This past weekend, a food truck run by a Lawrenceville couple sold creatively prepared French fries at the iconic Bonnaroo music festival
“It’s a huge event,” said Tiffany Hodson, one half of that couple. “We haven’t done Bonnaroo before.”
Hodson isn’t wrong about Bonnaroo’s scope. This year, the annual Macheseter, Tenn., music festival featured close to 150 musical acts, including U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Weeknd. The festival also features more than 100 food vendors to keep thousands of camping guests satiated.
This year, Hodson and her husband, Beau Hodson, were there to help with the Fry Guy truck. It’s just one of five trucks the couple runs, including two Atlanta Burger trucks and two Mac the Cheese trucks.
“We like to say we can kind of be a one-stop shop for people,” Tiffany said.
The Hodsons’ journey to that mini food truck empire wasn’t all comfort food and music festivals. It took them six years of training to learn to plan well enough — but also be flexible enough — for events like Bonnaroo.
“You have to go in with a really good plan,” Tiffany said. “And then you have to be ready to change it at a moment’s notice.”
In a way, that’s how Tiffany and Beau began their food truck careers in 2011 — by scrapping a really good plan. At the time, they each had careers in sales that made good money and were, for the most part, enjoyable.
It seemed like a well planned-out life. But something was missing.
“Our jobs just weren’t fulfilling,” Tiffany said.
In 2009 and 2010, around the time Tiffany was finishing her MBA at the University of Georgia, the city of Atlanta began to experience its first wave of food trucks. As they watched food truck pioneers like The Pickle, Yumbii and Tex’s Tacos hitting the streets, something began to click for the couple.
Beau had always enjoyed cooking and, together, they loved serving food to friends and family. They’d even vaguely thought that they should turn that passion into a career.
“So we started looking at it like, ‘Hey, this could work,’” Tiffany said. “I think we watched The Great Food Truck Race, like the first season or so, and we were like, ‘We could do it.’”
In 2011, armed with one truck and a business plan Tiffany had put together as the thesis for her MBA, the couple scrapped the solid plan they thought they had for their life. Both Beau and Tiffany quit their jobs to pursue a life in the food truck industry.
“Now we get to wake up every day for the most part excited about what we do,” Tiffany said.
But the leap into a new job wasn’t a happily-ever-after ending for the Hodsons. It was just their foray into an industry that brings fresh challenges constantly.
“What we do is kind of crazy, because things change on a daily basis,” Tiffany said.
Some of that craziness is random. There are scheduling conflicts to deal with and popped tires on the way to events. Lee Dovre, the couple’s longest-standing employee, said he remembers putting out three grease fires when he first worked in the old Mac the Cheese truck at the Shaky Knees Festival more than three years ago.
“It’s going to get crazy, but if you just keep your head down and work, it’s whatever,” he said. “But it’s fun, though, man.”
Most of the day-to-day craziness that Tiffany and Beau deal with comes from feeding large crowds, especially at festivals where attendance can be uncertain.
“In other words, we don’t know if we’re going to serve 1,000 people a day or 2,000 people a day,” Tiffany said. “And that’s a really big spring.”
Sometimes, food truck owners just guess wrong. Tiffany said she remembers one particularly busy day in Atlanta back in 2013 when the NCAA’s Final Four tournament was in town.
Beau was out at Chastain Park with the Mac the Cheese truck, serving its first big festival. It was prepared with enough food to serve about 1,000 people — but there were more than 1,000 hungry festival goers that day.
“So I get a call from my husband. I think it was like 11 a.m., maybe noon,” Tiffany said. “And he said, ‘We’ve almost sold all the food we have. I need you to get in the car now and bring me more food.’”
Tiffany thought fast and used her cellphone even faster. She called her kitchen manager and his wife, her best friend and her parents. Together, the small group started preparing food and packing mac and cheese into 20-pound tubs.
Then, they loaded the tubs into a van and tried to drive to Centennial Park, where the Mac the Cheese truck was set up — and hit gridlocked traffic two blocks away from the park.
“So my husband’s calling me. He’s like, ‘Where are you at,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘We’re just not moving. We’re not moving.’”
So Beau changed the plans up again. He sent two staff members out to Tiffany’s van, wheeling a cart along behind them. They loaded the cart up with hundreds of pounds of mac and cheese and pushed it through the crowds back to the truck.
For Tiffany, it was a dizzying experience that makes her laugh to remember.
“You’re so excited that you’re selling this much food, but you’re also like, ‘What’s happening?’” she said. “You can’t always predict everything.”
But unpredictability hasn’t slowed down the Hodsons’ food truck mini-empire. If anything, its grown faster than expected.
“When I first started, we had one Burger and one Mac. We now have two Burgers, two Macs and a Fry Guy,” Dovre said. “The business itself has blown up.”
By 2015, the business outgrew the 1,400-square-foot kitchen and store-front space in the Dacula area where it had gotten its start with one truck and two or three staff members.
Today, Fry Guy, Atlanta Burger Truck and Mac the Cheese work out of a 5,000-square-foot kitchen that can accommodate their five-truck fleet and 20 to 30 employees.
And after six years of growth, Tiffany, Beau and their staff finally fed the crowds at Bonnaroo last weekend.
“As a festival, it is different than many other festivals we have worked,” Tiffany said. “Everyone is so friendly, our staff had a great time, and it was a great learning experience.”
Tiffany credits the food trucks’ success in large part to the ability of herself, Beau and their staff to plan well — and then to be able to throw those plans away with a shrug and a laugh at a moment’s notice.
“I found that we do a lot of planning and preparing, and then, certainly, 100 things don’t work out the way you think they’re going to,” Tiffany said. “Some days are crazier than others, but a lot of times the crazy is part of what makes it really fun.”