How Food Trucks Handle A Spike In Business

It takes a lot to keep Austin weird, but it takes even more to keep it fed. Especially during the biggest weekends of the year.

As music fans descend on Texas for Austin City Limits each October, they can count on a few things: great shows, warm weather, and food truck grub. That means it's a hugely busy time for the folks feeding the concert-goers—and now that Austin also hosts the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix, the city's food trucks face three nonstop weekends of mayhem as they feed the hungry masses.

One such food truck, Shawarma Point, has been serving up Mediterranean wraps, salads, and sides at Austin City Limits (ACL) for four years and will be working the Formula One race (F1) for the second time this weekend. In between ACL and F1, we spoke with shockingly calm Shawarma Point co-owner Faraz Vohra about the long prep time ahead of these events, as well as the camaraderie among the Austin food truck community and how to take things one day at a time.

The Takeout: How do you gear up for each of these big weekends?

Faraz Vohra: Building up to ACL—they're always the biggest weekends that we usually have in Austin every single year. We have to ramp up our production probably at least twentyfold to what we usually do on a normal weekend in Austin. It's just a lot of planning that we start about three months ahead, reaching out to the staff to see who's available to work, who's not. That's one of the biggest components to any operation, so that's what we focus on the most: Making sure we hire the right people.

We'll have two or three weeks before where we'll have a full crew from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. just doing the prep: slicing, marinating the chicken, cooking the lamb, making sauces, and cutting lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers. The day of the shows, all we want to focus on is really how much food we can push out those windows when the rush comes in.

TO: How do you prep all the employees and get them in the right headspace?

FV: We do a lot of meetings pre-event. We will have a separate meeting for all of our cashiers, we'll have a separate meeting for all of our line cooks. Then there will be a meeting that is for all hands where [information is] safety-related and where they have to go park, where they have to take the shuttle, where to get their credentials, where they'll be meeting our crew, who to contact, introductions.

Our separate meetings with our cashiers, we train them on what hours they'll be working, what's on our menu, what allergies we serve to. They're ready and they're fast; they know how to answer any questions that someone might have. The meetings that we have with our line cooks are more about portion control and presentation.

TO: At ACL, you've got a lot of out-of-towners. Is there a difference in a typical day-to-day customer and the folks coming into town for the shows?

FV: You know, ACL does a great job of promoting Austin's culture. So I think that when people come to ACL, they are very familiar with the kind of culture Austin has. It doesn't feel like a very out-of-town event, to be very honest. Most of the people know how things are done in Austin and how we do it here. Austin is weird and ACL people are weird. And that's just what it is.

TO: Now there's the addition of the Formula One race, so it's not just two weekends in October—it's three weekends. Is the prep any different for this?

FV: We did Formula One last year, we had one location. This year, we actually are doing four different activations—the most that our company has ever done at a single event. So we're hoping to have a weekend bigger than ACL. We are staffing about 60 to 70 people and we are prepping for the same amount of customers that we did during both the weekends of ACL, all in one weekend.

It really has been a long stretch. But we knew this is what we're going to be doing, so even when we were running ACL, we had some prep crews in our kitchens prepping for Formula One. Everyone took the day off on Monday after ACL and then we've been working 10-15 hours every single day, starting Tuesday, and we will through Sunday night.

TO: What's the food truck culture like when you guys have these big events?

FV: We all know each other, and this is the kind of business where you always need a favor from somebody. I see probably half the trucks that I know at almost every single event that I'm at. It's a great food truck community to have in Austin, especially the people that are heavily involved in events. We all work together, help each other out with staffing, things like that. If someone's done one event, and the other one hasn't, we'll coordinate and say, hey, how was your turnout? We all really do work together and make the best out of it.

TO: Do you have any secret to managing the madness?

FV: It's just prep, prep, and prep. For us, it's never enough. We find out always on Friday that we could have done more prep. So then maybe you have to do an overnight shift over the weekend sometimes. It all depends on how the event goes.

ACL is a very well-oiled machine because it's been happening for so many years, it's the same process.

It's a completely different ballgame at the Formula One circuit, because there's so many different places where the food is and there are so many regulations in place. It's a whole different kind of a festival. It's not something that you can compare to ACL—not because it's a sporting event versus a music event, but just because of the way the logistics here are very, very different than a normal music festival.

TO: I gotta say, you sound super calm for coming off of two weekends of ACL and heading into Formula One. I can't tell if you really have it together or if you're just exhausted.

FV: I'm just taking it a day at a time. And that's it. I just wake up and I'm like, all right, these are the things that I have to do today. And tomorrow, we'll worry about tomorrow. That's kind of what the last three weeks have been like.