Dog groomers, hairstylists, personal trainers, massage therapists, computer repair specialists and pizza makers have long been taking their services and products to their customers.
Increasingly, business is being done on wheels. Customers love the convenience, and it can be considerably less costly to start up a business in a vehicle than in a brick-and-mortar store.
The epitome of business on wheels is the food truck, which has become so popular that it deserves to be called an industry.
The food truck industry has expanded over the past five years to become one of the best performing segments of the food service sector, according to market research firm IBISWorld.
More than 23,800 food trucks travel the streets of American cities, an IBISWorld research report found. In terms of revenue, the U.S. industry has grown 6.8 percent per year since 2014; total revenue so far this year has topped $1 billion. And that revenue is being generated by individual small businesses.
In the Pikes Peak region, more than 80 food truck owners are members of the recently organized Colorado Springs Food Truck Alliance.
Owners of other types of businesses, from baristas to boutique owners, have noticed the success of food trucks and are hitting the road in vans and trucks decked out with custom paint jobs that are their own best advertisement.
Food trucks trace their American origins to street vendors selling food from pushcarts and the chuck wagons that fed wagon trains and cowboys.
In 1936, Oscar Mayer rolled out a portable, hot dog-shaped cart, the Weinermobile, and the 1950s saw ice cream trucks proliferate.
In the 1970s, taco trucks were the rage, and in the 1980s, enterprising vendors found a ready market for sandwiches and snacks on college campuses.
By the turn of the century, food trucks were an industry segment recognized by the National Restaurant Association, and their numbers multiplied — especially on the coasts.
It took a little longer for food trucks to catch on in the Pikes Peak region.
When Hector Diaz started dishing up Cuban specialties from his food truck, Lucy I’m Home, in 2015, there were only about 15 or 20 food trucks in town.
Diaz was raised in a coastal Cuban city until he was 10 years old, when he and his sister were smuggled into the United States after the Cuban revolution brought Fidel Castro to power.
He brought with him a knowledge of Cuban cuisine, and when he grew up, he loved preparing his native dishes for friends and family. He often heard, “You should start a restaurant.”
Diaz didn’t want to open a restaurant, but he was intrigued by the idea of a mobile food business.
“I went and bought this old truck [a 1981 Chevrolet step van] down in Springfield, Colorado, and brought it back and put it all together, little by little,” he said. It took about two years to renovate and equip the van.
Diaz kicked around some ideas for the name but couldn’t come up with something he liked.
“One day I was driving, and I was thinking, what’s very Cuban and American at the same time? And I don’t know why [I Love Lucy] popped into my head,” he said. The TV show was one of the Spanish-captioned programs he watched in Cuba as a boy, and he remembered Ricky Ricardo’s iconic line, “Lucy, I’m home!”
Getting started wasn’t easy. The food truck community wasn’t as cohesive and supportive as it is now, Diaz said, and customers hadn’t embraced the concept.
Like other food truck owners, he partnered with local breweries, catered corporate lunches and took Lucy to festivals and events like Oktoberfests.
Diaz’s son Adam and daughter Elyse helped out, joined sometimes by Elyse’s twin sister Megan.
Diaz modified the truck’s interior layout to set up a more efficient production line, and learned about finances and marketing as he went.
“We just kind of built up a great following,” he said.
The family takes Lucy to an event or booking four or five days a week, preparing much of the food the night before.
The truck is a regular at food truck rallies like Food Truck Tuesdays at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, the 719 Hump Day Food Truck Rally on Academy Place and Saturdays at the Square in Widefield.
Elyse mostly runs the business now, Diaz said.
“It’s given me an opportunity to step aside and be more sociable,” he said. “But I still help with the food; I’m all about quality.”
The business is profitable during food truck season, but winters are tougher to get through. So Diaz is exploring the idea of opening a small take-out place in central Colorado Springs.
Barista on wheels
When Anna Spriggs was working as a customer relations manager for a transport company in her native Australia, she and her coworkers would patronize the coffee and snack trucks that came round three or four times a day.
“There’s nothing like it here — not a lot of eating choices where you could grab something real fast,” she said.
In 2017 Spriggs was living in Harlingen, Texas, and looking for a way to make a living after separating from her American husband.
Australians value great coffee, and Spriggs thought she could be successful taking artisanal coffee and food to people in their offices.
She started Wheel Coffee in Harlingen after finding a customized van online, equipped with a commercial grade espresso machine and stainless steel refrigerator. She took a class, but learned the most from the van’s former owner.
Spriggs brought the business to Colorado Springs when she moved here in 2018.
“I was very particular about the coffee I wanted to use,” Spriggs said. “I was very passionate about it. I knew I wanted the Australian-style coffee taste.”
She found Veterans Coffee Roasters, which made up a special blend for her, and started spreading the word about Wheel Coffee via Facebook and Instagram.
Along with the makings for lattes, mochas and macchiatos, she stocks sandwiches and pastries.
In just a few months, she’s developed a successful circuit of stops that includes farmers markets in Woodland Park and Old Colorado City, military bases and U.S. Air Force Academy football games, as well as offices. Businesses hire her for regular visits or events like staff appreciation day.
“The opportunities are endless, really, when you think about it,” she said.
When best friends Amie Bennight and Julie Megahan stepped into a vintage fashion truck at a holiday event in December 2016, something clicked.
Bennight, who was working full time with the Community Partnership for Child Development’s Head Start program, and Megahan, a stay-at-home mom, had no intention of starting a business.
“But we looked at each other and we just said, ‘We’ve got to do this,’” Bennight said.
A few months later, “this old school bus popped up on our radar,” she said. “It was like a sign.”
The two spent the summer of 2017 transforming the bus into Delilah’s Fashion Truck, refurbishing every square inch themselves.
“My garage turned into our workspace,” Megahan said.
They took Delilah to their first event in September, and customers loved the mobile boutique.
“I kind of jumped off the cliff and left CPCD,” Bennight said.
Bennight and Megahan found that their skills meshed well. Megahan, who had a background in retail, does all of the buying, while Bennight handles marketing, the website, social media and bookings.
“Our merchandise is filling a niche boutique-wise that wasn’t being filled in terms of helping women of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors and interests,” Megahan said.
Bennight and Megahan drive Delilah to markets, festivals, private parties, businesses, schools and churches.
One of their biggest events is the annual Vintage Market Days at the Norris Penrose Indoor Event Center, which this year occurs Nov. 22-24, and they’re partnering with three other boutiques Oct. 19 in Old Colorado City for an annual “shop hop” called RendezBoo on the Avenue.
In the past year, Delilah has spawned two brick-and-mortar locations.
Jen Sheriff, owner of Splendeur Salon and a longtime friend of both women, had been letting them park the bus at her location at 1314 W. Colorado Ave.
When she decided to renovate the Victorian cottage that houses the salon, she offered them a storefront space where they could generate additional traffic and keep their merchandise when it wasn’t loaded onto the bus.
“The partnership has thrived,” Bennight said. “We help with her clients coming in and out; we fold towels, we make coffee, and we do administrative stuff for her, as well as run the boutique.”
Last month, Delilah’s Boutique moved into another shared space they rented in the French Ruffle Market, a vintage home décor store in Monument.
“Our business model is, we don’t owe anybody any money,” Bennight said. “It’s not big-time dollars we’re talking about here. We just keep building on what we have.”
Megahan added: “What entices us is that each time we do a show or an event, it’s really not about what we make. It’s about the relationships we build and the comments we get back.”