”!! Macaroni & Cheese is one of my all time faves and I think that my brother’s recipe is GREAT. I know that others will love it too! People have also always raved about my mom’s banana pudding, so the “Original Banana Puddin” will surely be another hit. I’m also secretly hoping that the “Poppers” (bite-sized waffles) are a hit because my team was definitely against adding them to the menu. Honestly, I pray our customers love all of the food!! A lot of hard work, thought and love went into the recipes and menu, so we just want everyone to enjoy everything!
The Presidential Inauguration will be the truck’s debut. How exciting is that? Do you have any special ideas or strategies for the kickoff?
It’s exciting and we are SUPER blessed that we were chosen to be on the parade route! We’ll be able to introduce our brand to tons of people from all over the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to debut on the food truck scene. To keep up with the day’s traffic, we won’t be offering our full menu, but I’m sure everyone will love what we have planned. Our strategy is to sell to as many people as we can and keep up with the demand. Hopefully, we will pick up some loyal customers and followers along the way.
Chicken and Waffles and the other “soul food” items on the menu have a “sit-down” feel to them. Any plans for a brick and mortar establishment as a spinoff?
Not right now. The mobile outreach is enough and a lot more profitable. But, you never know what the future holds.
In some instances, businesses overlook social media. How important of a role will social networks play in your marketing strategy?
We definitely went into this knowing that social media plays an IMPORTANT role in this industry. In fact, it can either make or break a food truck because its a mobile business, thus we have to capitalize on mobile mediums. One of the very first things that we did was bring on a PR/social media consultant to help us navigate the muddy waters of social networking. We currently have Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts. Our PR plan is awesome and we are using social media to reach out to our customers and engage them with the company. Giveaways, contests, etc. are all planned for our loyal followers.
Food trucks have primarily focused on downtown during the day and in bar districts at night. Do you foresee the industry expanding into residential communities as the conventional ice cream trucks did in the old days?
Probably not residential. And I say this only because it takes a lot to get a food truck prepped, up and running. You can’t cook food while the truck is in motion, so it wouldn’t really be economically feasible to randomly drive through neighborhoods unless you know that there is a crowd of waiting customers. However, I do see the industry expanding more into the catering business as people look to privately “rent” or “hire” their favorite food trucks to serve at parties or events. I definitely think that you can look forward to seeing food trucks at birthday parties & showers in the near future.
What advice would you give to someone getting into the mobile food truck industry?
Since I’m new to this myself, I don’t know if I can give advice, but here are some tips. Be flexible, because the industry regulations are constantly changing. Also, don’t cut corners! It can be tempting to save money here & there by getting a cheaper truck or used equipment, but when that equipment breaks down or your truck doesn’t pass an inspection, it can really hurt your revenue. Last, but definitely not least, be nice! My mom, who is also my business partner and came up with some of the recipes, always says that “you can catch more flies with honey”. A simple smile or ‘thank you’ goes a long way when trying to get your inspections completed and licenses approved.
Thanks a lot for having us & make sure you come visit the truck!!