By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
SNOHOMISH — Food trucks are nothing new. But their recent surge in popularity has allowed many aspiring restaurateurs start up in the food industry without a huge capital investment. That’s what Snohomish residents Jeff and Kelli Shea found when they opened The Mobile Lunchbox last month.
“We looked into getting a restaurant but it was just too expensive,” Jeff Shea said. But when he saw a food truck that was for sale, the light bulb lit up in his head. The mobile kitchen had been intended for a different customer and it wasn’t complete. The Sheas would have to install the fire suppression system and all of the appliances themselves. But it ticked all the boxes on their wish list and would let them get a start in the industry.
It would be a completely new industry for John Shea, but after 20 years in construction he was ready for a change. Food had always been an interest and a hobby, he said. Kelli Shea already had a career working for a catering company. But even this experience didn’t prepare the couple for some of the red tape that binds the food-truck industry.
“It is quite regulated,” Kelli Shea said. “Even if your food truck has all the equipment to be a certified kitchen, you still have to have a commissary.”
Fortunately for the Sheas, they found an ally in Sondra McCutchan, owner of the Cabbage Patch Restaurant and Catering in Snohomish where Kelli Shea worked.
“She’s a very generous person and really helpful,” Kelli Shea said. But even with a commissary in Snohomish, they were surprised to discover that they couldn’t get an operating license for King County unless they also had a commissary located there, too.
It’s a regulation that is not reciprocated elsewhere. Food trucks from King County are able to get licenses for Snohomish County on the strength of their King County-based commissaries. That means that King County-based trucks often cross the county lines to compete for customers.
“It’s OK,” Kelli Shea said with a shrug. “We don’t mind the competition.”
The Sheas just don’t feel it’s particularly fair, especially since there are some events and locations in King County they would like to serve. The competition from down south, meanwhile, can go wherever it wants.
Currently, the Sheas are researching new places to park the truck and are forming some good business relationships. Since opening in August, they have twice hooked up with the Lazy Boy Brewing Co., a specialty brewer with a taproom that is tucked away in an industrial park behind the Everett Mall.
“They’re a brewery and don’t want to do food,” Kelli Shea said. The Mobile Lunchbox offers specialty hamburgers and fries and doesn’t serve alcoholic beverages, so it’s a good symbiotic business relationship between the two that benefits the customers.
Because they’re a food truck and not a brick-and-mortar restaurant, the Sheas can create this sort of business relationship and they aren’t tied to a single location. Their scheduled venues have varied from big companies like Amgen Biotech in Bothell to the upcoming Lake Stevens Oktoberfest. There are also other microbreweries and some private events in the near future.
“Another thing we would like to tap into are (wedding) rehearsal dinners,” Kelli Shea said.
She has catered many weddings and knows what a hard time brides sometimes have finding a good venue for that important yet casual function.
The Mobile Lunchbox is available for private parties, block parties and company parties. Businesses are also encouraged to call with inquiries.
Currently the Sheas offer a number of specialty beef or chicken burgers with fries on the side. They also feature a wild-caught salmon burger with a house aioli. The food is almost all locally sourced. Produce comes from the Maltby Produce stand and meat comes from Kelso Custom Meats in Snohomish.
“That was really important to me, to get local meat,” Kelli Shea said.
Grab a bite