Partners invest in different sort of egg roll
New Trier graduates Jeremy Mandell (left) of Winnetka and his business partner Daniel Krause (right) of Wilmette are shown with their new food truck on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Wilmette. The two University of Illinois graduates will be taking their bu
WHO: Food truck partners Daniel Krause and Jeremy Mandell
WHAT: Specialty breakfest sandwiches for students at University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
FIND THEM AT: www.crackedtruck.com and www.facebook.com/CrackedTruck
Updated: August 13, 2012 2:50PM
Jeremy Mandell likes to eat. Daniel Krause loves feeding people.
It’s why they make a great team, Krause jokes.
That partnership is about to go through its trial by fire — or, more accurately, trial by food truck griddle — as the recent University of Illinois graduates launch Cracked: The Egg Came First.
Krause, of Wilmette, and Mandell, of Winnetka, both 22, have been buddies since senior year at New Trier Township High School. They recently took possession of a bright yellow food truck equipped with a modern kitchen, ready to turn out egg-based breakfast sandwiches.
The two believe their new four-wheeled business, which aims to bring breakfasts and late-night snacks to hungry students at their alma mater, will be a hit in and around the Urbana-Champaign campus.
“We know how hungry students get, because we were students,” Krause said July 25, shortly before the two drove their new enterprise from his front yard to the U of I campus. “And we think this is a niche that has definitely not been filled down here.”
Krause traces his kitchen enthusiasm back to his mom Marla: “She’s this fantastic cook. When I was little, I remember going to the grocery with her and helping her cook as she prepared for Passover and Rosh Hashanah.”
He spent his teen years flipping burgers at the Wilmette Park District’s Centennial Pool, and working food concessions for Wrigley Field skyboxes. After deciding to make food his life, he graduated this year from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with a degree in food science and human nutrition. A little to his own surprise, Krause learned to love the science behind food — think Alton Brown on the Food Network — and concentrated in food chemistry and business.
Meanwhile Mandell had also graduated from the U of I, with a degree in agricultural consumer economics.
Even before he graduated, Krause knew he wanted to start his own business. But restaurants are expensive, and he didn’t have half a million dollars to start one. That’s where Mandell came in.
While traveling in Australia and Thailand, he’d noted hundreds of ubiquitous and successful food carts. When Krause wondered how to leverage an omelet bar concept he’d developed as a 2010 student internship project into a viable business, Mandell told him to go mobile.
“I didn’t have the slightest intention of getting involved myself,” Mandell laughed.
That changed after dozens of job interviews convinced him he’d rather work for himself than for anyone else. In January of this year, he and Krause started researching the food truck idea in earnest.
Food trucks are increasingly popular, having evolved in recent years well past the moving hot dog or taco stand models many grew up with. Across the United States entrepreneurs successfully sell everything from Thai food and sushi to cupcakes from the back of mobile kitchens.
“I think the beauty of a food truck is that it’s a small area, so you’re forced to have a small menu, but if you do it right, you have a few really great things to offer your customers,” Krause said.
With help from Mandell, he pared his omelet idea into a five-sandwich menu. Each features eggs and hash browned potatoes, with additions such as avocado, salami, garlic spinach and sun dried tomatoes and even bacon jam.
“It’s comfort food to get students started in the morning, or to end their day late at night,” Mandell said. “And the biggest opportunity is at night. So many students are used to having pizza and Chinese food as their only options, so we’re bringing something different.”
Crafting the menu was easy compared to navigating the maze of local food and zoning ordinances Mandel and Krause had to satisfy, a particularly difficult job when their target area comprised two separate municipalities. For instance, local ordinances required them to find a restaurant willing to rent them commissary, or storage, space of the right size.
They also had to invest in the truck itself. Krause and Mandell won’t say how much it cost them, but they acknowledge that, while not as expensive as a bricks and mortar operation, it wasn’t cheap. They credit co-partner Sean Baird of Champaign, and other friends and family (parents Marla and Steve Krause and Gregg and Renay Mandell) for financial and moral support.
This spring, they ordered the truck. It boasts not only a fully-loaded kitchen that has multiple refrigerators, storage, air conditioning, a griddle, stove top and deep fryer, plus a stereo sound system, but an eye-catching design, courtesy of university friends Samantha Mann and Devin Taylor.
The three partners also found two locations to legally park the operation, and hired some part-time help. By last week they were ready to go.
Krause and Mandell will both put on their chef’s hats for Cracked: The Egg Came First, and they expect to spend the first several months putting in 70-80 hour weeks. Eventually, they would like to buy and operate more trucks, but for now they are concentrating on calming the butterflies in their stomachs, and feeding the stomachs of others.
“I love food and how it makes you feel and how it brings people together,” Krause said. “So all this work is worth it.”
For more information on The Egg Came First, visit www.crackedtruck.com, or see its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CrackedTruck.