Green Lake Renewal CEO Fran Hill and Horseradish proprietor Matt Trotter stand in front of Trotter’s food truck in Princeton. Trotter will lead a once-a-week, four-session course on how to open, operate and build a successful food truck business in October at Green Lake’s Town Square, which Green Lake Renewal manages. submitted and Maic D’Agostino photos
by Maic D’Agostino
Green Lake may be getting a school unlike any other.
And while the wheels on the bus still will go ’round and ’round, the familiarity stops there.
Town Square in downtown Green Lake will host a “Food Truck School” Mondays from Oct. 16 to Nov. 6: a once-a-week, four-session course on how to open, operate and build a successful food truck business.
Cost for the class will be $99 for each truck, with up to two enrollees per truck.
“I think this is a good way for people to start, because it’s a low-budget, low-risk,” said Jorge Gutierrez of Green Lake Renewal. “And so we want to market it to not just the Green Lake community and neighboring communities but others: Madison, Milwaukee, [places] where there are some food trucks.”
Green Lake Renewal CEO Fran Hill would love to see more food trucks in the area, and Town Square’s proposed Mill Pond Terrace project could be a perfect venue for a whole fleet of trucks.
Many municipalities, including Green Lake, have laws restricting trucks from selling on the street, so vendors need to find parking lots and other public places to dish out their wares.
Green Lake Renewal sees the future Mill Pond Terrace as an ideal market location for food trucks, but the nonprofit community revitalization organization also wanted to offer a one-of-a-kind class to help grow the numbers of food-truck offerings in the area.
How one-of-a-kind? There may not be another physical school like this.
“I don’t know anybody else in Wisconsin or even the Midwest or anywhere, actually,” that offers this type of class, said Matt Trotter, the Food Truck School’s headmaster.
Leading the class as a food trucker who taught himself the business, Trotter is the proprietor Horseradish, a school-bus-turned-food-truck that resides (usually) in Princeton.
Trotter thinks he’s particularly well-positioned to impart knowledge and give guidance to those who want to open up a restaurant business but may be constrained by cash or overwhelmed by obstacles.
“What I want to show in the Food Truck School is when I started, we started looking at trucks, and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh; $40,000, $50,000 to do it!’” he said of opening up a new food truck business. “And I want to show people that it’s like ‘Design on a Dime’ or whatever you call that stuff. We did it for under $10,000.”
Trotter bought an old school bus (he calls it “the little white school bus,” perhaps in homage to a famous Ripon landmark) almost impulsively, cleaned it up, turned it into a flower-laden food truck and started selling sandwiches and salads out of it.
To keep equipment costs down and avoid entanglements with complicated restaurant regulations, Trotter explained that he does most of his “high-risk” cooking at Green Lake Kitchens, a community kitchen operated by Green Lake Renewal in the lower level of Town Square.
“We’re the anti-food truck food truck,” he joked. “… We’re pushing the boundaries: ‘What is a food truck? What does it mean to be a food truck?’”
This type of innovative, outside-the-lunch-box thinking is what food trucks are all about, according to Trotter, and a food truck school should be no different.
Operating a food truck not only can be far simpler and less expensive than a full restaurant, but it also can allow for a fun, fresh, creative enterprise that engages communities in a unique setting, Trotter believes.
And that’s how he envisions Food Truck School — simple, affordable, fun, communal and utterly original.
“We just wanted this to be like what I would have wanted,” Trotter said, such as learning some of the management and legal side of owning a food truck as well as how to formulate a business plan. “… And I think also another thing I wish I would have had when I started was to just have a little community of people. Hopefully this will be [that for] all the people there, where you’re bouncing all these ideas off of each other right there so you can go away with a better, concrete idea.”
The flexibility and inexpensiveness of food trucking offer ample opportunity for those new to the business, he explained.
Trotter opened Horseradish in 2015 while operating the home-design store Teak & Soxy in Princeton.
“That was really just another way to add something else to our community and the whole area, where there was just something fun and different for food,” he said.
Horseradish allowed him to get both cooking and creative juices flowing as he decked out the bus in decor, an old Princeton road sign and flower baskets.
“Before we even open, I’ll go in the morning, and I’ll be setting up, and there’ll be girls taking selfies in front of the truck,” Trotter said. “… So I always joke that I think there’s more pictures of the truck and the setting than we get of the food.”
Now he’s grown his food-truck endeavor to the point that he’s ready to take the next step this fall after the truck shutters for the season: a full-scale, brick-and-mortar restaurant, Horseradish Kitchen & Market, based on his mobile concept.
“So we’ll have the kitchen for food stuff, but we’ll also a little market in the front. I just want it to be kind of a social space …,” Trotter said. “There’s like a banquette by the bar, and then there’s a big deck on the back by the river.”
If it wasn’t for that first foray into foodservice, manifested in a little white school bus, Trotter and his friend and trained chef Alex Pearsall might not be opening Princeton’s newest eatery.
“I always liked to cook, but I never would have had the confidence …” Trotter said. “I’ve already got customers … [The food truck] kind of tested the market, and I think that’s another thing this [school] is good for: people can come try out food and see what people are into.”
His desire is to instill that confidence in others, both in their food and themselves, through the Food Truck School.
Not worried in the least about competition in the food-truck market, Trotter has high hopes for the area’s dining future and what it might mean for the future of local communities in general.
“One of the biggest things we always talk about to attract young people to the area … is food options,” he said. “A lot of young people, they want fun, different, creative food … It’ll attract young people to start their business here and stay here and grow our community.”
And so, the more food trucks, the merrier.
“Where else do you go for that around here? You’ve got to go to a big city,” Trotter said. “It would be so cool to be known as this small area with this reputation for cool food trucks and food vendors,” Trotter said.
“The great thing about food trucks is it doesn’t really have to depend on the size of the [community] because they move around,” Hill said.
The Food Truck School will be limited to 10 individual trucks; each truck enrolled can send up to two partners to the class.
To enroll or for more information, visit www.greenlakerenewal.org or call 920-807-0008.