Friday, October 13, 2017

The Food Truck: A Chef’s Hustle

Interviewed by: Denise Mendiola
Senior Business Advisor/Bank of Guam Women in Business Program Coordinator
(Guam SBDC)

Joseph Atalig, owner of The Food Truck, knew that in one form or another, food would be his livelihood. Since his childhood and growing up in Guam, food was always the central focus in the Atalig home. It was the binding force in his family of eight.  Atalig always remembered his dad being the cook; from simple breakfasts before school, to barbecues for dinner and to merely experimenting with a new dish he had seen or tasted elsewhere. Atalig took that passion and creativity with him to culinary school in the U.S. mainland where he honed his skills and flourished in the West Coast. The entrepreneurial spirit was well rooted in his family which eventually sprouted ideas for Atalig to start his business one day. Atalig shared his story with us on how The Food Truck came to fruition. 

Why did you decide to start your own business?
The main reason, I believe, that I've always gravitated not just toward food, but entrepreneurship, is because of my parents and two uncles. My mom mostly worked on commission at her job at Motorola, selling corporate accounts to selling life insurance at Prudential Financial. When I was in middle school I saw her monthly paychecks vary from $800 to $15,000. I was a nosy kid! My dad would work on peoples' cars in our garage almost every day after work to make extra income. Because of the hard work and entrepreneurship of both my parents, they were able to put six children through catholic school. The game changer which made the most impact on me, however, was when my parents and two uncles decided to try their luck at running the Liberation Carnival bingo in Saipan beginning in the early 90s. The family would fly over to Saipan each summer just to run the bingo. The best part of this was us kids could work, receiving cash wages and tips every night! For myself, I most enjoyed doing the accounting, from being the cashier to counting the money and making the deposits the next day. This is also when I learned never to make a deposit over $10,000 at one time. More importantly, though, this is when I knew I would someday run my own business.

What experience do you have in this type of business?
Today, I own a food truck called "The Food Truck".  This all began when I moved back home in December of 2015, after living in the states since after high school. But while away, I had been involved in the restaurant industry for over twelve years and direct sales and marketing for over six years. I am a graduate of the Art Institute of Seattle's Culinary Arts program. I have worked alongside some of the best chefs on the West Coast, and fortunate to have a good friend as a celebrity chef. I've done everything within the restaurant industry from a dishwasher, server, sous chef and manager for casual to high-end restaurants.

I contribute my "hustling attitude" to my experience to my experience running direct seller and marketing officer in Las Vegas and Denver. Starting with myself, I've learned to recruit, train, teach and manage teams to sell business to business. This business taught me that everything is a numbers game, with 90% attitude and 10% ability. One main lesson I have taken away from my experiences is to continue to strive each day to duplicate myself and give others the same opportunity that was given to me.

When I decided to get back into the workforce after I returned home, I tried to get a part time job serving tables just to get back out there, but to my surprise, because of my experience, restaurants only wanted me for management positions. I couldn't accept a management position, however, because that would have prolonged my goal of being my own boss; that entrepreneurial spirit within me. So, with the assistance of my uncle, we began participating in island festivals, selling banh mi spiral doggs and banh mi burgers. But festivals were only on weekends and once a month, so to help subsidize my income, I got myself a business license, allowing me to "food broker" wherein I approach different restaurants and try to advise them on ways they could boost up their lunch sales. I then took my B2B experience and started selling lunch plates once a week.

How did the Small Business Development Center and other resources help you?
With my hunger to make money and make a name for myself, but not having any capital of my own to be able to do what I had envisioned, I approached the SBDC to see how they could help me get on my feet and running. They were of tremendous help in pointing me in the right direction, from financial institutions that granted loans with little collateral to offering free classes to assist entrepreneurs who wanted to get a business started.

Another very helpful program was the Bank of Guam's Small Business Forum which I attended late last year, and this is when my food truck dreams started to come into play. There was a panel of small business owners who were making their mark on island. In business, I found surrounding myself with successful people in their field has probably taught me the most.

What advice would you give to others who want to start their own business?
For anyone who is looking to get involved in the food industry, my advice is to be unique; find something that no one else is doing, or if there is already a concept, take that idea a notch or two up. Always remember, just like anything in life, business is a never ending learning experience, and when you fail (because you will at first), get back up! I've closed down four businesses yet I was always still thinking of my next new venture.

For more information on how the Guam SBDC can assist you, visit