Quickly imagine what you think to be the archetypal food truck vendor: a young, free-spirited, tattooed hipster with a passion for locally sourced anything and a cowboy swagger, right?
In a few cases the stereotype is accurate. For most, a few elements ring true with each owner while the rest of the myth never connects with the proprietor. However, within this band of brothers and sisters there is one who blatantly dispels all the stereotypes, an outsider in a group of outliers known affectionately and respectfully as The Godfather.
The moniker does not match the man – although it does match his resume.
Columbus has grown proud of our food truck community to the point where a mobile vendor is no longer a novelty but a necessity, and much of that would not have happened without the efforts of Jim Pashovich.
This atypical food trucker is a father of four, lives outside I-270 and would be the first to point out there is nothing hip about his lifestyle or his 12-plus-hour days spent building a brand. As owner of the (two) Pitabilities food trucks, Pashovich’s mini empire is among the most popular and profitable food truck concepts in Ohio. As for The Godfather nickname, it’s a title not given for ruthless business practices but in recognition for his many roles within the fellowship of food trucks as a friend, mentor, supporter, and sage to countless other operators.
Pitabilites was spawned after a short foray into commercial real estate. When Pashovich reentered the industry, he was the most prepared of any local food truck owner. Prior to Pitabilities, Pashovich had grown a large food cart business and commissary as the owner of Skyward Concessions in the late-1980s when mobile food was a micro-sized industry in cart form. Pashovich grew a business that he entered out of necessity into an enterprise he could make a respectable living by slinging hot dogs and gyros. Pitabilities launched in the fall of 2011 and after surviving a harsh winter and other hard knocks, Pashovich’s business began to flourish in early 2012. Along the way, Pashovich was available to food truck operators in need of advice, a kind word, and someone to brainstorm a new recipe or make a needed menu adjustment. While always competitive, Pashovich emulated the spirit of collaboration, which became a trademark of the communal culture of the Columbus food truck community.
A few words with Pashovich’s consigliere granted Stock & Barrel access to The Godfather for a short interview:
What was the tipping point for getting back into the world of food?
I kept experiencing poor service and low-quality food at restaurants. I was constantly making mental notes of what I would do differently. What I missed the most was interacting with the customers and seeing smiles on their faces.
Why go with a food truck instead of getting back into the world of food carts?
I considered a cart due to start-up cost, but a truck provided more opportunity to do the menu I wanted. With more equipment I could serve a larger menu with more variety. I had also considered a truck back when I owned Skyward, but at the time there was no real example of food trucks being successful in Ohio.
What was the greatest lesson you learned in your first year of business? What about your second year?
Accept help from anyone you can find that is willing to help in any way. Also, save all the money you can. Don’t grow too fast; debt will kill a business quickly. To survive to a second year, know that your employees are the greatest resource you have. You cannot expand and grow without the best people in place to help!
Where do you see the food truck community in five years? Is this a fad, a trend, or a new institution?
When I first started, I thought it was going to be a fad and die out in five years; now I see it as a local institution. I believe there will be a plateau, most likely in the next 3-5 years, but there will be an expanded presence of trucks in all communities. As large corporations enter the market, the food truck will evolve to an even greater presence, which will require those entering the market to operate their business even better and leaner.
What do food trucks bring to the table for the food scene in Columbus?
First and foremost, food trucks offer variety and ingenuity. We are no longer a hamburger town. When I started with carts in 1986, gyros were unheard of in Columbus; today we have a good variety of food choices. The food trucks provide an access point for creative chefs and entrepreneurs to enter the food scene. That’s what makes eating at food trucks so much fun.
ADVICE FROM THE GODFATHER
It needs to be something people will buy regularly. Also your food needs to be mobile, not a five-course meal on china; grab-and-go is the best.
The truck you choose is very important. If it doesn’t run, you
run out of business.
The wrap or graphics of the truck are vital. Your customer needs to know what you have to offer from a distance. This is your billboard, so use it that way.
Used equipment is okay as long as it functions well. You will use everything daily so you need something you can rely on. Always get new or very lightly used refrigeration.
Find someone in the business to be a mentor, or at minimum do a lot of research. Where are you going to set up, how do you find events, marketing, pricing, etc. Shadow with anyone that will let you, even for free.
You have to be self-motivated and you have to be able to drive a top-heavy, 25-foot-long truck all over town, which can be intimidating.