Rolling up a big success09/12/2018 01:39PM ● By J. Chambless
The On the Roll truck, which is being used pretty much every weekend, is nicknamed Bunny.
By John Chambless
How successful is the food truck business being run by Elaine and
Eric Kelleher of Avondale? They're so busy preparing food or serving
it at area events that they could barely pause to answer questions.
That's a very good sign for their business, On the Roll.
Eric was born and raised in Kennett Square, and Elaine has lived in the Kennett area since the couple married.
“Elaine and I actually met at the Kendal at Longwood retirement community in Kennett Square,” Eric said. “We worked as wait staff while in high school. She went to Unionville, I went to Kennett. It was there that our interest in cooking and the food service industry began.
“When we were first married, we started our own, small catering business,” he continued. “We were busy for a while, but then our children came along and we decided to put the catering business on hold. I’ve kept my hand in the food service industry for the last 30-plus years as a volunteer manager/cook for a local Boy Scout Troop’s spaghetti dinners and Father & Son weekends, as a head chef for the Board Room and sponsors at the NASCAR races at Dover Downs, and as a bartender at private parties at the Brandywine River Museum.”
Elaine said, “I haven’t worked in the food industry since my high school days at Kendal, but I have baked frequently for family and friends over the years and have always dreamed of opening a bakery. We have been fine-tuning our main entrees on the food truck, but plan to offer gourmet desserts, along with gourmet coffee, prepared by our son, Ryan, in the very near future.”
While running On the Roll takes a sizable amount of their spare time, when they're not cooking or driving, Eric works as a foreman at a construction company, and Elaine works at the University of Delaware in the Provost's office.
The couple's flair for food largely rests with Eric, according to Elaine. “Eric is the chef in the family. He has always loved to cook,” she said. “He is a talented, self-taught chef. I also like to cook, but my true love is baking and making desserts. With our combined interests, we cook well together, and have always enjoyed hosting dinners and parties for our families and friends.”
The idea to start a business was always there for the couple, but raising a family kept the plan on the back burner until recently.
“We looked into different venues of food service and found that owning a food truck was the best fit for us,” Elaine said. She and her husband enjoy being able to change the menu to cater to various clients, the flexibility of deciding how often to work, the mobility of rolling up wherever they are wanted, and the lower cost of running a truck instead of a brick-and-mortar location. And they are catching the crest of a wave of popularity for food trucks in general.
“We’ve seen the food truck trend grow right before our eyes – and have experienced it first hand with a very swift take-off of our own business,” Eric said. “We do have other friends in the business who have been very helpful with advice and sharing ideas. There have been occasions when we’ve assisted each other at an event or filled in for each other.”
Operating On the Roll is just as much work as running a restaurant, Elaine said. “The amount of effort it takes to run a food truck -- including buying and preparing the food, maintaining the required safety standards, and running it administratively as any other type of business -- I feel the only difference between the food truck and a 'real' restaurant is that we lack tables and chairs. Although we do have an awning, tent and high tops for customers to use.”
While the mobility is nice, there's nothing easy about getting a food truck operation up and running, Eric said. “We bought the truck and then designed it for our needs, while being careful to abide by the rules and regulations set by the county. We outfitted the truck with all National Sanitation Foundation-certified equipment, we had a large fire extinguisher system installed, I obtained my food manager’s license, we had the truck inspected by the Chester County Health Department, and we follow stringent rules while operating the truck. We also hired a lawyer to incorporate the business, and an accountant to handle the tax aspects. We also had to purchase liability insurance and truck insurance. Depending on the location of an event, sometimes a permit for that day is required as well.”
On the Roll is an ideal name for a mobile restaurant, something Eric is proud of. “The name of the truck just came to me after going through many other names,” he said. “After coming up with the name, we, as well as our lawyer, determined that the name was not taken by any other local businesses. The truck’s nickname is Bunny, by the way.
“Once the name was determined, Elaine came up with the logo, while our daughter Hannah, who is a professional artist, drew the template for the graphic designer we hired to fabricate into signs for the truck.”
Of course, the most important aspect is the menu. “We don’t have a signature dish, but our Kennett Mushroom Melt and our quesadillas are always big hits,” Elaine said. “We also have the Poppy’s Sloppy, which is a barbequed pulled chicken sandwich created by our son, Ryan.”
The business has taken off very quickly, surprising both Elaine and Eric. “We are much busier than we ever anticipated and are thrilled because of it,” Elaine said. “Since we started in June of this year, we have been booked every single weekend, sometimes doing two or three jobs in a week. We have done mostly local public and private events, but have also done several events in Newark, Del., and Rising Sun, Md.
“Our shopping is usually done two days before the event, cooking is done the day before the event, and a thorough cleaning is done the day after the event,” she added.
There are challenges, Eric said. “The most difficult part of running a food truck is the short amount of time to get everything ready. Fortunately, we have really honed our system and run like a well-oiled machine now.”
And while food trucks are busy during the warmer months, “because we are regularly invited to serve at venues that are open year-round, such as breweries and wineries, we don’t feel our schedule will change much, despite the cooler weather,” Eric said.
With all of the success that's come to On the Roll, Eric and Elaine are busy but happy.
“There are so many good things about doing this,” Eric said. “The cooking, being creative, being your own boss, meeting nice people. But the best thing of all is working with family and friends. Our son Ryan, daughter Hannah and friend/chef Mitch work with us regularly, and our other son Alex, daughter-in-law Jenn, and even our granddaughter Olivia help out occasionally. So it is truly a family business where we all get along, take care of business and have fun.”
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email [email protected].