BY CAITLIN MCGARRY
Less than two years ago, Ric Guerrero was 25, unemployed and newly dumped (the latter inspired by the former).
But he had an idea, inspired by his love of cooking, which became a food truck called Slidin’ Thru. The truck hit the streets in March 2010.
Little could he have guessed that slinging sliders from his van would spawn a food truck movement in Las Vegas, or that within 20 months he would be able to expand into brick-and-mortar restaurants, the first of which opens at 6410 N. Durango Drive at 5 p.m. today.
Guerrero said he always had big plans for Slidin’ Thru. First, he built a loyal following for his tasty small burgers through a steady stream of on-the-street tweets and his signature cartoon-emblazoned truck.
“Without building the following off of being mobile and letting people know where we were through Twitter and Facebook, we would have never built the momentum to get where we are today,” Guerrero said.
Now, with the help of angel investors, Slidin’ Thru is opening two drive-thru locations, the second of which opens in February on the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Fort Apache Road.
Next up: world domination. Or at least the launch of 1,000 Slidin’ Thru locations nationwide over the next 10 years, Guerrero said.
But he’s not giving up the trucks. Guerrero plans to buy an additional vehicle and keep going where his customers are. The mobile business is expected to gross $400,000 this year.
Food trucks have become big business. According to an August National Restaurant Association report, 18 percent of those surveyed spotted a food truck in their city this year. Food trucks are most popular in the West and Northeast; nearly 30 percent said they saw a food truck on the left coast. Almost 60 percent of consumers said they would visit a food truck operated by their favorite restaurant.
A few local restaurants, such as Philly cheesesteak specialty shop Pop’s, have in the last year launched food trucks to complement their storefronts.
Pop’s General Manager Jose Hernandez, who once owned food trucks and a restaurant in Denver, said the mobile business accounted for just $37,000 of the restaurant’s $1 million revenue this year, but considering he sends the truck out only once or twice per week, Hernandez plans to keep it rolling.
“People are looking around for deals. I am,” Hernandez said. “Bringing a truck somewhere else saves people the trip to come to the store.”
Having both a truck and a permanent location is beneficial for building a restaurant’s customer base, said Michael Dalbor, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Harrah Hotel College professor who studies the restaurant industry.
“The truck may come to (an) office in Summerlin, and they decide to open up a fixed location in Green Valley … If the truck would still go to the office, they would still have a customer,” Dalbor said.
Half of Slidin’ Thru’s mobile business comes from office visits, weddings, parties and corporate events. Guerrero and his partners expect the storefronts will bring in five times the revenue of the trucks.
Guerrero has taken more than a few cues from his original food truck inspiration, Los Angeles-based Korean taco truck Kogi BBQ.
“Reading articles about them grossing over $2 million in business and four trucks on the road by the end of their first year, it inspired me to follow in their footsteps. It showed me the potential,” Guerrero said.
Like Kogi, Slidin’ Thru’s first venture without wheels was a partnership with a local bar that offered Guerrero rent-free kitchen space if he supplied the bar with sliders. Also like Kogi, Slidin’ Thru has transitioned from that partnership to stand-alone restaurants.
Slidin’ Thru now has nearly 60 employees, many of whom are in Guerrero’s age bracket.
“Most of the team is young,” he said. “We have drive, energy; we know that if we work hard now it’s going to pay off in the end.”
One big payoff: He’s no longer categorized among the dumped, though he notes that some of his co-workers are still available.